Pathein: A riverside town on the way from Yangon to Ngwesaung.
Talk to any backpacker that has taken the bus from Yangon to the beach town of Ngwesaung, 6 hours east of Yangon and they will likely have a horror story about Pathein. From the bus stop scam to getting totally lost. Here is my story…
The Journey begins
It started with an exhilarating motorbike ride across Yangon from one bus terminal to another (why are the terminals so far apart, is it even necessary to have that many bus terminals??).
We had an hour to get across the Yangon traffic from Aung Mingalar bus station, where we’d been dropped off after a looooong bumpy 26hr ride from MraukU, to Hlang Thar Yar station where the bus was leaving for Ngwe Saung.
the 40 minute exhilarating motorbike ride across Yangon was worth the 5000kyat even if we had of missed the bus. It was the motor taxi ride of my life! These guys dodged the traffic like pro’s, and seemed to really care that we got to the next bus on time. I felt like I was in a James Bond movie!
We got to the bus station at 9.55am with 5 minutes to spare until the 10am bus we thought we needed to get only to be told by a random child that appeared out of nowhere that there was no bus to Ngwe Saung beach that day. Bloody f**k s**t s**t s**t! Buuuuut we could get on his uncles bus and go to Pathein and change to a minibus there. After already 27 hours on the road and getting all the way here, we just went for it. Although in heinseight it may have been a scam to get us on the Pathein bus, but at the time I just didn’t care.
Air conditioning, no one vomiting into my face, spacious seat, lovely! I would have even tried to get a bit of sleep had it not been for the constant stopping, checkpoints, and my shoulders being used as pillows.
We were so happy to have made the bus that we didn’t think twice when, as we were reaching a checkpoint, the bus conductor/money collector came and closed all the curtains at the back of the bus where we were sitting, we thought he was trying to hide from the authorities, in fact, it was us he was hiding! As we soon found out when an officer stormed up to the back of the bus and demanded to see our passports. Some shouting and angry noises between the bus driver and the officer proceeded while we looked on having absolutely no idea what was going on. Then our passports were returned and we carried on the way.
We later found out that buses carrying foreigners had to pay extra per foreign person at the checkpoints. Whether the bus driver was hiding us to get away without paying extra becuase he hadn’t charged us extra or just because he wanted to keep the extra we will never know!
Getting to Pathein
So a bus to Pathein sounded great, except the Pathein bus doesn’t actually stop in central Pathein.
It stopped at the ‘new’ bus stop outside Pathein (but of course!) and everybody got off and loaded onto another bus which would take us to the main city to take the next bus to Yangon. Except we, the only ‘white’ people on the bus were taken to the side by a group of taxi drivers who crowded around us and said we were not allowed on the bus and had to pay to get to the city. Didn’t seem right, we managed to get out of the group and noticed the passengers from our bus motioning to get onto the new bus with them, we choose that option, and it happened to be a free shuttle bus to the city center for everyone (including foreigners!). The Pathein bus stop taxi scam is apparently one of the oldest in the books, and we soon met a couple of french travellers who had fallen for it!
The shuttle bus again dropped us somewhere obscure, not really in Pathein, not anywhere near a minibus to Ngwe Saung, so we decided to walk and with a little bit of luck and a little bit of help from the app ‘Maps Me’ we somehow found our way into town. Hooray! But now where?
Once in Pathein, it didn’t get any easier to find the elusive bus stop to get to Ngwe Saung. After taking a bicycle rickshaw across town and then back again after realising the driver had no clue what we were talking about, we wondered aimlessly asking in every shop, each time getting the same blank stare.
Our backpackers feeling heavier and heavier as we walked around in the heat, we finally asked another bicycle rickshaw driver, but this time pointed to the map of Ngwe Saung in the lonely planet (where is says the name in the Burmese language also) and also pointed to the word ‘bus’, he managed to put two and two together and took us the literal 50m across the road to a deserted car-park where a minibus to Ngwe Saung was waiting along. We had been so close the whole time!
We had 20 minutes before the bus left (apparently 1 leaves every hour), so just enough time to find a toilet and get some snacks for the journey. There is a huge temple in the middle of Pathein, I was pointed in it’s direction when I asked the bus driver about a toilet. To cut a long story short, if you ever find yourslef in Pathein, don’t use the Temple toilet. There is a bank across the road from the temples with an air conditioned and free toilet instead.
Finally, after 3 buses and almost 2 days on the road we were on the last leg of the journey to Ngwe Saung, packed tightly into a full minbus, I passed out for the entire length of the journey, waking up just when we arrived in Ngwe Saung, in a foul foul mood….more about that in another post!
So why ‘horrible’ Pathein? What is so awful about it? Well maybe it was just my bad mood, hunger, lack of sleep, lack of directions, awful toilet experience in a Pagoda.. just a combination of things made for bad experience in the city that I couldn’t truly judge having only spent just over an hour there. However it isn’t somewhere I would consider visiting again, it reminded me a bit of Burnt Oak in London, a bit dirty and meh. Speaking to other backpackers about it, they felt the same, like they were being scammed at every corner.
Lonely Planet describes it as having a ‘busy, buzzy atmosphere’ and somewhere worth stopping off, but then again the Lonely Planet also marked the bus stop to Ngwe Saung wrong, soooo take from that what you will.
Meanwhile here is the actual spot/derelict car park where the minibus to Ngwe Saung leaves from Pathein. 50m from the Pagoda direction east, inbetween Mingalar St and Pagoda Road. Car park can only be seen on Google Earth not the regular map. The google co-ordinates are 16°46’52.0″N 94°44’00.8″E)…