Aung Myo and myself. Not a great picture, but important to me. Aung Myo is the man who helped me on the bus and he joined me for a breakfast of Shan noodles this morning. I made the mistake of asking what one of the darker pieces among the noodles was (I was afraid it was beef, which I don't eat), and he said "solid chicken blood." Doesn't actually have a lot of flavour, and the whole thing was very good. Then he drove me on his motorcycle (125cc) to the pick-up point for the Nyaungshwe line-ka. I hope to stay in touch with him as I really enjoyed his company.
The Line-ka ("saungthaew" or "samlor" in Thailand, "line ka" or "bus" in Myanmar) is a form of transportation that wouldn't quite make it in N.A. They consist of a pickup truck (small or mid-sized, none of your F-150s here) with benches in the bed and a roof. As Lonely Planet says, a line-ka isn't considered ready to go until there are people hanging off every available hand hold. There are at least two kinds of line-ka here, ones that run between towns and ones that run set routes in town. The latter have a driver and a barker/conductor who collects money and yells out destinations at the stops. These guys usually ride hanging off the side of the truck, the most dangerous and precarious riding position. I rode one of these to the Festival two nights ago - I wasn't even sure if it was going to the Festival, but the barker (who spoke no english) insistently waved me on. What the hell. I rode hanging off the back because the body was full, and ended up at the Festival where the barker refused my money. And I rode one back as well, on the roof with my knees around my ribs. It was a blast. It cost me K100, or about $0.08US.
Today I got another taste of line-ka travel, taking the one hour, 19 mile ride from Taunggyi to Nyaungshwe (the closest town to Inle Lake, the big tourist draw around here). Remember I said "I rode hanging off the back because the body was full?" I hadn't dealt with "full" yet. I was packed in the back like a sardine in a can, my backpacks on the roof with three or four more people, and two guys rode the whole hour standing on the tailgate. The descent from Taunggyi was beautiful, winding roads down the hills by small waterfalls, then into the rice paddies that surround Nyaungshwe. Water everywhere, houses (such as they are - one room, walls of woven bamboo) on stilts, raised walkways to the houses.
Then I caught a trishaw to my new hotel. Trishaws are bicycles with sidecars, with two seats: one faces forward, one backward. The trishaw for ten minutes was a lot more than the line-ka, but that was fine because I had no idea where I was going. As I was arriving, I encountered two Swiss women that I had toured Taunggyi with on my first full day there. They were leaving, but I hope we'll meet again in Mandalay.