When you’ve been on the road for over three months, travel days become a fact of life. Trains, buses, planes, traffic, airports… You get so used to spending hours and hours in transit that suddenly overnight bus rides and all day trains seem totally normal. However, obviously…some days are better than others.
So far on this trip, things have gone pretty smoothly. We’ve had long days, but for the most part there have been very few delays or issues (with some notable exceptions). But, just when I was starting to get cocky we had what can only be described as the Dane Cook of travel days.
Admittedly, the plan was a little optimistic. Starting at 3 pm on December 14, we would take a boat from our hotel on Inle Lake in Myanmar for one hour to reach a bus station that would take us overnight the 12 hours to Yangon. From there we would catch a flight to Kuala Lampur where we would catch another flight to Jakarta, Indonesia – arriving at around 7 pm on December 15. Ambitions? Yes. But, ultimately, what we had to do to make it in time to meet Marten and set off for the next month of our trip.
So we loaded our bags into the long skinny motorboats typical of Inle Lake and took off across the lake. Things went pretty smoothly until we arrived on shore an hour later. As it turns out, our boat driver, despite previous discussions, didn’t exactly know where the bus station was located. Instead he took us a travel agent where hey sold bus tickets.
Close, but no cigar.
Luckily, they were able to direct us to the location and it was only a four or five block walk to the station. We managed to locate our bus and board without incident and were soon on our way.
Before we continue, let me paint you a little mental image of buses in Myanmar. It’s not really what you expect- the buses are actually surprisingly nice. Reclining seats, A/C, Flat screen TVs with DVD players. When we boarded we were almost kiddy. But, as it is with so many things – it’s not what you have, but how you use it. First off, the bus is stuffed to the brim – with boxes, bags and people shoved in every available space including the aisles. Next up, they crank the A/C up so high that you freeze for the entire journey. It’s frigid. I had on pants and several layers and used a thick yak wool blanket I bought from India and I was still cold. Then, you know that nice flat screen TV? They inexplicably use it to play really loud Myanmar music videos…. all night long. Between the crowding, the over abundant AC and the never-ending, annoying, non sensical music and flashing lights of the TV…it’s like spending the night in a moving Chuck E Cheese’s.
These buses stop a lot, and really for no apparent reason. So we weren’t alarmed when after an hour our bus pulled over on the side of the road. It was little more concerning when the driver turned off the engine..but still not to abnormal. However, as the minutes ticket on, and we noticed the various attendants opening up the buses side panel’s we began to get worried. No announcement was ever made, but as 5 minutes became 10, then 20 then an hour…it became obvious that our bus had broken down. Now the A/C was off and the only light came from the rage inducing loop of music videos (Of course, that was still playing…)
FInally, I had to take matters into my own hands. It never fails that no matter how long I wait for something, as soon as I leave to use the restroom or grab food, the plane/train/bus will leave start to leave. Sure enough, the second I wandered away and pulled dow
n my pants, I heard the bus shudder to life.I just managed to run back in time to jump on and finally after two hours by the side of the road we were underway.
The rest of the bus ride was uneventful and we arrived in Yangon at around 5 am. We grabbed a cab to the airport and began the 7 hour wait for our flight. Of cour
se you can’t check in until two hour before, so we took naps on the benches in the departure hall. We attempted to get on an earlier flight, but of course no dice.
The first half of the rip went smoothly and by 4 pm we were in Kuala Lampor. Our layover was short and we just had time to grab Burger King and eat it as we ran down the terminal. Finally, we found ourselves happily seated as our last leg of transportation took off for Jakarta.
About an hour later, as we cruised over the ocean, the capta
in came on the intercom. He had a weird way of announcing information…
“Ladies and Gentleman, boys and girls….this is your captain. I have announcement about the situation in Jakarta…”
“It seems that that airport in Jakarta….is closed…..so we cannot land there at this time.”
Another long pause.
“So we will need to go back to Kuala Lampor….But unfortuan
Another extremely long pause
“The plane is to heavy to land.”
Then they began the second half of the announcement in Malaysian. I had no idea what the repercussions of this “too heavy to land business” would be, but I could tell from the reactions of the locals around me that it was good. Fi
nally we were back to English.
As it turns out, the only solution was to circle the plane for another hour and a half while we burned off fuel. Then we could return to KL and determine next steps.
The next several hours were a series of sitting on the plane, getting off the plane, endless delays and reboardings until finally the airport reopened, the cabin crew was switched out and the plane was refueled. At around 11:30 pm the plane took off, landing us in Jakarta at 2 am on December 16. We had been traveling for over 36 hours. Of course, thanks to the late arrival, we now had only a few hours to sleep before we boarded another train the next morning….