The tour group were to meet at the Mae Sot border crossing at 8am. Everyone was on time and the border was a hive of activity. There were 79 old vintage cars doing a Malaysia to Mandalay run. They ranged from old Bentleys and Jags to Chevrolets. It took a good hour to get through.
The group consist of one motor home with a French family, one Mercedes truck with a German couple, one Toyota Landcruiser with living quarters and a Swiss couple, one around the world motorcyclist named Ryan on a Kawasaki KLR650 and me.
We left the check point and headed into the mountains. The road was broken in many places and it snaked its way along ridges that had hundreds of meter drops. Parts of the road were covered in bull dust and at one point the traffic stopped. I managed to walk my bike in first gear around the traffic to find out what was occurring. When I got to the front of the queue road workers were repairing a large corner section. This part would have been almost impassable without the repair. This road is certainly not suitable for camper vans.
We headed to Kawgun cave which was filled with Buddha’s and then finished the day at Hpa-an.
Being in a group with a lead vehicle is incredibly slow going. It took us from 9am to 6pm to cover 180km. That does include an hour stop for lunch and an hour at the caves.
One of the first things you notice in Burma is the amount of people chewing beetle nut. Beetle nut is like tobacco and has narcotic affect. People are constantly spitting red saliva everywhere. The effects of the beetle nut are obvious as most people have very glazed eyes.
When we reached the top of the mountain we still had a bit of a walk (without shoes because we have to take them off in a scared area) to get to the sacred Golden Rock. The views from the top were vast. There was quite a haze which is common in this area. The Golden Rock is of spiritual significance to Buddhists and many come and pray here. You can also buy gold leaf and apply it to the rock but only if you’re a man as women are not allowed in that area,
Day 174 Sunday 22nd February 2015
We headed to Yangon which in the past was known as Rangoon and was the former capital. The drive there was of reasonable pace and we had a motorway to ourselves which was a nice change. We checked into our hotel and then went for a late lunch.
After lunch we headed off to see the reclining Buddha then into the centre of Yangon. The British built many splendid buildings in the late 1800’s early 1900’s and it was pleasant to stroll around the park taking in the history.
We then headed up to Shwedagon which is the most sacred site in the city
We headed to Naypyidaw citywhich is north of Yangon and is the capitol as of 2005. It is about 400 km away. We had the motorway all to ourselves today until we got to one of the toll gates. We were then told that motorcycles were not allowed on the motorway. The guide and the government officials made many phone calls and we were finally allowed to use this stretch of motorway but not the next. As we travel through Burma we have to go through many of these check points. At these check points the officers are given wads of documents on each of the group. They are checked and then we are let through the barriers to carry on. Our group got split up and I arrived at out hotel at 4: 30pm.
Ryan and I decided to visit the Uppatasanti Pagoda before sunset. There was hardly any one there.
We headed north east to Nyaung Shwe. Today’s ride took us through some hill country. The air was cooler at the higher altitude. It was nice to have cool air flowing through the riding jacket. We arrived at 5:30, another long slow riding day. As we are staying by Inle Lake we had to pay a NZ$12, US$10 entrance fee.
We were up and ready to spend the day on Inle Lake. We headed to the riverbank to catch a long boat which took us to some local markets. The boat ride took an hour. On the way we passed fisherman paddling their boats. They have a unique technique; they stand up at the end of the boat and use their leg to push their oar through the water. It requires great balance and technique to manoeuvre the boats the way these fishermen do.
From there we headed off by long boat to a Pagoda and then on through canals to plantations. These plantations were growing tomatoes and other crops. What was unique about this was that the soil was on top of Lilly pads floating on the water.
Towards the end of the day we watched two teams of traditional rowers compete against each other in the best of three races. The crew comprised of young boys to old men.
After that we stayed and watched the sun set over the lake and then headed back by longboat to be dropped off near the hotel.
We headed North West to Pindaya Caves. Pindaya caves are set in a limestone ridge overlooking a picturesque lake where thousands of different types of Buddha images are displayed in the various Cave chambers.
