Funniest Bus Ride Ever: Mandalay to Bagan, Myanmar

The hotel staff in Mandalay had booked this bus trip for us from Mandalay to Bagan. We are scheduled to leave about noon, and sure enough the OK bus is on time. But there is a problem….we are seated in the very back of this 19 passenger vehicle and two things become evident very quickly. First, there are no seat belts. Second, there are no shocks. If you had a seat belt then maybe it would hold you more securely in the seat as you bounce along down the roadway. But as it is there are no seat belts, and the roads are full of potholes and various bounce inducing surface problems.

The kids get the very back row where the seats don’t recline and the bouncing is most pronounced, as though it wasn’t pronounced enough already! David puts on his trusted scopolamine patch to ward off the evil nausea spirits and we head off in a five hour jaunt to Bagan, which is only about 180 km away. That translates to about 105 miles, which I can normally drive in about an hour, plus or minus a couple minutes. So if you think about this, if it takes 5 hours to go a distance that I can drive in about an hour……then you know something bad is about to happen.

David gets motion sickness pretty easily as you may already have noticed. I don’t think that the scopolamine patch is going to be enough for this bouncy ride. He keeps getting increasingly green around the gills.


The scenery is pretty cool. The countryside is stunningly beautiful, albeit difficult to capture from the window of our bucking bus. Every time I try to snap a photo the bus bounces up in the air so much that the camera is totally confused about where or what to focus on. There are well cared for farmers’ fields with palm trees gently swaying in the breeze, or not so gently as is the case in this photo.

David marvels about how well manicured all the palm trees are. There are no dead leaves hanging down like ginormous beards. After a while he tells us why they are so well manicured…..the palm fronds are used to make roofs for their dwellings.

These funny looking trucks are everywhere. They are super loud. 

Look what I have! On a 5 hour trip you need food for the clan, so I try making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Now, I don’t know if you have ever tried to make PB&J when riding a bucking horse or on a roller coaster ride. If you have then you know how much fun I am having. It is very difficult to get the PB&J to actually land on the bread as I bounce up and down. It takes a lot of ingenuity to keep the jars from bouncing out of your lap, and to keep the bread from falling onto the dirty floor.

Finally I am just in a fit of giggles! In fact, I intermittently get the giggles. This is the most hilarious ride I have ever been on! It’s kind of like those little ride things they have in shopping malls or grocery stores where you put 25 cents in and it bounces the kid all around. Who wouldn’t think that’s hilarious!?

We stop at a gas station at the halfway point. David really needs this stop to get a hold of his motion sickness. When I see this vehicle I realize that I am actually really traveling in luxury on the OK bus! I could be up on the roof of this rig! It seems like something is broken…..David agrees with me that our vehicle is a lot more luxurious. 

This toilet at the gas station is a new one for me. When Aundrea came out she said it was weird cuz there’s no way to flush the toilet…..the little trough on the side has water in it and you’re supposed to ladle it into the thingie that sort of resembles a toilet…..and away go troubles down the drain. You can never be too sure where the stuff is draining to. I don’t know if you dare to touch that handle on the ladle, though…..and there is no where to wash your hands….imagine that!

While the bus driver eats some weird looking lunch I watch the world go by again. I wonder if this truck will make it safely to its destination? It looks a little lopsided. 

I guess I should be even happier that this is not my primary mode of transportation, although it would be fun for a minute or two.

This is a house across the street from the gas station. They have power! 

Traffic here, there and everywhere… me…when we ride down this road we are dodging every imaginable type of contraption used for transportation!


Here on this vehicle I capture the delighted smiles of the people when they see us and wave. I think that mom is telling the baby….”Look, white people!”

This is a beautiful little country home, and no the cart is not a decoration!

When we get into the outskirts of Bagan there is a checkpoint where all foreigners must get out of their vehicles and pay $20 USD each for a five day pass to the Bagan area. David and I get off the bus to buy the passes. I ask the woman for a discount for my children – the big family discount. I show her Annika’s passport so she can see that I have children with us in the bus. She looks at the passport for a moment and then sends her coworker onto the bus to check if there is indeed children on the bus.

When the coworker comes back she remarks, “Big children!” The woman tells me she will give me a $20 discount, but when I give her the money she gives me only five tickets instead of six. I begin to protest, but she just says, “I give you discount” and she waves me off. David is confused at this, but I tell him in Finnish that it’s all right (Finnish is our secret language when we want to have a private exchange of information or ideas). Now let’s hope we don’t have another ticket problem!

When we get back on the bus the driver’s assistant starts to ask us if we have a mode of transportation selected when we leave from Bagan to Yangon. We tell him we plan to take the train, but he laughs and says, “No train! Train no go! It’s rainy season! No train! Must take bus!”

I sense a scam about to happen, and sure enough he starts trying to get us to buy tickets on OK bus from Bagan to Yangon. I look at David, and I think he could see my thoughts in my eyes! There is no way on God’s green earth that we are going inside one of these contraptions for a trip to Yangon! Another shockless bus? The distance has got to be twice that which we just completed! It was a hilarious trip today, no doubt, but I can’t subject David to another horrendous nauseating bus ride like this! Again in Finnish we make an agreement not to fall for the scam, and we decline to buy their tickets.

At great long last we arrive at our hotel in Bagan, and believe it or not, we are in one piece. In addition to all the trucks and motorcycles and other unusual modes of transportation we have had to dodge on this trip, we had to dodge oxen and cart combinations as well on this bus ride. It took us five hours, as planned…..the roads were so rough and so narrow that it took that long to go just 180 km! We had bounced up and down in the back of the shockless bus until it felt like our necks might have compression fractures!

Our hotel is super cute! Originally I had booked a pretty dingy looking place, but at the last minute I decided to get a little bit better hotel for our Bagan stay. I really wanted a pool for the kids after hot days of temple touring, so I forked over $100 more for the two nights. I am very pleased with my investment.

At first David was a little cranky that the rooms were on the lower level, and I guess he had a point because they were a little damp, but hey…..the room have amazing access to a great little pool that is nice and clean and refreshing! 

At dinner time we walk down the street to a local restaurant where we feast for $20. All the staff appears to be super pleased that we are there, and they hustle and bustle, and hustle and bustle all around us. We have five staff members standing around watching us eat…..kind of like we are some kind of rare animals in a zoo. Hope they don’t find our chopsticks skills amusing!

Tomorrow we plan to tour the beautiful Bagan temples. It feels kind of strange to actually be here. I have dreamed about this place…..and here we are…..tomorrow we get to start a tour of a really really cool place!

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