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Ageing Traveller Series

The Ageing Traveller series is written by Rose Howell, who has been traveling the world for over 40 years, beginning with New Zealand and then the ‘Hippy trail’ in the 70’s. Her travels have taken her to; Asia, Middle East, UK, Europe, Africa, South America, USA, Canada, China and the Pacific Islands. In total she has visited 67 countries plus all the states of Australia except Western Australia, and her goal is to make the century club. Her passion for travel is documented on her website www.ageing-hipsters-travel.com.

Click here to find out more about Rose.

Burma October 1976 Part 3: Pagan

‘Continuing’ on the boat to Pagan

The boat trip had been relaxing but too long. The toilet was high.
At the continual stops to unload cargo, it was interesting watching the men working. Carting huge sacks of grain up a flight of steps from the ships hold.
On deck they take one small stick as a counter, and running up the gang plank, deposit a load onto bullock drays. Scenes from 1930 movies of Africa and the Nile. Little girls come aboard selling food and fruits, but the quality is questionable. We ate curries and drank tea from the little shop on board.


Photo belongs to Rose Howell

By 2 pm that day, things were looking hopeless. Believing Pagan was just around the corner we snatched our bags, only to see the steamer slow down to stop at another small port. Using a Burmese friend as an interpreter, we asked ‘can we get from here to Pagan’? Yes! By horse and cart. This was the first chance we’d had to use our initiative. Not waiting to find out definitely, 3 of us made a dash; up the gang plank, through the warehouse and clambered up the sandy shore and jumped onto our transport.

 

Pagan is known as the city of a million temples, though in actual fact they only number around 13 thousand.


Photo belongs to Rose Howell

 

On the short trip into Pagan, it was an interesting introduction to the area. Not a large city, Pagan is virtually a small village amidst a desert, surrounded by Pagodas. We passed small houses and huts and few people but everywhere there was temples and pagodas, dozens, hundreds, from small 8 – 10ft shrines, to large and complex groupings. So much to see in so little time.


Photo belongs to Rose Howell

Note: Having only 2 hours to explore Pagan would be like having only 2 hours to see Florence. But thus, that’s the way things turned out due to the boat trip taking 34 hours instead of 24. Reason being getting stuck in sandbars and continuous stops along the river.

 

In a half hour we reached the main area and were dropped at the Mae, Mae Inn. Off in another horse and carriage. We gave the driver strict instructions to spend the next 2 hours taking us to the main attractions.


Photo belongs to Rose Howell

 

Rushing from one marvel to another, we got to see 4 or 5 of the most important temples. To say the least, they are magnificent. Like exploring in the Valley of the Kings. Mostly deserted and empty we were free to climb up the narrow stone steps to the top, running around the corridors. The views from the top were breath taking because the whole picture can be taken in. The countryside is green and flat with the Irrawaddy in the distance. The red stone pagodas from afar look like ant hills in North Australia, one after another. The white temples glisten in the afternoon sun. And all in two hours; 2 weeks wouldn’t be enough.


Photo belongs to Rose Howell


Photo belongs to Rose Howell

Note: Pagan was the centre of the early Burmese empire, founded around 900 years ago by the great King Anavrahta. Adopting the Buddhist religion; the city went through its most magnificent period, and most of the temples date from then. But ‘Kublai Khan’ put an end to it all when he sacked the city around 1200AD and Anavrahta’s empire collapsed. What is left now is the remains, and the small village is virtually only a river port supported by a flow of tourists.

 

By 5.30pm the sun was rapidly sinking but we were content with the short time we had, enough to appreciate what was there. It was a pleasant way to get around, trotting down little dirt tracks lined with weeds, sage, cactus and stunted trees.

This was our 5th day in Burma and there was still stacks of kyats to spend; this ‘problem’ was something we had in common with other travelers. So we splashed out at dinner. Roast dinner, soup, beer, oranges, fried eggs, you name it we ate it. The cost probably in real terms about 50 cents each.

 

Start of our journey back to Rangoon

Our 24 hour trip back to Rangoon turned into a nightmare. Words couldn’t describe what we went through.

How did it start?
Over the next 24 hours we formed a companionship with the other travelers like that which only can be understood by people sharing common hardship together.

With the first streaks of light at 5am we began the day with a breakfast of eggs, toast and jam and tea.

Two horse carts pull up outside, (our transport to the bus station) arranged beforehand by the proprietors.

