Myanmar is probably one of the most exciting countries we have visited so far. It is one of the few countries left on earth that has not yet become crowded by tourism. Everything was very genuine, the people, the nature and even the colours. The people have beautiful smiles and very often with a twinkle in the eye.
Though we hoped, we never really believed that we would be able to cross Myanmar on our motorbikes. For a while we were thinking of leaving the bikes in Thailand and do some backpacking in the country and then ship the bikes from Bangkok to Kathmandu. However, we did cross Myanmar, and heard that we were probably the first group crossing the country from Thailand to India on motorbikes.
The 25th of February was the day we entered Myanmar. I woke up far too early with butterflies in my stomach and considering that it was going to be a very long day on the bikes with some really bad roads so I could have done with a good night sleep. However, both Anders and I were soon full awake and very excited about getting to the border.
We arrived at the border early together with Marianne and Max from Belgium, who we were going to cross Myanamar with. At the border we found out that there was another couple, Matteo (Italian) and Elody (French) in a 4×4 car that was joining us. Everyone were super nice so I had a good feeling that this was going to be a great journey.
Myawaddy to Kyaiktiyo Padoga
Leaving Thailand was quick and at the Myanmar border Tin, the guide, was waiting. He helped us with the paperwork and before we knew it we were riding on the roads in Myanmar.
We were met by friendly people everywhere and a wonderful sense of humour that reminded both Anders and me about the people in Cambodia. We were three motorbikes and one car plus the car with the guide. The car with the guide had a flashing light and we got through all military checks very fast. At the beginning there were militaries everywhere with big automatic guns and at every bridge we crossed there were military guys that looked very ready to shoot if something happened. Anyway even the military smiled when they saw us on the bikes.
We had about 80 km of really bad and sometime very narrow roads with some hairpin turns. I hadn’t dropped my bike since China so now it was time again. It was in one of the hairpin bends with sand… I HATE SAND in a combination with a big bike. It was a bump and I jumped and gave a little bit too much throttle so I crashed to the ground. Luckily I was standing up on the foot pegs when it happened so I didn’t end up under the bike, I only got a bruise on my leg and it was really only my pride was hurt. Anyway Marianne and Max came running straightaway and helped me get the bike up and off we went again. Though the road was bad and challenging I really enjoyed the ride.
We stopped at a restaurant with fantastic food. There were some dishes with fish that I couldn’t eat due to my allergy but the rest was delicious. Though we were all very tired after hours on bad roads we had a nice chat and it already felt that the people in the group were quite likeminded in the way we wanted to travel which made it so much easier.
We arrived very tired at the base camp at about 5pm were we left the motorbikes in a parking lot for the night. We only took our toothbrushes and camera with us and headed towards a lorry, that would take us up to the top of the mountain and and the Golden Rock. WOW what a ride… I thought we would die at any minute. First of all we were literally packed like sardines. Each row had to have six people and it didn’t matter that we were bigger and with longer legs than the rest of the small Asian people. After they had filled the vehicle, the journey from hell started. It went up and down the hills on very narrow roads and I was sure we would tip over the edge anytime. The driver took each hairpin bend at a very high speed and each time I was thinking, fuck we are dying here and now. When watching the Asian people they looked very cool and a few had fallen asleep…. How on earth they could fall asleep, I don’t know. After sitting in a very weird position for nearly an hour, we arrived at the top. I managed to get out of the vehicle on very shaky and sore legs. At the top of the mountain the air was cooler and felt very fresh. Tin the guide took us to a hotel where we had a quick shower before headed for the Golden Rock. It was already dark but we thought we could take some photos before the dinner. Though I am not much for tourist attractions this was quite amazing. There were all these religious people praying and offering lots of food and drinks. After taking a few photographs we headed back to the hotel where we had a meal and then went to bed and I think I fell asleep before I hit the pillow.
Kyaiktiya Padoga to Taungoo
Next morning we squeezed into the same vehicle that took us back to the base camp. This time with another driver, thank god for that, which drove much slower on the way down. This time though I was “praying” that the brakes wouldn’t stop working.
Today we had only 280 kilometers of good roads. When riding through villages, people were watching us curiously while smiling and waving. The traffic wasn’t that bad and it was much calmer and not that aggressive as you can see in the rest of Asia. As we traveled in a group I didn’t have time to stop and photograph very often and that stressed me out when seeing some fantastic photo opportunities.
When there where about 60 km left to Taungoo my fuel pump started to behave funny. It was exactly the same problem as Anders had in China. We kept going even though the engine frequently died but after a few seconds it started again. A few times I had to stop next to the road and restart it again. It was a bit scary when overtaking and it just died so I had to be sure I didn’t have any cars close by.
However, I managed to ride it the 60 km to the hotel. We found a new fuel pump, which I changed, oh well, Anders told me how to do it as I’ve never done it before. So now I can proudly say that I can fix a puncture and also changed a fuel pump by myself…. I’m getting there. We had a group of locals that was helping out as well by giving us tissues, taking care of the rubbish etc etc. One guy called me the mechanic haha… I think to call me that might be a slight over exaggeration.
After my bike was fixed we had a delicious meal together with the group while chatting about our different adventures.
Taungoo to Mandalay
After a night sleep and a breakfast we were ready to get going again.
When we came out of the hotel we saw that our motorbikes looked very shiny. The guy who had kept an eye on them during the night had also washed all three bikes and the car. This was such a lovely thing to do and first he refused to let us pay him but after we persuaded him he finally took the money and couldn’t thank us enough, then he started to polish the bikes again. Wonderful wonderful people.
