On a wing and a prayer in Dawei
Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
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After yet another passport check, I was loaded into the front seat of a truck hauling probably 80 people on its tray and up on the roof, and we set forth into the countryside to the town of Dawei. It took an hour but it was the first opportunity to see the rural landscape and farming people of Myanmar which was a real eye opener. The plains we travelled over were green with rice paddies as far as the eye could see, flanked by palms in the foreground and bounded by the silhouettes of mountain ranges on the horizon. Grass huts dotting the landscpe were half-consumed by the rampantly growing crops - this is a verdant environment indeed.
The locals on the roads and in the small villages along the way also looked reasonably happy. Except for an apparent lack of farming machinery like tractors due to strict government policy, there is a lot of new motorbikes and bicycles around and the people are well dressed and generally smiling. The houses are quite substantial compared to say Indonesia and even though some of the machinery and equipment is pretty backward, there is no evidence of poverty other than the flea-bitten and mangy dogs that are ubiquitous in Myanmar wherever you go.
We arrived in town and after checking into another sorry excuse for a hotel ($US10 for a cell), I was whisked away in a Toyota saloon to the local Myanmar Airways agent to sort a flight out of there. No other private airline regularly flies south this early in the season so I was going to have to risk the government carrier as, for my own 'safety and security' there is no overland travel for foreigners north of Dawei - period. The only alternatives are flying, possibly a cargo ship, or heading back to Thailand on the fast boat. I had to go forward so to my very good fortune a foreigner was postponing his flight out until later in the week, which freed up a place for me on the next day's late-morning flight. I paid my $US65 and prayed to God for a sturdy Fokker F27 to be sent the next day.
The rest of Dawei was quite fun. I went wandering to the Payagyi (temple) and made friends with some monks who toured me around and showed me another three hundred or so Buddha images and some intricate metalworking on the various spires that housed them. Later I had a surprisingly good and solid meal in the hotel restaurant - often hard to find in Asia and which fortified me for things to come.
Next morning before my flight I was taken to Maungmagan beach in the saloon again, a 10km long stretch of white and black sand that has been opening up to local tourism over the last few years. Unfortunately this means a bunch of litter strewn about the place, some of it contributed by my hosts, and typical of other Asian sights. Hopefully they will learn one day, but I certainly couldn't get the concept of binning rubbish through to them at the time...
We also stopped at a nasally challenging mineral spa which would be hovering around the 35 degree C mark. No doubt quite refreshing and good for the skin, but it didn't appeal too greatly at the time so we headed on to the big reclining Buddha. This 74m long statue, one of the largest in Myanmar and safely housed in a structure highly reminiscent of a giant Aussie wool shed, is a nicely maintained place of worship that seemed to be well frequented. I chipped a few kyat (chat) in to help with its ongoing upkeep, as it is also one of my hosts local temple.
By then, all that was left to do was get on the plane. Aung Win and co. dropped me off at the airport around 11.15am and after an extensive security check in a terminal also reminiscent of a wool shed, we just had to wait for the plane to show up. Departure was due at 11.40am but these things are highly elastic in Myanmar, so when the plane arrived at 1.30, it was surprising to be airborne by 2pm. I ended up sitting next to the monk (Kawi) in the bottom right of the picture below and he helped reassure me as to the likelihood of this very dodgy flight making its destination. A smooth take-off was followed by an equally smooth flight and landing, so after an hour we made Yangon (Rangoon). But that's another story.
Now I know flying this leg is cheating a little in my attempt to go Sydney to London overland, but in this case I really had no option without backtracking to Thailand and missing the rest of the country. Anyway, I figure that the flight detoured about 400km of land based travel, and I will probably have to fly another short hop to get from Mandalay to the Thai border (again over prohibited areas and for 'safety reasons'), however this whole Myanmar expedition is a large detour off track anyway, so these flights will be covered by a couple of thousand kilometres of extra land-based missioning. I did my best, went some places that few westerners ever think of going, and risked my life flying one of the least reputable carriers on the planet to get out. So gimme a break ok ;-)
Next entry -> colonial Rangoon and the road to Mandalay
Words from the Wise # 66
"Beauty is meaningless until it is shared."
George Orwell (Burma Days)