It’s not always rainbows and unicorns when it comes to travelling, especially adventure travel. This is a story about an awful journey in the North of Myanmar, where trains, soaring temperatures and a dodgy soup led to a now infamous incident at the side of a road in Myanmar.
The day is to be forever known for the moment I turned to Laura, at the side of a dusty road, and blurted out the immortal words:
I think I’ve just s#*$ myself.
Perhaps we should rewind a little.
We’d just spent a few days in the Northern town of Hsipaw, a small town used as a base by travellers to explore the highlands and treks in the area. After a very memorable few days meeting locals, monks and nuns on our stay, it was time to bid farewell and make the journey back to Mandalay to catch our flight the following day. That morning we had our breakfast, pulled our backpacks onto our backs and trekked the short 15 minute walk to the train station.
As basic as you can imagine, we sat on the platform and waited for the train to roll in with a handful of other people. The train was basic but the seats seemed comfortable, and we settled in for the 6.5 hour journey south to Pyin Oo Lwin where we would search out a bus or taxi to take us the rest of the way to Mandalay.
What we didn’t realise as we waited for the train to pull away, was that these moments would be our last experience of comfort for another 24 hours.
Riding The No Suspension Express
With a jerk and crunch, our train pulled out of the station, and we slowly crawled out of Hsipaw and into the countryside. The views were incredible, as we passed through never ending rice fields occasionally punctuated by small villages and wooden buildings. After half an hour or so, the track began to twist and turn, and our carriage would heave to the left and then the right. It was at this point I began to feel a little queasy. Then the track became bumpy, with a lack of suspension not helping our cause.
I must have looked white, but Laura reassured me:
“It’ll pass, it can’t all be like this.”
It could, and it was. For the next 6 hours, we were constantly launched up off our seats and back down again. We were nudged left and right with each turn in the tracks. I tried all my tricks in my travel book: head out the window for fresh air (only worked for a bit as I had to keep sucking back inside to avoid various branches and trees), stare at the horizon (tough to do given the windows weren’t at eye level and much of the time the growth around the tracks blacked out the horizon). No, the only hope was to sit it out.
As we meandered through the Myanmar countryside, occasionally we would pull into a small town or village, or pull up alongside another train where various things were loaded and unloaded. Despite my sickness it was fascinating to watch, traders and sellers sometimes appearing literally out of the bushes, resplendent in their thanaka face paint and a head tray full of exotic goods for purchase. Everything from packaged fried snacks, to chicken kebabs, tea and fruits. It was truly a melting pot, makeshift markets created and dismantled in minutes.
After around 4 hours of being jolted about, the train slowed its speed and we came through a tunnel in the hill to a vast gorge. We’d arrived at the main event of the train journey, the Gokteik Viaduct with its spectacular railway bridge over 100 metres above the ground and nearly 700 metres long. We’d heard it was quite a sight and experience to travel across the bridge, and it was one of the main reasons we’d chosen to take the train.
I mustered up some energy and dragged myself to the gap between the carriages where we could get a better view. As was often the case on trains in Asia, the carriage door to the outside was nowhere to be seen, so we were extremely careful with our footing.
The view was spectacular and exhilarating, and for a brief few minutes as we crossed the bridge my nausea and headache dimmed as the suspension and turns were put on hold for this straight, slow stretch of the track. Eventually, our train reached the other side and we breathed a sigh of relief as the train began to pick up speed again and raced towards its next stop. Again the nausea hit, and I huddled down for the final hour of the journey.
The Moment We Both Shall Never Forget
Finally we arrived in Pyin Oo Lwin, and we grabbed our backpacks and got off the train. We had made it! Relief washed over me as we slowly walked the couple of kilometres from the train station to the town centre where we would arrange our next transport to Mandalay. We could have got a taxi or tuk tuk, but I couldn’t stomach another thing on wheels just yet. We walked for around 15 minutes until I became dizzy.
“I need to stop.”
I crumpled down onto the street, between two parked cars, and took a sip of water. I was dizzy, I was nauseous and I felt awful. Laura went off to get a bottle of coke for me, and I lay back on my backpack in the middle of the pavement as curious Burmese shop owners and locals looked on. I must have been the palest person they’d ever seen, given my pasty white skin at the best of times.
