The Best Bus in the Whole Country – Bagan to the Beach (via Yangon)

We were 0 for 7 in terms of bus rides in Myanmar. They were either too pricey (for what they were), too hot, too rickety, too crowded, or a combination of the above. We finally got our comeuppance in the bus ride from Bagan to Yangon, an 11-hour ride in a state of the art (by Burmese standards) bus with reclining seats, functional AC and a flat-screen TV played at a reasonable volume. Overnight bus rides are never comfortable exactly, but this was as good as we could have hoped for and brought us into the main terminal in Yangon a couple hours early (as is normal) at about 4:30am. We had 4 days left in Myanmar and had seen all of the sights we had planned to see in the north at a quicker pace than we had anticipated, so we found ourselves with some extra days to fill up anywhere but Yangon.

Yangon is hot and harried enough to warrant only minimal time as you enter and exit the country. We had planned on spending one full day on our way out of Myanmar to see the famous pagoda and fit in some souvenir shopping, but we were not up for stretching that to 4 days. Instead, we jumped directly into a taxi at the bus terminal and paid an extortionate rate for a shared taxi to another, smaller terminal about 45 minutes away where our guidebook told us we could catch a 6am bus to Ngwe Saung, a ‘white sand’ beach popular with Western tourists who couldn’t make it all the way to Ngapoli in the north. We were herded out of our taxi and to the bus stands where we were told that there were no direct buses to Ngwe Suang, but that we could go to the less beautiful Chaung Tha beach instead or else catch a connecting bus from Pathein to our intended destination. I was firmly set on lazing away our last days in the country at a nice beach and kind of looking forward to some Western comforts so I insisted that we stick to out original plan and take the connecting bus to Ngwe Saung.

We bought our tickets to Pathein, which were overpriced as usual, then stopped for a quick breakfast before being put on a non-AC, but otherwise comfortable bus to Pathein. Or so we thought. According to our guidebook, Pathein is about 4 hours from Yangon and we had not ridden a bus yet that arrived late- most buses actually arrived up to two hours ahead of time! I started to wonder what was going on at the 5-hour mark, but with no Burmese language skills we simply sat and waited for our arrival. That’s when we saw the sign saying  ‘Welcome to Chaung Tha Beach!’ and a local tout came on to direct us to his Western-friendly resort. I was greatly disappointed to find myself at the beach that the Lonely Planet describes as having a ‘muddy delta’ appearance at low tide. R wasn’t bothered at all and even said that he was glad to be at a beach where locals came as opposed to a resort-driven beach with no local color. On the bright side, it turns out that our 6000 kyat bus fare was actually a fair price for going all the way to the coast.

We were a bit at loose ends, not knowing where to stay, since we weren’t planning on coming here, and me wondering how hard it would be to get to Ngwe Saung (a 2-hour, $20 motorbike ride each). We were too tired after 18 hours on buses to put up much resistance, so we followed the tout off the bus and took a room for $25 (the most money we have spent before and since New Zealand on accommodation) with no hot water, power only for half the day, and views of the non-white sand beach.

After a couple hours of pouting, a couple of beers, and a nap I finally came around to a better attitude about the place. By all accounts, Ngwe Saung was much pricier than Chaung Tha and the fact is that relaxing near a beach- even just hearing the waves and getting a bit of that ocean breeze- was all we really wanted. Our only planned activities were reading, blogging, and sleeping in past sunrise. Besides, by the next morning there was so much rain that even Ngwe Saung may have been given to a bit of the muddy delta look. It was a kind of poetic end to our travels in Myanmar: completely unexpected, inconstantly priced, a little aggravating, but ultimately satisfying and enjoyable.

Beach bums

Local kids with rental tubes

Ladies selling stick-meat and other delights

Yes, that is a horse painted to look like a zebra

And... anther one

The ubiquitous palm-frond hat: a staple for tourists of all stripes

Irie!

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