A Keyhole into Burma – “Buy the ticket, take the ride”

The local buses in Yangon have to be personally experienced to truly be appreciated. This singular ordeal is a grand departure from the otherwise laidback way the Burmese conduct themselves.

Bus drivers careen around town with one foot on the gas and the other foot, seemingly, on the horn. One gets the sense that these men are drafted directly from the outpatient program at the local suicide prevention center and paid with bags of betel chews.

The driver’s sidekick, an only slightly less sadistic announcer/conductor, hangs out one of the “doors” (frequently the actual door has been detached), screaming the bus line number and direction to the people standing at the bus stops as the bus pulls up. He then hastily pulls people on the bus, while simultaneously shoving others off. Age, gender and physical disabilities have no bearing on how one is treated. Often the bus never actually stops rolling.


The reason behind this crazed, panicky behavior is that Yangon has several independent, competing buses companies working the exact same routes and so, quite simply, the faster they go, the more customers they snatch from the competition. The result is that their precious passengers are crushed, yelled at and manhandled for the pleasure of a death-defying trip across town.

Moreover, violence notwithstanding, actually squeezing into the bus an ironic luxury. Rather less appealing is the alternative of dangling out one of the side or back doors or, at worst, clinging for dear life to the roof or hood. All in a day’s commute.

Leif Pettersen, originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, contributed three stories to the upcoming anthology “To Myanmar (Burma) With Love: A Connoisseur’s Guide” published by Things Asian Press. His personal blog, Killing Batteries, and his staggeringly vast travelogue could fill a lifetime of unauthorized work breaks, if one were so inclined.