This is the first night I slept on a park bank or more accurately on a bank at the bus station. And it was not the best experience ever as you can imagine. We arrived in Nay Pyi Taw at 3am and had not organized a hotel as we wanted to leave the same day. Nay Pyi Taw which is literally translated to royal city of the sun is the newly built capital of Myanmar. It was created in an area where there used to be mostly forest. The forest is long gone and the city consists of scattered houses along empty streets (8-10 lanes) and oversized buildings in a desert. It had been built in a malaria area and we were told that a lot of people who had to move there died. I cannot understand why so much money was spent here while infrastructure in other places of the country is in bad shape, power cuts (if people have electricity at all) happen on a daily basis, running water is a luxury for many and a lot of people live in very poor condition.
You are not allowed to take pictures of official buildings in Myanmar. Many tourists therefore choose to skip the capital (sometimes I am asking myself if some people only travel to take pictures). Besides visiting the newly built huge Uppatasanti pagoda and white elephants that are supposed to bring luck we also went to a shopping mall – the only one we visited in Myanmar. We arrived at the mall by accident as the motorbike taxi drivers did not understand that we wanted to see the city center. They brought us to the junction center (name of the mall) instead. At the mall we saw a group of people in front of an escalator, they seemed lost and we only realized that they used it for the first time when an official person came to teach them how to hop on it.
From there we decided to take the train although travel advises of the Swiss government say that the train system of Myanmar is not up to standard (and they are right). But planes and buses are often not in better condition either. Nay Pyi Taw has an overdimensioned train station which is far out of the city. While we waited for the train everyone took great care for us (we probably also paid 5 times the price for the train ride being foreigners). We got free coffee and had our own tourist toilet (with handwashing facilities!). The train ride was a bit of an adventure and very bumpy. We had mice running through our carriage and I feared several times that the train would derail.
Thazi was the place we needed to change train and stay overnight. When we arrived in the evening we saw lots of military people at the train station and in the town. All the shops had closed and shut the doors. We later learned that the town had been on a curfew from sunset to sunrise for more than a month. This was a reminder that we are travelling in a country that is at civil war in some places and sees riots between different population and religious groups. We went quickly to the chosen guest house in Thazi, had to knock on the door a couple of times and were let in finally. I heard military trucks circulating the town all night and I was happy we could leave the next morning.
Thazi is located 30km away from Meiktila where people were killed after fights between muslims and buddhists some weeks ago.We crossed the city later on our trip (it is the center between 3 major tourist places and crossings therefore unavoidable) and saw houses that were burnt down, muslim shops that were destroyed and people living in temporary places looking like refugee camps. We heard different stories whether the government is not doing enough to stop the riots or even encouraging the conflicts aiming to reach a homogenous buddhist country. We tried not to start talking about this topic with locals as we realized on the first day in Yangon hat government spies are indeed walking around. A buddhist monk started talking to us while we were visiting a temple. He spoke English very well and summarized the whole political situation in Myanmar from his point of view. After a while we realized that there was a man sitting next to us, then changed place to the other side and finally sat behind us, always within hearing distance and without being descrete about his intentions. The monk only joked that yes, this person is from the government but he would not understand any English…
Back in the train we experienced the more interesting part of the journey. Kalaw used to be a British hill station, a place to get away in the hot season – exactly what we needed at this point. The train went up in zig-zag, going back and forth a couple of times as we needed to gain height. We travelled uphill very slowly and saw simple village life on the way. Whenever the train stopped trading between the village people and train riders started. After 6 hours we arrived in the cool of Kalaw and had rain for the first time in Myanmar.