1/30/18: Hitchiking For The First Time!

WAH! Today was the big hitchhiking day.

Vid below, scroll to read full story.

We woke up at 8:30 and had breakfast at the hotel. It was really cute— they brought us toast, an egg (I didn’t have one), some jam, and jackfruit. We also brought our own bananas, so we ate those too.

We packed up and wished each other good luck as we walked down the road to start our hitchhiking adventure.

It was Arno and Hannah against me and Marlijn. The prize was a pizza dinner once we got back to Yangon.

Arno and Hannah were a bit ahead of us. While Marlijn and I were figuring out which road to start flagging down cars, we saw them get into a car. It was kind of a sad/scary moment, seeing them drive off. It was then that I realized this was real— it would be just me and Marlijn left to our own devices.

We kept walking down to get to more of the edge of town. We started to put our hands up and half wave, half thumbs-up to cars. We really weren’t sure what to do. It was funny because all the drivers were just waving back to us, thinking that we were just saying hi to them. Eventually a public tuk tuk truck thing stopped and asked us where we were going. We told them Yangon, and he said he would take us to Kyaikto (about a 30 minute drive in the right direction). We said we have no money, and he agreed to take us for free. Kyaikto is a pretty busy transportation point, so we agreed to go.

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on the tuk tuk truck thing
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funniest fake converse bag!!

We met this Spanish guy on the tuk tuk. We told him what we were doing— hitchhiking from Golden Rock to Yangon in a race against our two friends— and he found it pretty entertaining. He even thought we were part of a television show at first.

We were dropped off at the train station. We were back to square one, trying to find another ride to take us to the next nearest place. We started flagging down cars. After a few minutes, one stopped and asked us where we were going. When we said Yangon, he told us we were standing on the wrong side of the road; we wanted cars going in the opposite direction.

We crossed the street and continued in our efforts to hitch a ride. A few stopped, asked us where we were going, and all told us we needed to walk to the intersection and get cars going south. We would walk a few steps toward the intersection, see cars coming, stop, stick our thumbs up, and then keep walking as cars continued to pass us.

Eventually, after about ten minutes, one pick-up truck stopped and asked us where we were going. We said Yangon, and he told us he was going to Bago, which is about 40 miles from Yangon. He agreed to let us join him to Bago.

We dropped our stuff in the bed of the truck and jumped in the back. The driver was with a woman, presumably his wife or girlfriend. They couldn’t speak much English, but were super kind to us. At one point they even offered us bottles of water.

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Marlijn saw some official-looking stickers at the front of the car and got worried that we were in a taxi. I was almost positive we weren’t (it was a truck, he was with somebody, there was no price negotiation in the beginning), but I asked anyway just to make sure. He laughed and said no, and then I felt bad for asking.

The ride was pretty uneventful, just driving through villages, watermelon stands (SO.MANY.WATERMELONS!!!), and rice fields. One funny part of the ride was that they had a CD with just 3 songs on it, so we listened to the same 3 songs over and over for an hour and a half. By the end of it, we nearly had the lyrics memorized. And it was in Burmese.

We got to Bago and he dropped us off in front of the bus station. Which would have been helpful, except we were in a competition to reach Yangon without paying for anything.

We were in desperate need of a bathroom, so we walked into a random restaurant to relieve ourselves.

We then got some fruit from a street stall and started our hitchhiking process over again— standing at the side of the road, waving/thumbs-upping, smiling, praying. A Honda pulled over after a few minutes of this. We told him Yangon, and he said he was headed that way. We were like PERFECT! And jumped in. He was with a friend, and they both had pretty poor but adequate enough English skills to communicate the basics. The interior of the car was pretty funny. The seats all had fake Louis Vuitton covers and the windows had a bunch of icons for no smoking, Facebook, coffee, etc like we were in a restaurant or something. The icons made Marlijn once again nervous that we were in a taxi, so we asked again. And once again, he was not a taxi driver.

After a few minutes we took a right turn and parked on a random road for a few minutes because the driver needed to do something for his job. His friend told us (by saying “boss” and showing us pictures of his trucks) that he sells trucks (I think??) locally. He seemed to be a pretty big deal.

He came back into the car after a few minutes and we started driving again. After a few minutes, however, we pulled off onto another random road. The road was unpaved and the only cars that seemed to be on it were huge, industrial trucks. I pulled out my phone and saw that we were going in the wrong direction of Yangon. Marlijn and I started to get nervous— what if this turns into one of those hitchhiking horror stories you hear about?? The driver and his friend saw us nervously looking at our phones and started laughing, telling us not to worry. He just had to do something quick for his job. Again. We eventually got to what looked like his dealership. There were a bunch of white trucks, which I think are tuk tuk trucks. The driver got out and walked toward the building. We waited for about 5 minutes and he came back. He said, “Ok, Yangon now.” And we were all like wooooo! In unison. It was a cute moment.

He drove pretty fast, which we were happy about since we wanted to beat Hannah and Arno. We drove past more villages, watermelon stands, and rice fields.

We were about 20 miles from downtown Yangon when we got dropped off. He dropped us off by two taxis, and told us we could take a taxi the rest of the way. We felt bad because it was really nice of him, but we didn’t want to take a taxi. We told him, “no money” and (through hand motions) that we would continue to hitchhike the rest of the way there.

