Despite having been to Thailand many times I have never been to Myanmar. Not sure why I guess I never thought of it as a ride destination so I am going to correct that now.
Brief stop in Bangkok where by good fortune I could meet with my mate from Northern NSW who has the MT-01 that features in many of my Sunday rides archive from the region that the name of this blog comes from.
I flew Thai Lion from Tokyo which for a LCC were pretty good, then on to Mandalay with Bangkok Airways, that flight was on promo just $50. Suvarnabhumi airport was large queues, from joining the check in queue to the gate with no detours took 1 hour 40 minutes.
I already had a roaming sim from Amazon (1/3rd the price of buying same AIS sim in Thailand) but in Myanmar I got an extra one since only a few dollars and beats crap hotel wifi. Next up was find Mandalay Motorcycles and sort out a bike. I had booked a Yamaha XT125 and it was waiting there so I picked it up in the afternoon. I wanted a road trail bike with dual sport tyres and this was the cheapest option at about $30AUD a day.
Day one it was relatively easy exit from the city. The river forms a natural barrier to development in the direction I was riding. I did a big loop to the other side of the Irrawaddy to the Mingun Pahtodawgyi temple. There is a small foreigners fee which didn’t bother me however you can only enter the grounds in bare feet and the ground is littered with sharp stones and thorny weeds, within a few metres I already had cut on sole of one foot so I ended up not able to explore much.
Back on the main road I came across a wedding. A rather large one, with easily 100 people in beautiful traditional clothing.
This is the first ride in SE Asia I have brought a real camera with me, all the others have been photos from whatever phone I had at the time yet the task of capturing the beautiful bridesmaids today defeated my Canon GX1M3, every photo I later discovered to be out of focus. What is it with me and front focusing cameras. Main problem is I can’t tell in the electronic viewfinder if the photo is in focus, my eyesight is such I need to see image on big screen to tell.
The 7/11 franchise has not managed to cross the border from Thailand yet, no coffee shops either so I made better time than expected to my destination with minimum stops which is good as the day started cool but ended baking hot.
Day two I went to look at the Maha Bodhi Ta Htaung Standing Buddha. There are pagodas every turn here, this is the Thanboddhay Pagoda.
I don’t plan to visit many pagodas, they are often new modern structures. I next took some back roads since the highway is rather ugly, much of the roadside is continuous rubbish with numerous small fires of burning garbage. The ‘highways’ are oddly all toll roads. I say odd because I associate tolls with quality infrastructure. But motorcycles are free and have a bypass lane at toll booths same as in Malaysia.
Arriving Bagan there are a couple of other booths, I just followed the local riders around the bypass track. Turns out there was a $25 tourist tax and tourists are supposed pay to rent e-bikes. But the locals are riding petrol bikes everywhere, the historic area is still littered with garbage and fires not a sensitive area so I think it is just a money grab. I never paid. I rode all over the place same as locals although I obviously stood out.
As punishment I got a flat tyre. Well more likely going off the track onto grass which had hidden rubbish items was risking a puncture regardless.
A local girl on a Honda 125 Wave lead me to me a vulcanizer shop, thank you miss. I managed to get there just before too flat to ride as it was slow leak. That’s the offending item in my fingers. This bloke did a top job. Cost $5 AUD.
Fantastic hotel location tonight, I splashed out on a beer from the mini bar as not every day you can enjoy a brew with this view.
Day three. Nice view for breakfast. I’m up early as I think today will be a long ride despite modest distance.
I visit the empty Bagan railway station, relic from another era. There are a lot of cranes and huge resort hotels under construction in new Bagan. If you are thinking to visit here do it ASAP. Soon to be highly developed.
I don’t have much to show from today. My GPS went haywire in the morning and re routed me in such a way I ended up missing out on seeing Mt Poppa with the temple on top of the rock. (although with the smoke haze maybe I didn’t miss anything) Late in the day I came to what should have been the highlight, a nice mountain climb but alas the road was all torn up for resealing and I spent 39 out of 40km eating dust and 1 km on slippery mud. Very glad to get off the bike today.
