We woke up at 6:00am, in order to have time to eat breakfast on our hotel’s roof top, before catching a taxi to the highway bus station Aung Mingalar. There are quite a few highway bus stations on the outskirts of Yangon, so make sure you are heading to the right one for your bus. Our hotel called a cab for us, and negotiated a rate of 13,000 kyat for the ride. The ride took about 30 minutes, although I had heard horror stories of the trip taking three hours in traffic, so if you are leaving later in the day you should perhaps factor that into the trip. I guess the early hour worked in our favour. The windows in the cab where down the whole way (no AC) which I loved (I really am not a fan of AC), although part way through the journey a man ran at our cab and tried to get in, which freaked me out quite a bit.
The cab driver dropped us off right at the JJ Express office in the Aung Mingalar bus station, which I was very grateful for because the station was a huge labyrinth like mess of buildings and stalls, spanning for as far as I could see. We gave the lady at the JJ Express counter our vouchers and she gave us stickers that said our bus number and seat assignment.
We sat in the waiting area for about 30 minutes, and the lady behind the counter came over and brought us a hot sweet coffee. At about 8:15am our bus arrived, and we were told to board. We gave our bags to the driver, and he tagged them (handing us a claim tag) and put them underneath the bus.
Our bus left the station at about 8:45am, 15 minutes early! The seats were pretty comfy, with leg rests, a blanket, water, and the seats could recline too!
We picked up quite a few people along the roadway out of Yangon. It was interesting to see the large amounts of food and supplies that some people had stowed below the bus, while others boarded with just their leather jacket (in 40 C heat!).
We stopped at a rest stop about 3 hours into the journey. There were lots of food options, but with less than 30 minutes it would have been tough to eat anything. We used the restroom and then walked back to the bus.
The scenery along the way was constantly changing and interesting. There was always a temple, garden or landscape to marvel at.
The trip itself we booked through 12goasia, a site we had used before for trains in Thailand and in Malaysia. We booked the tickets online in December and they sent us vouchers two days before we left Canada for Myanmar. The trip cost us $14 USD each.
We stopped again six hours into the trip , but briefly for 15 minutes. We were surrounded by kids that wanted us to buy their tiny eggs, and they did not give up! I watched as quite a few people from our bus bought eggs from the kids. We ate some of the snacks we had bought, and hopped back on the bus for what we thought was the final stretch of our trip.
We arrived on the outskirts of Mandalay at 5pm. Here we transferred to a tiny sweaty gross van that would take us to the city centre. This transfer was provided by JJ Express (the bus company). We jumped onto the mini bus, and set off towards the city centre. Halfway into the city centre, our van driver got a phone call, and abruptly turned around, and returned to the outskirts of the city where we had started. The driver then left the van running (there was no AC to warrant keeping the engine running), and we sat on the side of the roadway with dust, and the engine exhaust streaming through the open windows for two hours! Just when we were about to give up, and try to walk into the city centre ourselves, a fancy bus pulled up next to us, and a small group of fancy looking tourists stepped out. These fancy tourists boarded our sweaty bus, and we set off towards the city centre immediately. The ride took about 15 minutes.
We had waited two hours for the convenience of a group of fancy tourists, who had probably paid more than us and the locals to be on their luxury bus. All of the locals on our bus were furious! We could have easily made the trip on our mini bus to the city centre with plenty of time to meet the luxury travelers later. They certainly hadn’t saved gas while idling the van for 2 hours on the side of the road waiting.
Once we arrived at the central train station, a tuk tuk driver asked where we were going. I pointed to our hotel name and he said he knew it and it would be 4000 kyat. We jumped for glee into his tuk tuk, and away from all the fancy tourists who were queuing to get their giant luggage off the minivan.
The tuk tuk ride was glorious, and the highlight of the day! It took about 5 minutes to get to our hotel. We checked in, and were met with another issue, they wouldn’t except one of my $100 US dollar bills. We had specifically asked for perfect bills from the currency exchange place in Canada, because we had read that in Myanmar they were really particular about the perfection of the US bills (and they had to be $100 or $50), but this bill had a slice so tiny I could barely see the imperfection if I held it up to the light. I asked if they would take a credit card instead, they would but it would cost me an extra 5%. Of course.
Anyway, the room was lovely. The hotel was lovely, it had just been a long rough day.
We set out at 8:30pm to try and find somewhere open for dinner, as we had only had chips on the bus. The area around our hotel was very residential, dark and seemingly sketchy, although I was sure it would be nice in the daylight. We found a sushi restaurant a few dark blocks away, and considering it was after 8:30pm and most things close at 9, we went in. We had the whole place to ourselves. Jives got a sushi set for 6000 kyat and I ordered a bento box with rice and cooked fish, wishing to avoid eating raw fish in a place I was very unsure of.
After our sushi, we headed back to our hotel to have a GIANT Myanmar beer by the pool to wash away the day.