Laura returned a few minutes later with a plan of action. Apparently there was a makeshift taxi rank (read: some people who had cars who were willing to drive us somewhere) 10 minutes along the road. The problem was they only hung around there until 5pm, and it was 4.30pm now. We had to get moving.
I heaved myself back up and we began walking, but within a couple of minutes, the unspeakable, and quite unexpected occurred.
I pooped my pants.
Without giving you all the details, it’s safe to say I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. There was no prior warning, it just happened. Which probably explains why I just blurted out “I’ve just s#*! myself” to Laura without any prior warning.
The look on Laura’s face was priceless. A cross between surprise at my bluntness, confusion as to how I wasn’t better prepared, and worry as to how the heck we were meant to get back to Mandalay this evening. I suppose in retrospect I could have phrased it differently:
- “I’ve had an accident and I need to find a toilet”
- “You go on ahead, I’ll just pop in here and buy some coca cola”
- “I’ve got a sore stomach and need to use a bathroom”
All of these may have lessened the impact somewhat, but given how shocked I was, I wasn’t even aware I was saying it until the phrase was out!
We quickly bundled into a nearby building, where a kind soul beckoned me through to the back garden where there was a squat toilet. It was there Laura gave me some new clothes and then had to leave to find the taxi rank to get a car to take us to Mandalay. I sorted myself out as best as I could, but as went to leave the toilet, one final kick in the teeth became apparent to me. My beloved headphones had found there way into the squat toilet, and there was no saving them.
In my dizzy state, and headache frazzled mind, all I wanted to do was leave them there. But I couldn’t. Knowing what the sanitation systems are like, those headphones could cause the owner of the building some problems down the line. It wasn’t fair on him. So in one final humiliating act, I bent down and retrieved the headphones from the mess, put them in a bag with my pants, tied it up and gingerly went back into the cafe.
Local Heroes Looking Out For Us
It was here we were reminded of the great hospitality and generosity of the Burmese people. This cafe owner, whom I barely acknowledged as I waddled to use his toilet, motioned for me to give him my plastic bag to put in his bin.
No, really no. I can’t have you deal with this.
In my best charade possible, I tried to explain to this kind Burmese man everything that had happened, using only hand signals and pointing. He smiled and insisted I give him the bag. I tried to leave some money behind, he refused. So in the end I bought some bottles of coke and left the change for him. What a hero.
At this point Laura had returned, and had found a kind man with his wife who was willing to take us to Mandalay that evening, around 1.5 hours away. But we had to get a move on, he was leaving in 15 minutes and we were still around 10 minutes away from the taxi rank.
I hoisted the bag on my back, and we headed along the street, passed the point where it had happened, a nod to the shop owners who had seen the whole thing. I didn’t care now, we had to get to the taxi.
We turned a corner and there it was. A solitary car in a gravel area around the back of some building. Standing there with his boot open was our driver, a beaming smile and a kindness that ran deep. We had hit the jackpot. I put my bag in the boot and motioned to him that I was unwell. He put his arm around me and sat me in the front seat. His wife sat in the back with Laura, and we were off on our final leg to Mandalay.
Travelling Isn’t Always Rainbows & Unicorns
I never thought I would write a story like this on our blog, for the whole world to see. But, the truth of it is, travel blogs and adventures can be made to look glamorous and exciting. And for much of the time, life on the road is perfect, the adventures are amazing and it’s easy to just share those parts of the journey. But there are also down times, and it’s only fair that we share with you the positives and negatives of travel.
Did it put us off from travelling? Of course not! These things happen, and even at home we all get sick sometimes. The key to travelling is to not take yourself seriously. Things will go wrong, plans will change, you’ll get sick sometimes. You also need to learn to trust people, but that doesn’t mean you should lazily and naively trust everyone you meet. Rather, like we have on much of our travels, start your interaction with someone with a position of neutrality, not scepticism. For the vast majority of times, like our friend with the toilet, and like our driver, they are good people just like us.
And so now you (and the whole world knows): I pooped my pants on a street in Myanmar.