Wow it is a cold night, 8 degrees and no heating in my room. Unknown to me when I planned this route the town of Kalaw seems to be a main stop for tourists, lots of expensive western food however the former movie cinema has been converted to a Indian restaurant. Burmese Indians are one of the ethnic minority groups in Myanmar and the food was superb.
Day four I’m doing a bit of exploring. The air pollution in Myanmar is like northern Thailand. I’ve already applied dehaze to this in post processing. Cooking and rubbish disposal is by fire and the odd factory like above adds even more smog.
I enjoyed some back road riding this morning but then things deteriorated. The XT is very uncomfortable, I should have got the CRF250L but that was $50US a day which on current exchange rates is more than double.
All the road construction is done by crews entirely of women digging with hand tools and laying stones by basket carried on their head. I wanted to take a photo but thought it might be demeaning.
Todays route takes me to the Kakku pagoda. This is pleasantly a bit off the tourist trail and it was very peaceful to wander around the 2478 stupas which have wind chimes and create a beautiful melody every time a breeze arrived.
There are many gas stations but they all just sell fuel, nothing else, not even water. The only one that sells drinks and snacks is the Denko chain which also have clean toilets and supply toilet tissue for your information if you ride here. Pleasant afternoon spent riding back roads.
Tonight I am staying in a grand old hotel that must have been built in the colonial era as a retreat for the British. It has that distinct style to it. Nice spot.
More tourist tax booths at the outskirts of Pindaya. I rode straight by. I’m paying for services at hotels and restaurants and buying things at the market. I am creating employment and livelihoods for people, why do you think it’s ok to tax me for visiting.
Weather has been great, cool mornings and warm afternoons and no rain. I set off on day five to see the local temple on the hill but turns out its tacky with glass elevators. Here is photo from pagoda in the valley looking up.
I have to tell you about a strange thing in Myanmar. They used to drive on left same as British then one day suddenly changed sides but all the cars are still built for left hand side of road (ie steering wheel on right) so they have to pull way out into the other lane to see if road is clear ahead to pass and junctions that are not simple 4 way cross no longer work because they were built for traffic flowing on other side. Furthermore all vehicles are those 2nd hand imports from Japan so I was surrounded by Crown Royal saloons and various other Japan only models. All the buses are from Japan still bearing original name like Okinawa highway bus or something. These heavy vehicles carrying passengers also have the drivers on wrong side of vehicle. Trucks also.
And then I popped back to Australia. Well it felt like it, the road is lined with gumtrees for about 40km. I don’t know why as of writing but it made me feel homesick.
The ride down the mountain to Mandalay should have been a highlight but unfortunately for me the entire thing had been ripped up to be resealed. This was pretty challenging to ride as steep and very loose stones and powder dry soft soil.
When finished this will be one of the great rides of SE Asia. The surveying and views are superb all it needs is the new hotmix. I was up on the pegs and feeling fatigued after about 50 km of slipping and sliding down the hill and could have kissed the tarmac when it finally arrived. But then I saw two Europeans on bicycles coming other way a couple km before the gravel and stopped feeling sorry for myself.
Nice ride rest of the valley then easy highway back to Mandalay.
Enjoyed a rest in Mandalay but never got up to much. I was going to rent a scooter and visit couple of sunset viewpoints but just did not feel like dicing with the traffic.
This was just a small look at this country but I enjoyed my time here. Its quite affordable, meals at non tourist places about $3 AUD, a small bottle of whisky cost $1 AUD. The people were all super friendly, tourists are still a novelty even though I was on the tourist loop most of this ride. I’d like to see the Myanmar end of the Thai Burma death railway so perhaps I will ride here again. If you like dirt riding then there is heaps of things you could explore. I’m not into dirt myself, I dislike the dust so for me this route was good balance and will be even better when both those mountain passes are then sealed.