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.
… Hpa-An Thaton
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.
I was dreading getting back on the bike. I really, really didn’t want to. It’s just going to be exhausting and wet. But staying in Dawei? Nah. But what was to come was quite bearable.
So at 1pm we were fed and checked out, back on the bicycles. Especially the beginning rolled down easily. Paved road, I was rested. People were waving, smiling and nodding at us. Beautiful.
Bad luck I don’t like the typical Burmese food as inu cold meat in some curry sauce with plain rice. Yan was very pleased. I was hungry. Knowing about the next day I would have been happier about the food I got.
We rode into the night. Restless roadside camping just out of Kyauk
Shat next to a river in a hot-humid tent with all of Yans clothing on a line in the feeble attempt to dry it and hardly enough water to wash ourselves. Dinner and breakfast were cold ramen noodles eaten as biscuits.
The eighth day of riding was finally getting to Yan who refused to have a rest day in Dawei. His mood was…. Well, he just wanted to be done with riding, get to Ye, get to a hotel, an air-con, a shower. No matter what. People offering bottles of water? No stopping for that.
At 30k I talked a shop keeper into fixing some rice vermicelli for us – she just had this very small store in a part of the front of her house and I assume we ate at her table. Her daughter washing some dishes for us.
When we rode on, I got a head start – but Yan is faster than I am so I didn’t worry. Until about half an hour into the ride. So I stopped. And waited. Fittled around with my phone. Waited a bit more. Filled up my water bottle. Waited a bit more. And waited. And waited. Wondering if I should go back? What if he passed me when I was taking pictures of the reclining Buddha earlier? I already waited there for about ten minutes but two men showing up made me feel a bit uncomfy so I rode on for a bit. Yeah, 30 minutes of riding, pus 45 minutes of waiting? Whatever issue there could be on his bike… he would have fixed it and caught up with me by now. He passed me at the Buddha – either not seeing me or not caring to stop – and is propably waiting at a restaurant down the road.
Nope. 15k later – still no Yan waiting or catching up whatsoever. Great. I mentioned the food situation earlier right? I decided to eat even though Yan would be further away if I stopped and finding him in Ye could become a hassle. So I stopped at a restaurant, put up my smiley-face and mimicked my wish for food. I was declined and they pointed further up the road. I smiled, nodded, rode to the next restaurant-like place, smiled, talked, mimicked. And got declined again….
Outside the village I stopped, considering myself lucky for having ramen noodles and coconut milk for a cold lunch. Yeah. What a feast. Not.
Next village, next restaurant. Some real food. Rice. Egg. Veggies. I stopped, put up my smiley-face and mimicked my wish for food again. Again – I was declined. Ok, next place. Bigger. Very, very restaurant-like. I stopped, put up my smiley-face and mimicked my wish for food. No such luck. Declined. Again. I mimicked drinking, pointing to the electric(!) fridge. Yes. I could have a drink. At least that.
The man next to me started a conversation with me. Where I started my tour, where I go to. And then – the one finger in the air. The sign for the question, if I was on my own.
That’s when I realized it. I was not in front of Yan. They haven’t seen him pass through. He is somewhere behind me. It’s been more than 20 hilly k since I’ve seen him… Not. So. Great.
He should have caught up with me by now. Ok, I wasn’t going slower as I assumed he was in front of me, but still – he is faster than I am, I stopped all these times…
Sipping my fizzy drink I watched the road – and there he was! Of all places – Yan, the atheist, went to service at a Baptist church in the middle of Burma. He was battered. And pretty happy to get a cold drink and some uncooked ramen.
Before us was a long climb up to the border between Mon and Karen state where I listened to George Orwells explanations what Burmese and Chinese think of the smell of White people. Which didn’t help me in feeling better as I was sweating my way up-hill.
We had a real passport-controlling check point and when we went up to take some pictures a group of wealthy Burmese travellers spotted me.
After checking into the finest hotel in Ye – and a shower -, we had dinner – no more uncooked ramen, but everything fried at one of these kopitam-style-places.
There was some time in Dawei. My car was driving a monk around to do some errands so we didn’t go directly but delivered some letters and devotionals so I reached my hotel at 5pm – and met the other two foreign tourists that passed us in an ute a life time two days ago along the dirt road.
I went to the Beauty Salon II to get my hair washed – so awesome! In Asia you don’t sit with your head backwards in an angle that hurts your neck and they quickly wash your hair.
You are in very comfortable position (this time, lying stretched out on my back) and she was washing and massaging with very strong hands my head, my face, my neck – and massaging my back. For a while even three people worked on my – left arm, right arm and the one on the top. Heaven!