From there we continued West through the mountains to Meiktila. The roads were winding and twisting more than a politician in a sex scandal. It was a hot day and the tar on the road was melting in the corners making it slippery to ride. We arrived at Meiktila just as the sun was setting over the lake.
Tomorrow we head to Bagan, the gem in the Burmese crown. World famous for its plain of 2000 pagodas.
We headed to Bagan and on the way stopped at Mount Popa, an extinct volcano with its shrines dedicated to animist spirits known as “Nats”.To get to the top you have to walk 777 steps. The view from the top is panoramic. At the base of the mount and around the villages there are armies of monkeys. They are little thieves and you have to make sure you hold on to everything. While I was standing next to Winston getting my riding gear off I placed a banana on the seat, as quick as a flash a little hairy monkey hand grabbed it and shimmied up a pole on to the roof top and began to peel it with a cocky look on his face.
Today was spent in Bagan. Over twenty years ago I saw a picture of Bagan at sunset with the 2000 pagodas on the plain. I thought to myself one day I will see this. Well, tonight was the night and it was every bit as good as I expected.
At one point there were over 4000 pagodas on the Bagan plain. The story goes that a king in the 11th century had a white elephant (which was a symbol of luck) and every time the elephant stopped to sleep this would be where the next pagoda would be built.
We were on the road to Mandalay. The surrounding countryside is dry and there is golden sand everywhere. At one point the road turned into sand and there were lots of kids at the side with hands out giving us high fives as we rode past. It was good to see their smiling faces and have fun on the way through.
We arrived in Mandalay around 1pm. We stayed at the Rich Queen Hotel, the unfortunate thing was there are two places in Mandalay with this name, yes we went to the wrong one and had to ride an additional 5km to the correct place. The temperature was very hot today.
At 3:30pm we headed off to Amarapura to enjoy a walk over U Bein bridge .U Bein bridge is the longest Teak bridge in the world. We stayed and watched the sunset.
We headed off to Mandalay hill to visit the Mahamuni Image Pagoda and Shwesandaw Monastery. They are located at the top of the hill. On a clear day you would get a great view of Manadalay. Unfortunately today was very hazy so there was no chance of seeing the horizon.
From there I headed to Monywa going along the road next to the river. I pulled into have a look at the boats and the many pagodas on the far bank.
The last two days have been between 38 and 40 Celsius which is quite draining in riding gear but not as draining as sitting in an office staring at a screen all day.
Tomorrow we spend most of the day riding north to Kalaymyo.
It was a long day riding in hot temperatures but it was also a day of contrasts. We left the hotel at 8am and the morning was cool and a pleasant time of the day to ride. The roads in Burma are a little bumpy and have the usual gravel and sand. We passed through the hills and could see the smokey haze over the plains. We kept climbing and snaking our way up and down. We went past many road works. The roads are made by hand. Men and woman place by hand, the large scoria, then the smaller scoria. They use little woven baskets to transport the scoria and then spread it across the larger pieces. The tar is heated in barrels placed over fires. The fire is fuelled from nearby tree branches. The tar is then poured into a half barrel that has small holes n the base. The barrel has a shoulder strap and a guy walks back and forward over the scoria. Following behind him are other workers with baskets spreading out the smallest scoria. It is so time consuming and the finish is a little rough.
In some places near the road works there is sand and you have to make sure you give the throttle a good work out to propel you through it.
We rode past forests where the trees had lost their leaves due to the heat and lack of rain. There were small fires burning near the roadside and other parts of the hills. We road past some large flames and had the ash drop onto us.
We arrived at a town to find the road we were on ended and there was a new bridge being constructed. We thought we may have to head back the same way we had come but we managed to speak with a local who showed us the road to get over the river. The road was sandy and hilly and went down to the river where we were able to ride over a wooden blank bridge.
We arrived at Kalaymyo at 6pm. We headed out for something to eat and ended up having a few beers with a local rock band.
The people in Burma are such pleasant generous people.
Today was our last day in Burma. We set off an 9am and headed to Tamu where we went through Burmese customs and Immigration and then to the Indian Customs and Immigration. This was the easiest border crossing yet.