Myanmar is one of the most friendly countries that I have ever travelled to. People here are so quick to help you. I couldn’t believe the hospitality and kindness that the Burmese people showed towards me. Even though I have bad travel luck, I knew that this friendly country was going to be a place where nothing could go wrong…or so I thought.
While in Bagan my friend and I decided to rent e-bikes to drive around visiting the hundreds of pagodas in the area. E-bikes are basically electric scooters.
I had a broken toe at the time- I had broken it about a week before leaving for my trip- and was hoping that we could share a bike so that my friend could drive and I could sit on the back.
However, she wasn’t confident enough to drive and so I, broken toe and all, ended up being the one driving. Thankfully it was all controlled with the hands.
My friend was very scared on the back so I didn’t want to express my own concerns with her, afraid that it would make her even more uneasy. It was worrisome trying to maneouver this vehicle with a broken toe. It was scary because if at any moment I needed to put my right foot down for stability, I couldn’t. As well, balancing my own weight on this tiny machine was one thing but having a whole other person on the back made it even more difficult.
What really freaked me out though was the fact that I wasn’t just responsible for my own safety, but also my friends. I figured this wasn’t a good time to tell her about the time that I crashed a motorbike along the highway in Vietnam.
We took the drive slow and I was thankful that the roads were quite empty and that the drivers in Myanmar were respectful. The main issues were when we wanted to venture off the paved road and visit pagodas that you had to drive on a dirt road to access. These roads were soft and sandy so it was hard to get any traction. The weight of a second person swaying around on the back made these roads that much more difficult. My friend was a little freaked out on the back so I had to pretend that I was cool, calm and collected-as I struggled driving along these windy and slippery roads on a dodgy e-bike and a broken toe.
There were some parts where my friend would just get off and walk because the roads were so difficult. This was a huge help (mainly in taking the pressure off of me from crashing the both of us).
There was this one beautiful pagoda that we drove up to where there were not many people around besides some local children playing.
As soon as we got off of our e-bike- alive and unscathed- this little boy ran up to us. He was in a little suit jacket and looked like he was ready for business. He asked us where we were from- Canada- and then if we had any of our local currency.
He showed us a pile of money that he had colleced from around the world. Brazil, China, India, Phillipines…but no major currencies such as the USD, Euro or Pound. Clearly this was a scam and he would later exchange the money we gave him. Hey, at least he was hustling instead of begging.
My friend and I had been living in South Korea for the past year and so we literally had no Canadian currency so just gave him a few Korean Won.
A much as this boy was a little hustler, I liked his style and so he hung out with us for a bit. He was intrigued by my camera and offered to take some pictures of us with it. I knew that he would never be able to afford a camera of his own so I was happy to let him use mine to encourage his artistic abilities- all while keeping a close eye on him.
He ended up taking some great pictures and I loved seeing how happy it made him. Eventually, a bunch of his friends came over and joined us. We all ended up having a fun photo shoot together.
They asked us to come to their restaurant but we weren’t hungry. Since they were such cute kids though we told them that after visiting the pagoda we would go for a glass of juice.
When we finished viewing the pogoda we headed over to the e-bike to keep our promise to them. As we approached one boy was sitting on our e-bike. He told us that he would drive it.
Uhhh…you’re kidding, right?
I was not about to let a ten year old boy drive off with our e-bike. At this moment I was getting a little hestitant about grabbing a drink at the restaurant. Why was the restaurant down a dirt road hidden behind a pogoda and not on the main street so that people can see it? And where was the sign for it?
On top of this, I had a broken toe and really didn’t want to get myself into any sticky situations. Having an injury while travelling can make you feel very vulnerable. Not only did I have to rely on other people’s help a lot more but I couldn’t properly defend myself if I needed to- I couldn’t even run.
My un-injured and kind-hearted friend, who was fairly new to travelling, was still keen to go and support their ‘friends parents restuarant.’
We decided to walk there. As we slowly walked a few steps, the boy on our e-bike jumped off and and walked up beside me-continuing to insist that he drive my e-bike.
“No” I said, somewhat laughing.
He didn’t take no as an answer and continued to persist. I then turned on my teacher mode and told him sternly that he was not going to drive the e-bike. I was happy to let them use my camera but there was absolutely no way that I was going to let him drive.
Apparently this little boy doesn’t deal well with authority. He slowly reached into his bag and pulled out a knife while digging into me with his eyes.
“What are you doing?” I said sternly- not showing fear but feeling it as I came to the realisation that these five kids could easily jump us if they had a knife.
My friend was a bit behind and didn’t see what had happened. I turned around and told her that this kid had just threatened me with a knife. She was too surprised to know what to do- to be frank, so was I.
I looked back to the kid and told him that pulling a knife was not okay, “you NEVER pull a knife on anyone”. At that moment I told the children that we were leaving and turned to walk away. There was no way in hell I was going to support that sort of behaviour in a child- no matter how poor you are.
At this point the little boy in the business suit came running up and started yelling at his friend. He grabbed the knife and chucked it towards a tree. He then pleaded with me to still come to his restaurant. “The knife is gone,” he said, “please, come with us I promise that won’t happen again.”
My friend had a soft spot for the boy that we had first made friends with and was debating to go with him. I had no patience left at this point.
First off, I could be putting my life in danger, and for what? So that these boys get a little bit of business? Second off, there was absolutely no way that I was going to condone a child pulling a knife on someone. How could I possibly reinforce that behaviour?
To be honest I was also getting scared at this point. I quickly went back to the e-bike and jumped on. I didn’t care about a hemlet or anything I just wanted to get the heck out of there before the other four children pulled out knives too.
My friend, however, couldn’t brush past the cherished moments that we had before bonding with the children and was torn as to what to do. She was standing there between the kids and me. I didn’t want to be there a second longer and my intuition was going off the charts. I was tempted to drive away with or without her.
Eventually, she slowly began to walk towards the bike while hesitantly looking back at the boys-feeling guilty for breaking our promise to buy a juice from them. She felt that the one boy who pulled the knife was just the one bad apple in the lot.
I wasn’t ready to take this risk, especially with my broken toe. I felt a thousand times more vulnerable knowing I would be limited in protecting myself. My only form of protection was driving away on that motorbike and I needed my friend to get on it.
My friend grabbed her hemlet from the back of the bike and slowly started putting it on. All the while my heart was pounding. I felt bad but I couldn’t take it any more and yelled at her just get on the bike. I was a lot more worried about her having a knife stabbed into her stomach than her properly wearing a hemlet.
When she finally jumped on I quickly started the bike and zoomed off without even looking back.
It wasn’t until we were back on the main paved road that I felt myself able to relax.
Looking back on the situation it is hard to tell what that child’s intentions where. Myanmar is one of the most friendly and kind countries that I have ever had the opportunity to visit. My friend is probably right that he was just a bad apple and I honestly can’t see this happening to anyone else. I hope that this child learned his lesson from our reactions.
Please do not let this deter you from visiting beautiful Bagan because I can honestly say that even after this incident I never had a single worry for the rest of my time there- or anywhere else in Myanmar.
Like I always say- these things just seem to happpen to me.