It was early to rise on the 17th, time to start moving again. I could of happily spent the next 2 weeks hangin at the pagoda, but the clock was ticking. This was said to be the most beautiful stretch of the river, passing through a gorge and possibly spotting the elusive Irrawaddy dolphin. Well, unless I blinked at the wrong second, we didn’t see any gorge, or dolphins, but it was still nice. We managed to push our way into another cabin, but not quite as inconspicuously as the last time They charged us an insane foreigner rate and there was no way I was gonna suffer for 7 hours for that price. It took a bit more effort, and the company wasn’t as pleasant, but well worth it anyway. I don’t know how they can squash into those little seats for 7 hours. I guess it’s not as much of a squash for them.
We arrived into Katha early in the afternoon and checked into one of the 2 ratty, overpriced guesthouses. While I was out deciding on the better of the 2, Jo chatted up a geologist from Yangon who was in town doing some exploration. He turned out to be a great contact. While he was in a meeting he got one of his staff to drive us around town. That evening he took us out for a delicious Chinese diner and went into more detail regarding the corruption and bullshit that goes on in this country.
After diner, Jo and I went for a stroll along the river enjoying the almost full moon. As we sat on a park bench, three young guys with a guitar showed up and gave us an impromptu concert, singing (yelling) and laughing the whole time. Eventually we had to head back to the hotel. Feeling a little rude, we stood up, said thank-you and started walking.
Just as we were getting back, we saw Theo walking out the door in search of a late diner. He had opted to take the slow boat that day and arrived a full seven hours after us. The slow boat is much bigger and comfortable than the boat we took, but as a result it travels slower, and got stuck on a lot more sandbars. We decided to join him for diner, what the heck, one more tea. Over the course of diner he convinced Jo and I to add Mrauk-U to our list of must sees. The list is already bigger than we have time for, but Mrauk-U pushed it’s way right to the top. Theo takes his photography serious, and on his last trip he’d taken a pile of pictures in the area. On his return to Myanmar printed off some of those pictures and was going to distribute them to the locals. He was running out of time and thought he may have to send them in the mail, hoping they would get passed around to the appropriate people. A tall leap of faith around here. The government opens every piece of mail, and doesn’t seem to like the citizens to feel any sort of joy at all. When I said I was going for sure he decided to send the photos with me instead. They get so excited to see an image of themselves on a camera, I can’t wait to see the reaction to receiving a photo in print. It’s going to be a task to find everyone, but one I can’t wait to take on. Suddenly we realized it was almost midnight, hurriedly we paid our bills and headed back to the hotel, which was a typical cheapie with no privacy. We must have woken up the whole place trying to sneak in. Oh well, they’ll get us back in the am.
Katha was one of the main locations in George Orwell’s novel Burmese Days. Being the good tourists that we are, in the morning we set off in search of some of the sites mentioned in the novel, namely the British Club and tennis courts. We found them without too much hassle and then spent the an hour or so loafing around, and imagining it was the days of British colonization. Theo was on a mission to find more of the sites, but they proved to be a bit more challenging. Soon we abandoned the task and headed back into town for lunch before Jo and I had to catch our train to Manadalay.
We had decided to finish the journey on land instead of the river. After hearing Theo’s story of getting stuck repetitively, I was reluctantly convinced that it was the way to go. I had really wanted to finish the journey by boat, but it could have taken 2 full days to cover what could be done in 12 hours by train. It bounced like a basketball, and we had to share a berth, but it was a full moon and the view out the window was even better than on the way up. This time we managed an “express train”, only stopping 3 times.