We’re coming up to the last week of the Bootsnall writing prompts. Day 24 suggests we write about the worst accommodation we’ve ever stayed in. It didn’t take much mental searching before I laughed out loud, remembering the “Floral Breeze” in Bagan, Burma where I stayed in the fall of 2012.
Before I chuckle my way though the rest of the story, some context: Burma (or Myanmar, depending on who you ask) has been ruled by a military regime since 1989. In 2012-2013, the Burmese government spent nearly 20% of its budget on the military, compared to 3.9% allocated to education. This is a country mired in dysfunction and misallocation of resources.
The least of Burma’s problems is its tourist infrastructure. There are massive deficits in education, health care, cultural and gender equality and employment not to mention some of the world’s most abhorrent human rights abuses. To highlight the troubles in the tourist sector is one little, inconsequential piece of the dysfunction-pie that is Burma.
Anyone with enough capital to open a hotel is very likely connected to the military regime, and so there are significant ethical considerations when travelling to Burma. We tried to stay in the smaller hotels when we could, which led to the hilarity at “The Floral Breeze”‘ in Bagan.
Upon arrival, the hotel seemed quite lovely from the outside, red bricks and a lovely courtyard with beautiful landscaping. But there was nothing Floral about the Breeze here.
Regardless of the room we entered (we did try a few), each of them had an overpowering and noxious smell of backed up sewage. The staff were kind and tried to help, but there was nothing to do but “suck it up”. So we tried to prepare ourselves for the next three nights in Bagan.
I was travelling with a new friend, we hardly knew each other before embarking on this trip. But we got to know each other very well, quickly.
Our first day, we tried to spend as much time exploring as we could. Bagan is beautiful:
It was dusty and hot, and we got tired quickly. We returned to our Floral Breeze room and my travel companion took a turn for the worse. She had picked up some monstrous flu or parasite or bug. She was so sick, in retrospect we should have found her medical attention. So not only was she trying to get through this discomfort in close quarters with someone she hardly knew, but it turned out that the bathroom door did not shut. Those of you who have suffered through similar conditions know that at the very least, you need privacy in these moments.
I did my best to leave her be, as much to give her privacy as to protect myself from catching whatever she had. (This was to no avail. I got it about 3 days later and suffered in comparable, though more remote, “comfort”).
Somewhere near the end of the first day, a booming voice came into our room from across the street. A megaphoned drone, through a cheap PA system, complete with screeching feedback. An announcement of an upcoming event or visiting dignitary? A sale or special advertised by a restaurant? A warning about bad smells at local hotels? Nope. It was the start of a 6 day 24/7 recitation of the Buddhist canon in Pali, at a decibel which I’m sure even Buddha himself heard. One might look at images of Bagan and imagine Buddhist monks chanting passages in sort of a romantic way. Let me assure you that after about 15 minutes, there is nothing at all but headaches.
The combination of the intense sounds and smells would lead to sensory overload in anyone. Facing the tropical parasite and the lack of bathroom privacy just made the icing on the cake, or in this case, the icing on the dysfunction-pie that is Burma.
Despite being the worst place I’ve stayed in recent memory, there is absolutely nothing I would change (except perhaps avoiding the wicked bug that nearly did us in). It all added up to amazing experiences, vivid memories and fond recollections of floral (and musical) breezes.