30 March - Mae
Sot, Thailand- Myawaddy, Myanmar - 10 km
I packed up and
cycled the short distance to the Friendship Bridge and the
border control point. All went well and it as just a stamp in
the passport and I was in Myanmar.
As always, I was
taken by surprise that one can cross a line on a map and find
oneself in a very different environment. Different looking
people, different clothes, different food, different money,
different language, yes, just about everything was different. I
headed straight for the ATM and drew the local currency which
was Kyat (1000 Kyat = 1 USD). Well, I had to buy a new wallet to
store all the notes!! What a strange country it seemed to be.
Myanmar is a place where men wear skirts (or sarongs) and have
red teeth like Dracula and just about everyone has a painted
It was incredibly
hot (around 40ᵒC, I guessed) and by the time I finished my
business it was already 12h00. I thought it a good idea to find
a room for the night instead of heading over the mountains in
the midday heat. It turned out to be a bit of a mistake. I found
that the road out of Myawaddy is so narrow that the traffic goes
in one direction the one day, and in the opposite direction the
following day. Today was my day to get out of here…. LOL
31 March -
I felt extremely
lucky to catch a unique ceremony in Myanmar. As I woke this
morning, I could hear loud music. I followed the clanging and
the drumming and stumbled upon a ceremony filled with colour and
During the summer
school holidays, small boys enter the Buddhist Order for a week
or more. Early morning small boys, dressed up like princes (in
imitation of the Lord Buddha, who was himself a prince before
setting out on the religious path) were carried shoulder-height
through the streets to the temple. I understand that they spend
the entire time being carried around on the shoulders of their
older male relatives. The procession consisted of cars and
trucks with very loud music, followed by what seemed like the
entire village on foot, throwing popcorn and sweets at the
It is said that in
a foreign country, food becomes an adventure. It is no different
here in Myanmar -fondue stalls (we shall call them that!!!) can
be found every so often along the street. Meat on wooden skewers
are placed into a hot soup (???) and eaten. It is, however, what
is on the end of those sticks that I find surprising. Pig
snouts, tongues and other weird looking pieces of meat.
1 April -
Myawaddy – Pha-An
told me it is dead dangerous to cycle to Pha-An, I eventually
gave in and took a lift to Pha-An. I could see their concern as
the road was extremely narrow and not in a very good condition.
With that the road was only open to traffic every second day.
The buses, taxis and trucks formed a continuous line over the
mountain. Although all the traffic moved in the same direction,
one still had to get off the road to let the bigger trucks pass.
I must add that there is now a new road not indicated on the
map, but people still prefer the old road as the new road is
costly in that it is a kind of a toll road (or so I understand).
It was easy to
find accommodation in Pha-An as there was a whole plethora of
guesthouses to select from. You know it’s hot when each street
corner has a clay pot filled with water for communal use.
2 April - Pha-An
– Thaton - 50 km
Early morning and
my clothes were already clinging to my sweat-soaked body as I
headed further north. It was a fascinating day on the road,
which I shared with motorcycle salesmen loaded to the hilt,
bicycle taxis with sidecars, and 3-wheel motorbikes carting
their passengers to and from their destinations. It was truly
like going nowhere slowly as the road was good but narrow and no
one could go anywhere fast. The road was also lined with small
stalls selling paan, snacks and rice dishes (but mostly they
I stopped early in
Thaton - I did not read well and thought that the well-known
mountain top pagoda was there, just to find it was in the next
town. It did not bother me and I had a relaxing day in a
3 April -
Thaton – Kyaikto - 68 km
I woke early and
thought it best to get on the road before the sun started
beating down again. My relatively early start also gave me the
opportunity to witness the barefoot monks walking the streets,
collecting rice and food from the villagers. The road was
surprisingly flat and in a good condition, but as the previous
day it was narrow…… not much one could do but stick as close to
the side as possible. My mirror came in handy, as there is not
enough space for a big truck and me. Soon, I spotted one coming
along and dived off the road, just in case.
In Kyaito I bunked
down in Happy Guest House, which was not bad at all and for my
16 000 kyat I got a nice air-conditioned room with breakfast
included. The plan was to go to the mountaintop pagoda, but the
heat kept me indoors and I was in no mood to cycle there.
