Arriving in Bangkok
Day 1 – Bangkok to Ban Pong (91,5km)
Day 2 – Ban Pong to Kanchanaburi; Death Railway Museum and war cemetary (52km)
Day 3 – Kanchanaburi to Phunamrong, Bordercrossing Thailand – Myanmar (72km)
Day 4 – Phunamrong – crossing into Myanmar – to Sinbyndaing (49km)
Day 5 – Sinbyndaing to Dawei (10km bike, then car)
Day 6 – Dawei to Kyauk Shat (77km)
Day 7 – Kyauk Shat to Ye (89km)
Day 9 – Before Thanbyazyat (war cemetary about Death Railway) to Mawlamyaing/Moulmein – (88km)
Day 11 – Thaton to Kinpun (85km)
Day 13 – Sittong River to Bago (65km)
Restday in Bago
Day 14 – Bago to Yangon (80km)
Yan shortly expressed his opinion of the road conditions and the current weather before he sped off down the mountain, when I realized there is something weird about my bike. Of course, a flat. In pouring rainy season rain. No way to fix that outside.
I pushed my bike to the next pool-hall, frustrated on missing out on the down-hill. While pushing my bike in, I smilingly played a sharade in favor of the head of the house so she knows whats going on. My tools slowly travelled to the bottom of my pannier so I unpacked on a table and made myself comfortable on the dry, stomped-earth floor.
The pinch had to be huge – there was no way I could get air into the tire. At least it would be easy to find. But… no. I circled with my hands and imitated pouring something, the international expression for
„I am sorry. I seem not to be able to find the pinch in my tire by the methods I have used so far. Therefore, could you possibly do me the favor of handing me a bowl of water, so I can use that to check? Thank you very much. That is very kind of you!“
Long before I had the water, I was sourrounded by three young men who were starting to take over. Finally the tiny pinch was discovered – right next to the valve! So, it was pitched! Great! And the rain had stopped! I praised everyone for helping me, had a picture taken and off I went.
Rain started soon – and the eerie feeling returned as well… So, again – pushing. I stopped at a garage – in the hope of a spare tube. But they were only for motorbikes. The patch had started to leak and soon – I had three young men taking everything out of my hands. Even though their methods irritated me I let them do. Too annoyed and tired by all this.
I don’t have to mention that all this took like – forever? Even patching the tyres of a student I met on the road in China didn’t take that long. And he had like 7 holes as he was riding with the flat tire for a while – they didn’t know how to fix it and it took a while to communicate that I had the tools as well as the skills.
Yan started to wonder and later to worry so he came to look for me. Lucky, we didn’t miss each other. The road was two lanes each way, with a median strip and I had been „indoors“ for a while…
Yangons traffic is heavy and chaotic. I don’t have to mention it was dark by the time we arrived? And raining? And the road conditions? It felt a bit suicidal playing a part in that on a bicycle specially since it was pretty h<rd to judge the wet road in the dark. Going the small streets wasn’t nice either due to the even poorer condition of these roads
We were so exhausted, that we limited talking to „8 more km“, „down this road, then left.“ and then „It should be here.“ But… it wasn’t. It? the Bike World Explores Myanmar Inn, where we planned to stay and hoped to be able store the bikes for the time of our trip to Mandalay – by bus due to lack of time.
We were tired. Exhausted. Hungry. Wet for hours. There was another address of the place on MapsMe.
About 30 minutes later, we were checked in, showered, asked for bike-storage and were waiting for pizza.
The rain didn’t start until 11:15 this day. So that coud have been a nice couple of hours of riding. Well, we started – to the total bewilderment of the staff – at 11:23. Just after it slowed down a titsy-bit. Our heads were down, rain was pouring, as we crossed the bridge. Lucky we had a look at it the night before.
It was flat – but we got a headwind. Traffic was a bit to heavy, trucks a bit too close to enjoy cycling.
Getting lunch was straightforward. We stopped after only 10k at a roadside restaurant and the owner grapsed immediately that we would like to eat. She showed some rice to make sure and led me to her curries. I pointed to one that seemed to be free of fish and still steaming hot.
We got cold fish-curry.
The most exciting thing that happened after that, were the traintracks. We crossed them an impressive number of times. And once – even a train came past!
Road-conditions changed from almost-ok to so-so to rather bad. Riding throuh Bago was stress – specially when we had to cross the bridge…
Exploring Bago the next day, was a lot of work and expensive (10.000kyat). The roads are in aweful conditions. The palace was impressive – Yan was very dissappointed as it’s only rebuild. The other sights are tempels, pagodas and reclining Buddahs. I dare say, we could have seen similar by just stopping along the road at different stupas and monastries.
