Prior to my flight to Mandalay two weeks ago, I was double-checking my e-ticket from Bangkok Airways and noted an odd notation underneath the flight number: Operated by Bulgaria Air. Bulgaria Air? Was that a computer glitch, or somebody’s idea of a joke? Well, when the day of departure came and I was boarding the plane, I noticed name on the plane. Due to some sort of bizarre code sharing agreement with Bangkok Airways I would indeed be flying on a Bulgaria Air plane.
Even more shocking, inside the plane, instead of the usual petite and pretty Thai ladies who usually greet passengers, there were tall pale Western women passing out those moist wet-naps. I’ve flown with domestic airlines in Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia, and have never had any concerns about the safety of the plane, but the idea of flying with Bulgaria Air, uh, that gave me more than pause for concern. Factoring in the recent disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight, I made sure to pay extra attention to the pre-flight safety announcements.
Well, I’m happy to say it was a smooth flight with zero problems. Arriving at Mandalay International Airport is always a pleasure. The immigration service is quick and pleasant and you don’t have to wait long for your checked luggage to arrive either. In fact, one of my bags was the very first one off the belt. I think that’s the first time that’s ever happened. But then an even stranger thing happened: my other bag was the very last one to come off the belt. Man, talk about feeling anxious; I kept waiting and waiting and wondering — as I stared at some cheesy advertisement for “Egg Soap” — when that damn bag was going to appear.
The weirdest thing about Mandalay International Airport — besides the fact that the interior lights are never fully turned on, giving the place a bit of a gloomy vibe — is that it’s located out in the middle of nowhere, about a 45-drive from the city. I can’t think of another major airport that looks so isolated. I mean, there is absolutely nothing in the way of other buildings located near or around the terminal. No restaurants, no hotels, no shopping centers, no petrol stations, no karaoke bars, or buildings of any sort. And I’m not talking about the lack of buildings in the immediate vicinity of the airport; there are literally no signs of human habitation within miles of the place. Very, very weird.
Getting a taxi at the airport is always easy and painless, and relatively cheap. You have the option of splurging and paying 10,000 kyat (about US$10) for a dedicated ride into town, or forking out a mere 4,000 kyat for a share taxi. I paid the full fare for the SPAM Taxi Service, switched my MP3 player to Gordon Lightfoot’s Gord’s Gold album — one of my Mandalay traditions — and relaxed for the relatively smooth ride into town. “The Road to Mandalay” may not be exotic or look particularly scenic to most folks, but from the airport at least, it’s one of my favorite short rides.