4 April -
Kyaikto – Bago - 90 km
It was another
blistering hot day to Bago, the onetime capital of Burma. Even
though I left early (for me that is), the heat soon started
rising up from the road, as well as baking down from above. I
stopped as many times as possible for water but still felt that
I did not drink enough. Again, I was surprised that the roads
were that good albeit a bit narrow.
Once in Bago, I at
once spotted the bright green Emperor Hotel right on the main
road. I’m sure I could find a better room, but the guy running
the place was so nice that I stayed there. They should have
called it the Everest Hotel, as the stairs were steep and felt
straight up! Fortunately, there was a large storeroom
downstairs to store the bicycle and the staff was kind enough to
carry my panniers upstairs. They must have seen I was in no mood
for those stairs. LOL.
5 April - Bago
– Yangon - 90 km
I was determined
to escape as much of the heat as possible and early morning I
stuck my hat on my head and headed for Yangon, the former
capital and then known as Rangoon. And I thought Yangon was the
capital! I stuck to the “highway”; let's call it that for a
lack of a better word. The road had two lines in both directions
as well as a kind of shoulder. The shoulder was a bit bumpy with
a few potholes, but it was a shoulder nevertheless. I could have
taken the shorter route, but it appeared to lack a shoulder and
with all the trucks and other traffic, I decided to stay on the
bigger road. I did not expect the traffic to be quite as bad.
I was determined
to drink even more water than the previous days as I felt that I
was becoming severely dehydrated. The last 20 km or so in Yangon
was a bit of a nightmare. Although it was a Sunday, the traffic
was horrendous and it took me forever to find the hotel I had in
mind. The Ocean Pearl Inn turned out to be not as cheap, but it
was a good enough place to rest my head. I felt like I had to
spend at least 24 hours in an air-conditioned room, like a diver
To my shock and
horror, I discovered that my passport was missing. I unpacked
all my panniers but all to no avail. I phoned the Emperor Hotel
in Bago and asked the manager to have a look in the room, but he
could not find anything. All I could think was that it fell out
when taking a picture or buying water along the way.
In the process I
met John from New Zealand, who was also staying at the Ocean
Pearl. He had rented a car and driver and was on his way to Bago
the following day. When he offered me a lift to Bago, I jumped
at the opportunity, thinking that I may spot one of the many
places where I stopped for water.
6 April -
Yangon – Bago – Yangon - By car
After breakfast, I
set off with John and the driver to Bago. Even though I kept an
eye out for one of my watering holes, things looked rather
different from the back seat of a car and going in the opposite
direction. Suddenly all the stalls looked the same. Once in Bago,
John dropped me at the Emperor Hotel. I thanked him for his
kindness and went in search of my passport.
The manager at the
Emperor Hotel was fantastic. He drove me from police station to
police station and from immigration office to immigration
office. As none of the officers could speak English, he acted as
my translator. In the midst of it all, the town lost power and
they could not type the letter.
While waiting for
the electricity to be restored we went for lunch, and what a
good lunch that was! Amazing how much better food can be when
eaten with the locals. After lunch, there was still no power. I
made good use of the time and visited the monstrous reclining
Buddha said to have been built in the 10th century. Amazingly
enough, this massive Buddha was completely overgrown and only
rediscovered in 1881. Apparently, contractors, while building
the Yangon – Bago railway line, discovered it. Today it is kept
safe from the elements by a huge canopy making photographing it
Eventually, we had
the letter typed up at a street kiosk. By the time we got back
to the immigration office, the street had transformed itself
into a market selling anything from fruit to meat and spices.
I was told to take
the letters to Myanmar Travel Tourist in Yangon. Both letters, I
must add, was in Burmese so I had no idea what it said. Finally,
Tun-Tun organised me a taxi back to Yangon.
7 April -
What an absolute
pain in the ass this passport became. First thing, I went in
search of the address I was given in Bago where I had to take
the documentation they gave me. After asking around, (the
address was written in Burmese) I eventually found it and it
turned out to be the immigration office. They sent me off to
have passport photos taken and on my return, I found that they
went to lunch! After all that, I walked away with a letter
stating the Myanmar visa number and entry date. I was told that
it was as good as a visa and that I should have no problems at
In the meantime, I
received an email from the South African embassy in Bangkok
stating that I should go to the UK embassy for an emergency
travel document. Off I went to the UK embassy just to find that
this time they were on lunch!