What a dissappointment! We got onto one of the trucks with benches, paid 2500 kyat for transport and life insurance – and off we went. Luckely it was almost full when we arrived so we didn’t have to wait. Everyone – apart from Yan and a Canadian dude – was wearing a rain coat. Just bought a few moments ago by one of the many street vendors.
The way up is really steep, nothing that could be done with a loaded touring bike – and even an empty one would have to be pushed. Amazing that the truck was able to do it.
It was wet – raining, then we were in the clouds. At the top, it was so foggy we actually worried if we were able to see the Golden Rock or just walk past it. At times you could hardly see what’s 10 meters ahead. Yan was so cold and wet by now, that he happily bought a rain coat.
The whole area was almost deserted, most shops were closed, hardly any pilgrims where there, a handful praying in a glass pavillon where you would see the Golden Rock if there was less fog… So it wasn’t impressive, nice or anything.
I dare say the best part was the food, hot tea and coffee we got while waiting for the truck to fill up to go down…
I was sure – never again will I be dry or warm. We already checked out of the hotel so we would load the bikes and go… Riding back to the mainroad and towards Bago -no matter how weak we were or how late it was. Or how wet.
Amazingly, I found some energy, we resisted the temptation of hotels twice and did 40km up to the Sittang River – quickly checking in to an unsuspected an very nice hotel so we could see the bridge and a nearby Stupa at sunset.
Leaving Tathon was pretty straight forward – of course we tried to wait off the morning rain without much success and gave up on that at half past ten. At least riding was fast. But wet and uneventful – at first.
In hope for food we stopped at something that looked like a small restaurant – after playing charade we were understood and let down the mudroad along another dirt road to a hut with a very deep hanging leaf-roof. The village restaurants – which served each of us first a very yummy, vegetarian soup and then one with chicken.
Even though we had two servings, we weren’t full. So after 50kof cycling we wanted to take a rest, look at the pictures and eat. We were starving. Exactly 50k after Thaton you are climbing a hill, roadwork being done and no village, no bamboo hut in sight… Luckely at km 53 there are a couple of roadside places – that differ from the ones we’ve seen so far in terms of furnishing and set-up. No plastic chairs and not these big teakwood-chairs but rattan chairs that probably are comfy if you are not 1.85m tall and trying to nap in them. Next to us, three guys, probably in their early 20s, got drunk on rum with a little bit of water. I got a bit edgy as you never know how drunk people behave but they were fine, just having after-work-fun.
We biked on to Kyaihtiyo where we decided on turning off the road for 14km to Kinpun where we would get on a ‘bus’ the next day to see one of Myanmars highlights. The Golden Rock Pagoda.
But – I promised an elephant, didn’t I? There they were – coming our way. Between all this trucks and cars and motorcycles… An elephant with his keeper. They crossed the road and I dare say we stared at each other with mutual astonishment.
Of course the rain was pouring down as we were ready to go. It was still pouring when we had to check out. Our plan was set – have lunch at the ‘Chinese’ place before cycling towards Hpa-An and stopping at the most recommended cave, walk through there, go for a swim. All sounded perfectly as it waslaid out in the Yans book.
We did a reality check. On arriving at the cave we would be dripping wet. We would take our shoes off to stumble around a mediocre clean cave and most-likely not care at all about the opportunity to swim.
We checked the map and opted for Thaton and guesthouse. Getting out of town was straight-forward across Burmas longest brigde.
The ride was – albeit wet – beautiful and easy along the mountains on the flat or slight down-hills. We followed Myanmars main-highway, sharing it not only with trucks, cars, trishaws, motorcyclists and local cyclists but also with all kinds off kettle as well as the occasional horse.
Thaton is a quiet little town for all that we could tell.
We fell asleep without dinner – Yan enjoyed the complementary strawberry milk drinks while I could have had the coconut milk – so it can’t have been that bad, hey?
Maylamyaing is a rather large city, so after exploring the market on foot and exchanging money at a really bad rate, we continued on our bikes. I feel especially sorry for the Spanish tourists we met while looking for a certain temple. We were on a very wrong path but for us it was just a matter of minutes to get to the right place after all. Yan was a bit confused when a guy approached him asking for a photo. He didn’t wanted us to take it for him but for me to be in the photo of his friend.
The market was impressive and a bit overwhelming. You can get anything you could possible need for your daily life, as usual with certain areas offering certain things; like a toiletry area (no big bottles, only sachets with shampoo for one washing as hardly anyone could afford a big bottle), fruit area, fabrics or a (small) Chinese toys area.