I walked out in a daze! And feeling like a giant as I am about a head taller than the women at the beauty salon – or most women in Burma.
There are a few wats to see in Dawei – I just went to one of them. Apart from that I did some shop-front-shopping and was really amazed when I saw one store that had glass doors and windows. Went to a coffee-place. They seem a bit like the kopitans in Malaysia and Hainan. Everyone sits there, sips coffee or tea, smokes, nibbles on cakes or has some hearty meal all the while chatting and catching up.
On my second day I was wearing long pants and I really recommend women to cover their knees. It’s not that anyone was rude before but I had the impression I was less strange for everyone. Walking a back alley a woman came out of her yard and invited me to share her umbrella as long as we were walking the same way. So nice but considering our size difference I felt a bit uncomfortable.
School kids were looking at me in astonishment. Needless to say I smiled a lot and waved a ton of hellos.
(Bangkok – Ban Pong – Kanchanaburi- Phunamrong – 9km past Sinbyudaing – Myitta – Dawei) (biked distance: 275km)
So, we decided to cycle into Burma. Map as well as the stories of backpackers taking cars or buses let us expect hills as well as dirt roads once close to the border.
Little did we know. Cycling out of Bangkok was awesome – parts were so idyllic Yan got even attacked by a butterfly. We included some WWII-sightseeing in Kanchanaburi (the railway-museum is very good, impressive and gives you some insight of the hardship the PoWs had to endure when they were forced by the Japanese to build the railway track). We walked the Bridge over the River Kwai, ate nice and good, stayed in a posh room at the river (Aa Jam guesthouse) and treated ourselves to thai massage. Oh my, was I looking forward to that!
Day after that, we reached the border but had to camp as it was too late. We already stocked up on food 50km back as we were expecting a long stretch of wilderness. No need for that. Villages, restaurants and stores were all over the place. Crossing into Myanmar happened without any major issues. They have a hen nesting at the Burmese immigration office and the officers struggled with our foreign passports but managed helping each other out and copying everything that seemed important (Yans fullname and nationality, my first names) into their border book and off
And this is where it started. Road was a dirt road ever since we past the Thai border check point. So, dirt road, poor dirt road. And no flats what-so-ever. We were either pushing our bikes uphill or breaking downhill, hoping to ditch all the major holes and rocks not to break our bones. Or we weren’t even riding the down hills as they were too steep.
On the bright side – it was bright. Sun was blasting and the dirt road was dry most of the time. We really appreciated that when the rain started (at least some freshness), making it all slippery. For us and cars passing. The landscape was beautiful – even though you shouldn’t appreciate it while moving. You either need all the energy to move uphill or you need all your concentration going downhill.
So dirt road, left and right dense tropical jungle, giant butterflies and fields. Once in a while a bamboo hut. Sometimes without, sometimes with up to four walls. Eventually a building which used some concrete.
We were miserable. Miserable and exhausted enough that we celebrated one of the hills by feesting on 1/2l of coconut milk, all our peanut bars and an uncocked bag of noodles…
Afternoon led us to yet another restaurant in Sinbyudaing (so really no 100-miles of wilderness) where we chatted with the owner. Where we were going to stay? A resort? Only 7km? At the river? Immediately, we started dreaming – bamboo hut, beach, air-con, shower! A shower! And a bed, privacy… all this stuff. Hope gave us new energy – surely we could do 7k to get to this resort. Who cares its late and the road shi… unpaved and a titsy-bit hilly?
So true – exactly 7ks after leaving the restaurant there was a big building out of stone, lights, everything. No sign but the first building in more than one k. It wasn’t it. A small truck came past and they pointed further up the road when we said “resort”.
I was beaten. I was tired. My body told me it hurt and tried to persuade me into stopping. We decided it’s either in one km or we use the next clearing/empty hut/whatever. When we were about to ask people if we can camp underneath their house the truck catched up with us and gave us light until we reached the resort. Yeah. No air-con. No room. No privacy at the Mountain Coffee Inn. But a toilet, a place to wash and space in the restaurant to set up our tent with everyone gawking at these weird strangers. Heaven. And food. Dinner and breakfast.
The night came and went and back we were on our saddles and riding. Suffering. Me more than Yan. Being determined. Me less than Yan. So we rode – and stopped a car. We played a charade mimicking cycling, pointing at the car, pointing at me, pointing at Yan, the road, saying “Dawei”and “Mietta” all over. Minutes later I was in heaven – sharing the open space of the ute with my bags and a bicycle, trying not to forget the rendezvous-point in Dawei. Yan remained in hell. Cycled all day, slept under a hut and arrived a few hours early at my hotel in Dawei just as I came buy to drop off some stuff.