We walked a bit further up the road and stuck our thumbs up. A few minutes went by, and a bus stopped and asked where we were going. We told the driver Yangon and no money, and he let us on the bus. It was some sort of mini bus/van thing. There were about 5 others aboard, and they were all staring at us like we were insane. Which I would probably do too if 2 foreign girls with huge backpacks and looks of total confusion got on my bus.

We really had no idea where exactly the bus was going, but they had told us Yangon, so we were riding on faith. One lady on the bus tried to help us figure out what to do— we showed her our hostel on Google maps and she kept saying words to me but I didn’t understand anything she was saying. The bus stopped after about five minutes and she brought us off. She then walked us toward an area with public buses. Marlijn and I looked at each other with concern since public buses probably meant we’d have to pay a fare.

Suddenly, a young, maybe 20-year old guy came up from behind us and told us he spoke English. He asked us where our hostel is, and we told him it’s near Sule Pagoda. He told us the bus would be 200 kyat (15 cents) per person. There was really no way for us to refuse the help of this guy and woman and just try to hitchhike— it would be too rude. Marlijn and I decided that the bus would probably be the best option for us at this point.

Eventually bus number 37 came, and he told us we could take that bus to Sule Pagoda. We must have been at the first stop of the bus route because no one, including the driver, was on the bus when we got on.

The driver got on after a few minutes, and then a few more people came on. The boy that had been helping us got on as well and sat behind us.

We got going, and as more people got on we realized that the payment happens when you first get on the bus. We had somehow gotten away with not paying.

Apparently, 3 pm is rush hour. The traffic on the bus was HORRIBLE: it was stop-and-go for about an hour. I never thought we would get to the Pagoda.

We finally got to our stop after an hour. I somehow got off the bus without killing anyone with my backpack.

We were about a 15 minute walk from the hostel. At this point we were at the edge of sanity: starving, parched, bladders screaming in pain, headache from a lack of food, sweating, and exhaustion from so much stress all day. We were also pretty sure we lost since the bus ride took so long, and because we rode 5 different vehicles to get to Yangon.

I wanted to walk as quickly as possible, mainly so that I could drink some water and pee. I also still had a bit of hope that we were in the lead, and I figured the faster we walked the better our chances of winning.

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so close!! 39th street

We got to the hostel and didn’t see Arno and Hannah. We pretty much bombarded the front desk, asking if two people named Arno and Hannah had checked in already. They were so confused and (understandably) a bit annoyed by all our questions and excitement. They checked their system and said that they had not yet checked in. Just as we were getting excited about the possibility that we had won, we saw Hannah and Arno come into the hostel. I started screaming/jumping up and down.

It was pretty obnoxious— the others in the lobby probably thought we were the most annoying people. Arno and Hannah saw us already inside and looked so disappointed. We told them we had literally just arrived, and then they looked even more disappointed.

We learned later that Arno had stopped on the walk to the hostel to get pineapple. We were only 3 minutes apart, so it was very possible that his pineapple stop is what cost them the win. But it is pretty insane that we started the journey 200 km away, about 6 hours previous, and we both arrived in such close proximity.

After we shared our stories of the journey and calmed down a bit, we went across the street for food since we were all starving.

We went back to the hostel and did our own thing for a couple hours. I decided to work on the blog since I finally had decent enough wifi to upload photos.

Around 7 we headed off to dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant. We had been craving pizza/western food after so many days of fried noodles, fried veggies, fried… everything, so we were really looking forward to the meal.

The restaurant was completely empty, which is pretty typical in Myanmar. I have no idea how any of the restaurants here survive.

We got a bottle of red wine to share and ordered our food. I asked for a “vegetable pizza with no cheese,” and the waiter repeated my request to me like I was crazy. “So you want a pizza with no cheese and just tomato sauce and vegetables??!” Yes, yes I do, sir.

The waiter brought our wine and did it the proper Western way; he let one person try it and then poured it into glasses for us. He was also the best waiter I’ve had in possibly all of SE Asia— he’s definitely been trained in a hospitality course.

The waiter came over with my pizza, placed it in front of me, and I looked down excited to dig in… only to discover…. It had cheese.

The waiter apologized and told me he would bring me a new one. I felt bad, but… I specifically asked for no pizza and he specifically thought I was crazy for asking for it.

The new pizza came, this time with no cheese, I thanked him, and then proceeded to eat the entire pie. I have yet to eat the whole pie of a pizza since going vegan. It’s just so much lighter when there’s no cheese.

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We went back to the hostel after dinner and shared a couple beers together before going to bed around midnight.

I’m grateful to have sound such amazing travel buddies. The past few days with them in Yangon and Hpa-An have been so much fun. It’s just really nice hanging out with people who are all from different countries (Marlijn from Holland; Arno from Belgium; Hannah from Guernsey, UK). We are constantly sharing stories, comparing (and poking fun at) each other’s cultures, and just learning so much from each other.

I was initially really nervous to hitchhike, but I’m so glad we did it. Although it was stressful at times, it was also so much fun and we learned so much and met so many people in just a few hours. I am still amazed at how kind and generous most people are. So many people wanted to help us, and I am forever grateful to the many we met today who gave us free rides.

Hitchhiking gets a bad rap (especially in the U.S.), but it’s a pretty incredible way to travel. I think I want to do it more often (not alone, though). Today was a fantastic day.

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