Breakfast was awesome and a bit overwhelming. More service and fuss then I was expecting. An employee led me through the hotel garden to the breakfast area. I chose some Asian style rice dish from the menu (no pointing to real food and nodding and headshaking as usual), ordered tea and became some fruit, Burmese sweets, orange juice (and asked if I wished more when my glass was almost empty), Burmese tea and of course the ordered food and tea and then another tea… The egg was heart shaped, the fried rice like a star fish. The service here is awesome but feels like a bit too much sometimes. When everyone of the staff – and there are many – jumps to their feet just because we are walking past…
After breakfast I treated myself to a visit at a beauty saloon. I would have preferred a simple hairdresser but I wasn’t able to communicate that to the staff as it wasn’t what they would expect and I didn’t find one on the way. She did a good job, I enjoyed the hairwash and massage – but I had the impression they are a bit used to foreigners as she was kind of gentle and soft.
This time we had dinner – yummy and delicious, with river view AND doing a good deed at the same time – at the Help Grandfather and Grandmother restaurant.
At our set departure point Yan wasn’t ready yet. Shortly after, rain set in. Hoping to sit it, we had another very late start at about 1pm so we didn’t make it to Thanbyuzayat that day.
Even though the road was paved, everyone was smiling, waving, nodding or yelling hello or mulambar yar at us. We even scored food at the restaurants. Salad at a pretty run down roadside place and chicken-noodle-soup later. After a lot of pointing at uncooked noodles, hopeful “aain”s and “yes yes”, we were so amazed by the chicken soup that we even ordered a second one each.
We found an awesome campside at sunset in a rice-paddy some 20km out of Thanbyuzayat. Cycling in the dark didn’t really feel like an option due to the poor quality of the pavement. We would either have to go slow or risk falling.
I slept a lot better – we were further away from the road and the night was colder. For ages, we heard monks chanting in the woods but couldn’t make out any visual sign of them.
Dinner was an uncooked bag of noodles each – saving one to share for breakfast. What a feast! At least for the ants that managed to find the realms as well as the hole in the mesh.
Next day was Yans earliest start ever – for me, it was rather late. We were packed and ready to go at 7:30. Only to stop after about 1km. At a hut, opposite to a school, were some women selling all kinds of fried things and cut up fruits with spicy salt. We happily pointed to get a variety and weren’t disappointed. The fruit was to spicy but that was anticipated.
The rain started soon after – seriously after Thanbyuzayat all I cared about was getting to a hotel so I would be dry. We had ‘lunch’ at ten a.m. at a Chinese restaurant up the road from the memorial graveyard. So delicious and appropriate portions for cyclists. Heaven. Ordering became very easy once the owner and Yan discovered they speak the same language. She is from a villiage closer to the Chinese border, her grandparents came from Yunnan and she moved to Thanbyuzayat when she got married.
The visit to the Thanbyuzyat war memorial graveyard was very touching (even though I opted to mainly stay in the entrance area where I had a roof). It is very well maintained, 6 people were working on it while we were there and the visitor book showed that it’s only visited a couple of times in a month.
Later that day, we came past a Giant Sitting Buddha right by the road. Yan managed to miss it – he had his head down and wanted to get the k’s down. We didn’t miss the world largest Giant Reclining Buddha even though it wasn’t right by the road. We visited the insides where they have many diorames about Buddha – and are struggeling to keep it dry. It was rather uncomfortable to walk around bare-foot especially since there are dogs living there as well…
The landscape changed slowly, becoming more and more urban and wealthier. Bamboo-huts were replaced by buildings of wood, concrete and even a brick one. The road became wider, flatter and the pavement smoother so we finally started to enjoy cycling. The rain subsided and there was eventually enough sun around for me to get a slight burn before remembering reapplying sunscreen.
We opted for the most amazing hotel – Cinderella hotel – with the utmost service, really really clean and big rooms and did I mention the outstanding service yet?
Yan finally got a rest day after cycling non-stop from Bangkok. I explored the city. It’s a cute place, even though it’s run down in many places. The market at the river is awesome, I scored some yummy fruit
Sophia – a tour guide and English teacher – found me as I was roaming the streets. We chatted a bit and I was tempted to go on a swim in the river outside town with her. But, to be honest, her English wasn’t that good so I had to put some effort into the conversation. So after a vegetarian salad of something I really, really couldn’t identify we said our good-byes and I declined in this very Asian way by saying “maybe”.
Instead I went to the hairdresser (awesome, but a very simple place this time. Ye isn’t the place for Beauty Salon II), enjoyed the lake, looked around the temple and caught people sneaking photos of me.
We managed to avoid the cold curry by having Thai Food at the lake. Everything was in easy-walking distance, even though it felt very, very far when we arrived and looked around for a hotel.