Leaving the comfort of Lub D Hostel was hard, but we were looking forward to escaping Bangkok’s hustle and bustle. It shouldn’t have been all that hard to get to our hotel nearer the airport, but I wouldn’t be sharing this story if that was the case.
In an attempt to save money and take advantage of the excellent public transport, we caught a tuk tuk right outside our hostel and after talking the price down, he agreed to take us to the overground station. We then had to walk to the underground station. At the time we thought they were connected but we were in the wrong area for that, of course. We took a 40 minute ride to the railway station in order to take the next train the rest of the way. We waited for 20 minutes then rode the train another 30 minutes. The nearest stop to our hotel was about 2.5 miles away still. I spoke to two taxis at the station and they both shrugged us off. Needless to say we were very confused. Get out of the city even a bit and no one speaks English.
Tired, flustered, and weighed down with baggage, we began the trek, slinking slowly along the busiest highway we had seen thus far throughout our whole trip. Hundreds of taxis sped past us on their way to the airports to pick up their big fares. They didn’t even bat an eyelash toward us. The sky quickly turned a dark hazy blue, the constant river of red tail lights flowing steadily past. Dehydrated and sweaty, we came upon a local bus stop just over a mile into our walk where we managed to catch the attention of a taxi. Some locals approached it, ready to get in but the generous driver knew we had caught his eye first and waved them aside. We eagerly shuffled in and struggled to communicate our intended destination. Unaware if our communication attempts were a success, we trusted they were and sat back, letting the air conditioning cool our sweaty selves. Thankfully our confused yeses, nos, and hand gestures prevailed and we arrived in no time. I paid the driver twice the fare and checked in around 6:45pm, after departing our hostel nearly three hours before. A total of 244 Baht (about $7.80), we thought, “at least we saved money despite the headache of getting here.”
That thought was completely diminished the next morning when, as we settled into our cab to the airport, we noticed that the taxi fare for that same trip would have cost us half the price and taken a third of the time. Amateur mistake. Who knew that a private car with air conditioning would cost less than hot, sticky public transport with multiple transfers?
Anyway, we then flew from Bangkok to Mandalay, Myanmar. The flight was boring enough, which as a nervous flyer, I am perfectly happy with. We arrived in good time, ready to undergo the hassle of conquering our Visa On Arrival procedures. We expected everything to go wrong and take forever since we used an outside company online to handle everything for us. What we experienced at the airport was the extreme opposite. We were greeted with smiles and maybe ten minutes later walked out of the door, freshly issued visas stuck in our passports. I would highly recommend that route for acquiring a Burmese visa.
Since we were headed directly to Bagan, two days before, we had emailed Air Mandalay to reserve airline tickets (neither of us enjoyed the idea of a long bus ride just as we landed). None of the bookings could be completed online so when we transitioned to the departure side of the tiny airport, a friendly staff member took us aside to the cramped office, we handed over our fare in cash and she issued us paper tickets on the spot. I didn’t realize that any airlines still operated that way.
Four hours of twiddling our thumbs later, as the sun was setting, all two dozen of us passengers were being shuttled to our little propeller plane on the tarmac. We settled in for a quick 30 minute flight, expecting it to be a breeze. Midway through reading about Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, we endured a series of violent bumps, and just when we thought it was settling down, we suddenly dropped. My stomach was in my throat and my heart had stopped. For a brief moment we were in free fall. I squeezed Rob’s hand, eager for the comfort it promised but I could tell he was just as terrified. In that moment we were the most vulnerable we had ever been, relying on a complete stranger to get us safely to the ground. A lot of thoughts raced through our minds in that moment, and in an instant we were back on course, as smooth as ever. Fifteen nervous minutes later we were in Bagan, rushing to get off that plane.