Of course you can take the boat back to Sittwe and a plane from there. It’s straight forward, but it will set you back $130-200 per person. We wanted to try something different and we had previously with success taken a local intercity bus. After some research on the internet – prior to our trip – we experienced that the road from Sittwe to Magwe allowed an intercity bus to operate on daily basis. Getting tickets were quite easy because our hotel could provide them for only 20.000 Kyats each. Communication were not precise, so we were in doubt whether our tickets were for Mandalay or only for Magwe. But we agreed that if we only had tickets for Magwe we could stay the night in Magwe and continue to Mandalay the next morning.
The bus leaves Sittwe around 8 AM and is about 2 hours to get to Mrauk-U. As Prince hotel is on the highway towards Magwe we did not have to leave for the bus-station. The staff simply stopped the bus on the road in front of the hotel and we boarded.
At first glance the bus wasn’t so bad, but as we got on-board we were sure that is was worn down. The air-condition was working, but it was not fleetingly cold – we actually don’t like 17 C – so it could be OK. The first couple of hours went on fine and easy, frequently stops to take up and set off passengers and to have short breaks. When the bus reached the mountains and began to climb up the air-condition disappeared or were switched off – as my wife reasoned maybe they are saving power to get the bus climbing.
At some point someone had entered the bus and several boxes were put in the luggage compartment exactly below our seat. I was in the most unpleasant way revealed to us that the boxes contained dried fish. Throughout the rest of the trip we had frequently clouds of smell of dried fish drifting through the bus.
At 5 PM the bus suddenly pulled over at a lonely mountaintop for no apparent reason and no announcements were made. The driver and his assistants went out and opened one of the luggage compartments, some of the Burmese went out to smoke and stretch their legs so we decided to do the same. Outside we could see that the open compartment was not used for luggage, it were used for spare parts, not new ones but heavily used. The driver and his assistants were all gathered around the engine bay and a long wet trail behind the bus could be seen.
We hung around the bus and had the view to a beautiful sun-set over the mountains. When the sun had set the driver picket a bucket full of ½ litre water bottles, not containing water but an unknown fluid. He disappeared into the engine bay and a few minutes later everybody was ordered back to the bus and the trip could continue.
A few hours later the bus lost it’s speed, several other buses and lorries overtook the bus, and it almost crawled over the hills. The bus were stopped shortly, we were not allowed outside while the driver worked on the engine, when started the bus was almost as fast as initially. But it did not last, the event was repeated but with identically results. So they made a stop at an restaurant – or rather a place where you can buy something to eat and drink, go to the lavatory and so on. While the passangers refreshed themselves the driver and his assistances worked on the engine. They removed an approximately 30 cm long and less than 1 cm thick copper pipe from the engine. From the spare parts compartment they withdrew a similar copper pipe even though at least 50 cm. Both pipes were ingeniously curled, but not likewise. With the shaft from an axe and a block of wood the driver started to first straighten the ‘new’ pipe and then to curl it in another way, while doing this he frequently brought the pipe to the engine for measurement. After working for 30-40 minutes he fired up the engine, honked the horn for departure. Now the bus could go on throughout our journey.
The military holds a zone around Ann where you are not allowed to travel freely. So as the bus comes near Ann it reaches a control post. A this point everybody must leave the bus, foreigners must go to a small counter for the control of passports and visas. We were 3 foreigners on the bus – a Chinese guy, my wife and I – and the control went smooth. The we were allowed back on the bus. While we entered the bus the Burmese were controlled. This was arranged so they had handed over their identity cards when leaving the bus and now an officer called them one by one to return the identity cards and securing that they went back on to the bus. Approximately 2 hours later the control was repeated.
At midnight the bus rolled into Magwe, crossing the largest Bailey bridge I’ve ever seen. We succeeded to understand from the drivers assistant that our tickets were valid for the trip to Mandalay, so we stayed on the bus and arrived to Mandalay a 6 AM a day earlier than expected.
Even though the road run through the flat landscape along the Ayevarwady and the roads are better than in the mountains it was very limited how much we slept.
It was not the most comfortable trip I’ve made. But I think it’s interesting to experience how people in Myanmar must travel every time they needs to travel, for my trips at home I just get in to the car and drive on an almost perfectly smooth tarmac. The trip we made from Mrauk-U to Mandalay is 650 km in Denmark (such a long trip is actually not possible in Denmark) it would take 6-7 hours for me to drive.