Myanmar

We cycle among 3000 temples and get conned by Mr. Wisdom

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March 2018

🚴🏻‍♀️🚴🏻‍♂️ Myawaddy – Myawaddy (800km)

The decision to cycle in Myanmar was quite spontaneous and so we arrived a bit unprepared in Mae Sot, the Thai-side border town. Luckily we met local resident and cyclist Ton, who gave us, and many passing tourers before us, essential knowledge on how to survive a trip through Myanmar. Things we learned:

  • Road conditions can be very poor with a lot of construction, many potholes and dusty dirt roads
  • Foreigners are only allowed to stay in guest houses and hotels with an appropriate license
  • Locals are not allowed to host any foreigners and can get in serious trouble with local authorities if they attempt to
  • Camping is not tolerated

This sounded a bit tougher than previous months which had been a breeze, but we had no time for worries and were fuelled by positive stories from other travellers.

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We crossed the border and left Myawaddy on a busy road towards Kawkareik, our first stop in Myanmar. The road split and we were confronted with a hard choice:

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Over the old highway, we headed into the hills, past small houses, beautiful valleys and bushfires. And no car in sight!

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At 6pm we dropped down to Kawkareik and were welcomed by SuSu, a local English teacher who, despite not being able to host, loves to meet cyclists and prepares them with a crash course in all things Myanmar. After an incredible dinner, Burmese lessons, and trying on the local sun cream/make-up Thanaka, we cycled around town together to visit local noodle makers and see traditional fish soup being prepared. A few hours later, we fell exhausted into bed!

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SuSu surprised us with a strengthening breakfast at her place before waving us off as we cycled towards Hpa An. Trying to avoid the main road, we cycled on a peaceful dirt track, racing a few kids on bikes along the way. 30km in, we heard somebody shouting “you can’t go this way!”. As it turned out the road ended in 10km, forcing us to turn around. “Come with me”, our friendly rescuer said, as he jumped on his (tiny) bike and guided us (at super speed) back to the main road. Note to self: don’t trust Google Maps.

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Back on the main road, and after our packed lunch prepared by SuSu, eaten with local pineapple farmers, we confirmed what Ton had warned; a lot of trucks, a lot of dust, a lot of no road… the detour resulted in our longest day and after 130km and covered in dust we arrived at our destination.

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After a couple of rest days and visiting a cave to watch millions of bats fly out at sunset, we continued our trip via Thaton, and Kyaikto. The kindness of everyone we met was astounding. Everyone was keen to point us in the right direction, even when, more often than not, that direction was the one in which we were travelling and the road was straight! We pulled into a petrol station to apply sun cream and were given fresh juice and ice cold water. We sat beneath a tree to get some shade and young children brought us watermelon whilst an elderly lady bought us energy drinks from a nearby shop!

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One morning Jan even got invited to participate in a Youth Leadership Workshop.

On the way, we met Daniel, a cyclist from Singapore on his way to Turkey who had been on our tracks for weeks.

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Along dirt tracks, over wonky wooden bridges and through remote villages we cycled together towards Bago and Yangon, the former capital. We fell in love with the country on these small roads, shouting “Mingalaba” to everyone we met, drinking the free green tea found at all rest stops and flagging down musical motorcycles for coconut ice cream.

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Before leaving Yangon againwe had to visit the Myanmar’s biggest Pagoda, Shwedagon Zedi Daw:

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We decided to cheat a little to gain some time and took a train north to Bagan. The area is famous for its stunning landscape, with more than 3000 temples built within the small area. We arrived fresh off the sleeper train and cycled along sandy paths around the temples.

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The next day we headed South towards Mount Popa, a volcano with a nearby lava neck upon which is perched a monastery. Only 65km felt too easy so we opted for back roads. These became smaller and less used the further we went until we were eventually pushing through sand, our only companions oxen and carts which were considerably more adept at wading through sand than us.

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We eventually met road again as the sun set, and cycled to reach the foot of the 777 steps leading to the monastery where we met “you can call me Mr Wisdom”, an elderly monk with a business streak who charged us a considerable donation to stay on the floor of a local building.

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Taking the view that it was more interesting to look at the monastery than out from it, we set off to climb the volcano the next day, stopping in at the rather luxurious Mount Popa Resort.

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Climbing back into the saddle we continued toward Meiktila and Kalaw, staying one night in a monastery in a small village where there was no guesthouse to be found. Our arrival was first class entertainment for the young monk novices who posed trying on our sunglasses, blasted the air horn whenever no one was looking and helped Jan change a flat tire.

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After a delicious, varied and filling vegetarian breakfast we pushed on to make it up the mountain to Kalaw, at 1,500m above sea level.

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On our arrival we found out that the local Hindu Temple was celebrating the candle festival and so we joined in, eating, chatting and dancing.

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We had an early start the next day to head towards Inle Lake, a destination that many tourists trek to in 3–4 days. Despite previous vows that we would never take back roads with only oxen as company again, we decided to brave the trekking trail so as not to miss out on the views.

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The views were, as promised, incredible, but by the end of the day, following a recommended short cut which took us down, and then up, flights of stairs, we were knackered! We asked to stay at a monastery just off the track and were overjoyed to be showed to a disused building in which we could set up camp. Pointing our torches at spiders the size of our hands, and chasing cockroaches away from our pillows, we fell into a deep, much needed, sleep.

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The next day, we arrived at Inle Lake and spent the remainder of the day eating our body weight in food. We then did as the tourists do and hired a boat to take us around the lake to see the sights, including the jumping cat monastery at which the monks used to train cats to jump through hoops (literally) for the tourists.

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No longer required to perform, the cats appear to have a pretty relaxed life!

With our visa running out, and being told that a train journey south would take 4 days, we decided to take a bus directly back to the border town of Myawaddy. 18 hours of on-board videos of k-pop, dubstep and 90’s dance routines later, we arrived. From here we would cycle back to Thailand, meet up with Ton and then continue to cover the North of the country on two wheels. We were back!

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2 thoughts on “Myanmar”

  1. Wow, wonderful journal, I could feel the heat, taste the dust, hear the laughter. And you have found more dirt roads than I have so far. You give me inspiration. Thanks.

    Like

  2. Wonderful presentation and I am fortunate to meet my friend Jan Ramdohr and Lucy Walker and we were Co-passenger in train journey from YANGOON to. BAGAN.
    I was fortunate enough to meet once again near sunset point as both were bypassers on cycle and I called both and offer them coconut water and spent quality times.
    Since we disburse My friend Jan always chat on messenger and we both are in contact.
    I invite both cyclist my friend to visit Chennai ( India) my home town and be my guest.
    Congratulations

    Like

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