I waited and once
inside explained my story again. This time I was sent to have my
letters (given to me by the police in Bago) translated. That
little exercise turned out to be quite interesting. Down an
alley typists, translators, photocopiers, etc., were sitting on
the pavement, on plastic kinder garden chairs, doing business. I
joined the line at the translator table and waited. Once I had
the translated document in my hands, I set off to the internet
café to have the email from the South African embassy printed
out. By that time, it was too late to return to the UK Embassy.
Time for a beer.
8 April -
It was back to the
UK embassy after printing out the email from the SA embassy,
which sounds easier that it is. I could not access my Yahoo
account as I was using an internet café and the code they sent
me never came through on my iafrica account.
By the time I
eventually got all I needed the embassy was closed for lunch! I
did the same and, of course, there was going to be a fish and
chips restaurant close to the UK Embassy! I had my lunch and
went back to the embassy but the passport photos I had was of
the wrong size and there was nothing to do but go back to the
shop and get new ones.
filled in all the forms, made copies of all the relevant
letters, attached the right size photos and paid the required
fee. The lady at the Embassy admitted that they had never had a
similar request and were not sure what to do.
She was going to
contact the South African Embassy in Bangkok and check with
them, promising to pass all information on to me via email. We
agreed that I would stay put in Yangon for the next day or two,
just in case I had to provide them with more info.
9 April -
I joined the free
walking tour and it was an interesting and informative walk
around the old part of Yangon. The city has some wonderful old
colonial buildings, some renovated, some in the process of being
renovated, and others still on the to-do list.
The best time to
be out is around sunset when the streets are lined with food
vendors and markets spilling out into the bus lane. Each shop
blasts its own music louder than the one next-door, causing a
cacophony of sound while pedestrians push and chuff their way
along the crowded pavement. This was my absolute favourite time
to go out and look for street food. Stalls were frying and
cooking, producing the most wonderful food, from yummy samosas
to pork offal on skewers.
10 April -
If you’ve never
lost your passport while in a foreign country you have not
travelled, me thinks. LOL………… only kidding, it is not a
requirement. In fact, it is a royal pain in the ass, but not the
end of the world. There was nothing I could do but wait. I’m not
the first person in the world to lose a passport and I will not
be the last.
Waiting a few days
makes no difference to me. It is, however, a slight problem when
it happens in Myanmar before the annual Thingyan, the Burmese
New Year Water Festival, celebrated over a period of four to
five days. I believe the phrase “Son of a bitch!” left my mouth
with alarming frequency when I came across this charming little
In the meantime,
Yangon was preparing for the annual water festival and it was
time for me to move on. The Embassy was closed and will only
reopen on 20 April, so no good sticking around. I can just as
well continue on my travels.
11 April -
Yangon – Okkan - 111 km
I did not get away
very early and the roads were already congested by the time I
left. I tried a different route out of the city to the one I
came in on to see if I could miss some of the heavy traffic on
the main road. It was a bit of a roundabout way, but it seemed
to have less traffic. Once on Route 2 North, the road was very
narrow and bumpy. Couple that with heavy traffic and it is quite
a hair-raising experience.
busses and trucks (although moving at high speed) seem to be
accustomed to slower traffic, including bicycles, oxcarts,
tricycles and scooters. The only good thing about the road was
that it was shaded, which made a huge difference.
Along the way I
picked up 30 000 kyat ($30). It must have blown out of someone’s
pocket. The 3 x 10 000 notes was neatly folded and I felt
terrible for the person who lost it. It is a huge amount of
money for the villagers. I did keep an eye out for someone who
looked like they were searching for something.
Once I reached
Okkan, I spotted the rather nice looking Okkan Hotel. The rooms
were frightfully expensive at 30 000 kyat but seeing that I
picked up the money I spent it on a room.
12 April -
Okkan – Gyobingauk - 90 km
I had breakfast at
the hotel (included) and headed further north. Again, I found
the narrow road and high traffic scary and to avoid being
trampled I had to dive off the road from time to time.
