Paying it Backward
A Burmese Road Trip: Part 2
By Dave Fox
Driving from Nyaung Shwe to Bagan, Burma (Myanmar)
[This story is a continuation from the previous article: Back to School in Myanmar.]
If you’re familiar with my writing, you have probably gathered by now that some of my friends are deadbeats. Case in point: Matt and Deb Preston.
Matt and Deb run the Travel With a Mate website. Matt also has the dubious honor of having designed Globejotting.com.
Matt and Deb had passed through Burma a few months before me. In the town of Thazi, they had done something very, very bad. Now, they wanted me to go patch things up.
Thazi is a place travelers probably wouldn’t visit, except it sits where two of Burma’s rail lines criss-cross. When train schedules require it, people stay overnight at one of two guesthouses in town.
Matt and Deb had stayed at a place called the Wonderful Guesthouse. They chose it over the other guesthouse in Thazi, Matt said, because the other one was “a guesthouse full of cats and the strong smell of cat piss everywhere.”
The week before I left for Burma, Matt had e-mailed me to ask if I could stop by the Wonderful Guesthouse. He wanted me to make amends for his bad behavior.
The Wonderful Guesthouse, Matt wrote from his home in England, was “run by a very wonderful woman who doesn’t speak much English but is very smiley and friendly. Her son runs it with her and he speaks more English so you’ll probably meet him. He must be about 18 or 19. So look out for a mother and son.”
The wonderful lady who ran the Wonderful Guesthouse also sold wonderful bottles of Myanmar Beer, Matt explained. He and Deb had each consumed two large bottles during their overnight stay. They had gone to bed late, woken up early with cloudy brains, and dashed to the station for a 5 a.m. train. As as their train pulled out of town, it had dawned on them; they had never paid for their beers.
Their bar tab of 8,000 kyat (around nine US dollars) equaled three days’ wages for many Burmese people. Now, Matt and Deb wanted me to go pay it. Matt wrote that they felt horrible for the crime they had committed. Yeah, whatever.
So, armed with photos, our noses peeled to avoid feline urine, we slowed down as our van rolled into Thazi. We spotted the Wonderful Guesthouse. The wonderful, smiley lady was standing outside.
“Room?” she asked in English as I climbed out of the van.
“No,” I said. “We don’t need a room. But do you know these people?”
I pulled out a folded-up picture of Matt and Deb, taken in the Wonderful Guesthouse reception area. They were each holding a mug of stolen Myanmar Beer.
The smiley lady smiled wider. “Yes!” She remembered them — fondly, it seemed.
I explained that my deadbeat friends owed her 8,000 kyat.
The smiley lady squinted for a moment, looking perplexed. Then, her smile returned as she remembered that, yes, my friends had stiffed her. She seemed elated that I, a man of stronger moral fiber, had come with restitution for their dubious behavior.
I paid for Matt and Deb’s beers, plus a round for our group. We hung out for a half-hour and slurped our refreshments. As we got up to leave, the smiley lady handed us business cards and asked me to recommend her guesthouse to my friends. I promised I would.
So let this be an official recommendation. If you’re ever passing through Thazi, the Wonderful Guesthouse appeared clean and comfy. The family that runs it is delightful. If I ever need a room in Thazi, it’s where I will stay.
And it’s where I recommend you stay too. But if you go, please remember to pay your bar tab. I can’t afford to be buying beer for every deadbeat traveler who slinks through town.
Back on the road, we rambled for three more hours. Just before sunset, we rolled into Bagan, our final destination.
For the same price as a private driver, we could have bought four plane tickets to Bagan. We could have flown through nine driving hours of potholed terrain in just one hour, and spared our spines the trauma of a day’s jostling. But the most convenient route isn’t always the most rewarding.
Notebooks donated, deadbeat travel bloggers’ reputations rescued, and lives glimpsed in villages untouched by tourism, all made this “road less traveled” worth the journey.
As far as Matt and Deb go, they have just informed me that soon, they’ll be back in Singapore, where I currently live. The first round is on them. With Singapore beer prices, I’ll come out ahead.
Also on Globejotting: An interview with Matt Preston (who is not always a deadbeat) about his life as a professional travel blogger.