It Could Only Happen To Me – A transport downgrade in Burma

When you’re travelling long-term it’s inevitable that you’re going to have a few bumps and scrapes, along the way. Plans don’t always run smoothly, things get lost in translation and there’s always the opportunity to play Russian roulette with some dodgy looking food. But do you ever have those moments when you think to yourself: “This could only happen to me.”? I seem to have a lot of those on the road and I feature one every Friday. If you’d like to add your own If Could Only Happen To Me moment to my blog then drop me a line!

This week’s It Could Only Happen To Me includes a transport downgrade in Burma…

My journey to Bagan started like many others. As it was a long journey I’d actually treated myself to a ride on one of the slightly more expensive so-called ‘luxury’ buses and was being both frozen by the air-con and deafened by the never-ending video karaoke. I think the term ‘luxury’ can be used in the loosest sense of the word in Burma. I’m sure when the buses were first made they were very fancy but seeing as that was about 30 years ago it doesn’t really apply now. 
"In my day I used to be fancy. Honest."

“In my day I used to be fancy. Honest.”

The only thing that makes most of them stand out from the ordinary buses is that they have padding on the seats, rather than just wooden boards. Oh and the tvs, which, when they’re not playing terrible Burmese cover versions of the Black Eyed Peas’ Where Is The Love?, show soap operas which are just as bad. I can only assume that the Eastenders script writers moonlight for the Burmese soaps too as plot lines I saw during my trip included a long-lost brother and sister falling in love; women coming to blows over a man they both fancy and many, many, tearful girls being kept apart from their one true love by their parents.

Anyway, I digress.  The point is, the bus I was on suddenly stopped – again, not actually that unusual in Burma, a country where the majority of roads are covered in pot holes. Everybody jumped out and the driver and his assistant appeared to tighten – although not actually change – a tyre. We then, worryingly, all piled back into the bus and appeared to coast to the nearest town. Once there we immediately went to a garage where we were told the bus was broken and would take “at least” two hours to fix (although we weren’t holding our breath). However the conductor told us not to worry as another “bus” was on the way.

The “bus” turned out to be a pick-up truck they flagged down at the side of the road, already packed to bursting. But using the Burmese motto of “there’s always room for one more”, my fellow travellers were told to sit up on the roof and, as I was the smallest, a tiny wooden stood was found for me which was places between the knees of the women sitting on the benches on either side of the truck. 

Not the best traveller anyway, I then had to spend the rest of the journey sitting backwards watching the road go by. The only thing I had to hold on to and stop me whacking the women on either side was a strap fixed to the roof above my head. The entertainment alternated between a woman sticking her head of the side of the pick-up to be sick every few minutes and the favourite game of can-we-squeeze-another-one-in? Who knew it was actually possible to be downgraded on a journey?