Today we rode from Taungoo to Manadaly 370 km, on fairly good roads. We rode through some picturesque villages and you could really notices that these people were not used to big motorbikes or white people. Everywhere we met these genuinely nice people. We stopped at one petrol station only to drink some water. After a few minutes the people living across the road came and gave us lots of fruits such as tiny mandarins and watermelon. They didn’t ask for any money but when we left we put some money under a plate. This amazes me to meet these poor people that hardly have anything and still give away things without expecting anything back. Again I got the feeling of that the poorer the people are the nicer they are and vice versa. Of course this is not always the case but pretty often.
The guide asked us if we wanted to see the Myanmar ministry in Naypyidaw (the capital city of Myanmar) and of course we said yes. From travelling through extremely poor village we came into a… yes the only way to describe it is as a ghost city. Everything looked modern and clean with huge buildings but no people. From riding on narrow roads with rather poor tarmac we now rode on incredible smooth tarmac with six lanes in each direction and we were the only vehicles on the road, which felt very surreal. Though I really liked to see this it felt weird that so much money had been spent on these modern buildings and these enormous roads when there is so much poverty in the country.
After Naypyidaw we headed towards the city Mandalay where we arrived in the afternoon. At last we were ‘allowed’ to rest for an hour in the hotel… tough to be a tourist 😉
In the evening we went to a famous Chinese restaurant, which had the most delicious food so far. Again the guides let us order what we wanted, so we ordered a massive amount of different dishes and we ate so we could hardly move afterwards.
The day after, we had a full day sightseeing where we visited the Gold sheet manufacturing, Mandalay Palace, Mandalay hill and the world’s largest book ‘The pages stands upright, set in stone, in the grounds of the Kuthodaw pagoda It has 730 leaves and 1460 pages; each page is 107 centimetres (3.51 ft) wide, 153 centimetres (5.02 ft) tall and 13 centimetres (5.1 in) thick. Each stone tablet has its own roof and precious gem on top in a small cave-like structure of Sinhalese relic casket type called kyauksa gu (stone inscription cave in Burmese), and they are arranged around a central golden pagoda.’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World’s_largest_book).
On the way back to the hotel we passed a market and everyone in the minibus was shouting, MARKET, as we all wanted to go to a local market. The people were selling meat covered with flies and at some places there were an almost unbearable stench but I loved to be there to smell and feel the culture. People were again very friendly. In some countries that we have travelled through people smile and you kind of know that behind that smile is a, I want your money, but not in Myanmar. People are so sincerely friendly that it is impossible to not fall in love with the country and its people.
Just before the sunset, the guide took us to the world’s longest teak bridge U Pein Bridge situated over the Taung Tha Man Lake in Amarapura Township. It was indeed a nice sunset.
Mandalay to Bagan
Today we rode from Mandalay to Bagan. The guide told us it was 300 km but they decided to take a shortcut which saved us 100 km but on bad roads. We were told that this road was not passable during the rain season, which I could understand. It was a narrow road that sometimes turned into dirt road and there were also a tiny water crossing. The road took us over some wooden bridges and I could see the nails sticking out and I was pretty sure that at least one of us would end up with a puncture but we luckily made it without any flat tyres. We travelled through some tiny villages where they made everything by hand, even the roads by heating up the tar in buckets and poring it over the stones. This was done by women wearing flip-flops. There was a sign that said something like ‘Be careful, men at work’ but no men could be seen, only women.
We arrived in the afternoon to ‘Bagan which is an ancient city located in the Mandalay Region of Burma (Myanmar). During the kingdom’s height between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan plains alone, of which the remains of over 2200 temples and pagodas still survive to the present day.’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baga)
In the afternoon when we came out of the hotel there were six tiny electric motorbikes were waiting for us. We were riding around looking at the Bagodas and had such a good time. It was fun to ride these little bikes though I must say that I prefer to ride my BMW.
Bagan to Monywa
The day after, we rode from Bagan to Monywa, had a very quick look at one of the biggest standing Buddha in the world, 137 meter tall, shortly before we arrived to Monywa
Monywa to Kale
We started early as we had been told that the roads were going to be pretty bad on the way to Kale. The guide told us that he was nervous and they also changed the car to a 4×4….. This made me a little nervous but what the heck I had managed to ride through Mongolia so this couldn’t be that bad.
We arrived completely exhausted after about 8 hours on bad roads, my arms were aching and one of my thumbs was completely numb…. Not sure why, it never happened before. Anyway we had a very nice late afternoon cleaning the bikes and the cloths that were covered with dust. We had a dinner in a Chinese restaurant and the food was yummy.
Kale to the Border
On the last day, I woke up and felt a bit nervous. We had about 100 km to the border and we were told that the road would be very good but it showed that some of the road was quite bad.
Crossing the border to India didn’t take that much time. I must say that it was a bit of a culture shock to arrive in India. People were a lot more serious and all the police and military… let say I wouldn’t like to have an argument with them… I hope this will change when we go further south in India.
Finally, this has been a fantastic journey. To have been able to cross Myanmar from Thailand to India by a motorcycle. Both Anders and I are very happy that we have had the opportunity to meet all the lovely people, to see a beautiful country and to travel with such a nice bunch of people. The guides did everything they could to make us happy and I can highly recommend travelling with http://www.brightviewtravel.com.
Now India, a new country, a new culture, yes a new everything, here we come 🙂