It was a 40 minute bus trip to the little village of Nyaung Oo.
The bus was not a bus, but a truck with two benches lining the sides, something like an army transport, open and breezy. With our luggage inside it was a bit crammed, but not so bad, only the local people sitting on your feet is uncomfortable.


Photo belongs to Rose Howell


To the village of ‘Kyaukpadaung’ it was about 2 and half hours. The scenery was unusual, I could describe it as being similar countryside to that around Alice Springs and the MacDonnell Ranges. Flat and green, with a range of hills in the distance, but the vegetation was sparse and quite unlike S. E. Asia.

Arriving in ‘Kyaukpadaung’ at 9.30am, it’s a second horse and cart through the town to another ‘bus’? Stopped near a line of ‘restaurants’?


Photo belongs to Rose Howell


It was a 10 am departure, this truck crammed full of people and large baskets of smelly tobacco leaf.

Only the two of us risked ‘relaxing!!’ inside, the other guys sat atop the luggage rack. With 6-8 people hanging off the back; others on top, and dozens inside, we resembled surely a ‘Russian human cattle truck’ headed for Siberia.

This so called 3 hour trip to Meiktila was the start of the nightmare.

The track deteriorated further, becoming rough and potholed; the ride inside became jolting and spine jarring. After an hour we came to an abrupt halt. The narrow track was blocked by a truck, broken down and unable to move. Several other vehicles stopped from passing also. The trouble seemed permanent, but our driver in typical Asian fashion shows total unconcern, and completely ignored our attempts at finding detours around this spot. Just as we looked like being in for a long wait in the boiling midday sun, the truck behind us showed initiative and made a path by inching around the troubled vehicle. Several others followed suit, so our driver did also, but rather reluctantly.

With all aboard again; with continual stops for loading and unloading. ‘Bang’!! The sound of rushing air signals the inevitable, a flat tyre. Another long and complicated process, due to stripped nuts etc. on the spare the canvas was even worn down; will it last 5 miles?


Photo belongs to Rose Howell

Off after three quarters of an hour, only for the driver to stop again for his lunch, this time an hour.


Photo belongs to Rose Howell

 

Departing at 1pm (our supposed arrival time in Meiktila), the next 3 hours were filled with apprehension about ever making it. Why? Numerous stops for breakdowns, boiling radiators. This truck is ancient. The radiator is kept cool by a tank of water on the roof draining down into the system. As the water boils, its ejected out of a tube off the overflow pipe, and forms continual squirts of scalding water out of the side of the engine. Many pedestrians get sprayed, some rather painfully as we roar past. When the reservoir tank empties, it’s a stop near a creek and a bucket brigade to fill up again. The truck has no starter meter, so always needs a push, no air cleaner, just an open throated carburetor. Only ingenuity with bits of wire and string keep us going and around 4pm we crawl into Meiktila.

For us it was a disastrous 6 hour trip, for the driver and his assistant another normal day.

Again it was a horse and cart to the next bus stop.


Photo belongs to Rose Howell

Note: The next part of the jounrey was by train to Rangoon, It was a continuing nightmare. Read the final part of the trip in Part 4 next month.


If you want to find out more about a visit to Myanmar (Burma) then visit their tourist site.

Rose Howell Biography

Rose has been traveling the world for over 40 years, beginning with New Zealand and then the ‘Hippy trail’ in the 70’s. Her travels have taken her to; Asia, Middle East, UK, Europe, Africa, South America, USA, Canada, China and the Pacific Islands. In total she has visited 67 countries plus all the states of Australia except Western Australia, and her goal is to make the century club.
She has taken all kinds of transport and accommodation from budget to luxury. She has travelled through war zones, survived a bus accident in the Andes and visited areas that are no longer available to tourists, such as the Khyber Pass and Bamiyan Statues in Afghanistan.

Rose wants to inspire others to travel and offers free advice to all travellers in particular those who are embarking on their first travel experience. She has a passion for travel and since retiring from an Adult teaching position with TafeSA, has recently resumed clocking up kilometres interstate and overseas.
Her daughters have inherited the travel bug from their parents. The eldest daughter is a travel journalist/documentary maker based in a beautiful area called ‘Byron Bay’ in New South Wales and with her husband, has two globetrotting toddlers who at the age of 5 and 2 also love to travel. Her youngest daughter and fiancé have recently returned from 2 years working and traveling in the UK and Europe. They have only been home a couple of months and are already getting restless. Oh the travel bug!!!!

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