The water festival
had not yet started, but already people were throwing water. I
did not mind as it was a relief from the relentless heat. I
swear even the bitumen was melting.
Pyay was about 170
km away and I found Gyobingauk nicely in the middle, making it
two relatively easy days.
In Gyobingauk, I
found the Paradise Guest House, which was not much of a
paradise, but I was surprised to find that the $10 room came
with air-conditioning. Ok, it was not the most effective
air-conditioning but it at least kept the room slightly cool.
13 April -
Gyobingauk – Pyay - 90 km
There was a marked
difference in the traffic, hardly any buses and trucks. It must
have had something to do with the holidays. It was the start of
the water festival and kids were having a blast, there was no
escaping getting wet. They could now throw water and shoot their
water guns without getting into any trouble.
You can imagine
their delight as they saw me coming along. They ran as fast as
their little legs could carry them to fill up their containers.
I was thoroughly drenched and I’m sure I got a double dose. They
kept me cool all the way to Pyay where I sought out the
well-known Myat Lodging House. The place was a bit of a dump and
not cheap at all.
The previous day
was merely Thingyan Eve while the 14th was the start of the real
thing. It was virtually impossible to take any pictures, as
there was water everywhere. Stands with hosepipes and huge
speakers were constructed along the road and no one could pass
without being blasted by both water and music. Don’t think you
can take a side road, as they have smaller stands manned by the
little ones and they are even more deadly. I stayed in Pyay for
the day enjoying the festivities. The most fun, however, seems
to be to cruise the streets on the back of a pickup.
15 April - Pyay
I left in a spray
of water, and not far down the road the back wheel of the bike
started making a strange noise. It got progressively worse and
although I generously sprayed a lubricant it was all to no
avail. In the end, I turned around and headed back to Pyay
hoping to find a bike shop. It was wishful thinking as
everything was closed, and would remain so until 21 April. By
that time the bike was dry and the noise was gone. I was
convinced that it was the back hub. Maybe the Q20 worked its way
into the hub.
I took a room at
Myat again and was unsure of how to proceed. I was convinced
that, once wet, I would have the same problem. I could take a
ride to Bagan where there were more bike shops, but it was an
expensive option. In the end, I decided to take a ride to Bagan
the following day, not that I had much of a choice. The only
upside was that it would get me off the road, as I did not trust
the motorbike riders with bottles of whiskey stuck in the back
of their pants.
I did the
unthinkable and took a lift to Bagan where I thought I might
find a bike shop. In hindsight that was a stupid thing to do. I
should have waited another day. Little did I know that the 16th
was the end of the water festival. I was under the impression
that it lasted until the 20th. I was annoyed as the owner of the
Myat was dishonest and gave me the wrong information as he
wanted to give me a lift to Bagan for an astronomical fee.
It was a very long
day in the car to Bagan and the water festival did not make
things any easier. Eventually, we arrived in Bagan where I took
a room at the View Point Inn. It was an interesting place with a
large variety of rooms, even a dorm.
What an amazing
place it is. The temple-studded plains of Bagan stretched 26
square miles across central Myanmar. It is a most remarkable
area and to my mind falls into the same jaw-dropping category as
Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Petra in Jordon. Bagan’s kings
commissioned more than 4000 Buddhist temples of which around 2
000 still remains.
It was New Year’s
Day and all the madness of the previous days was gone. Suddenly
everything was quiet and somewhat normal, except that just about
everything was closed. First thing in the morning, I set off by
bicycle to explore the temple area. It soon became too hot and I
retreated to my room. Later that evening, I set off again to try
and see the sunset over Bagan but there was no sunset.
I decided to stay
one more day and see if I could get some pictures, but the light
did not improve. I searched for a bicycle shop but even in Bagan
I could not find any. I did find a guy that did some work on
bicycles and he had a look at the bike but could not find
anything wrong. Once the bike was dry, it seemed OK and all I
could do was hope that it lasted. I was double annoyed with
myself for taking the lift as I missed out on a large part of
I was also
disappointed with my pictures and it felt like I should go back
and try again. So, all in all, it was not a good few days.
19 April -
Bagan - Myingyan - 55 km
Mandalay was about
160 km from Bagan, and Myingyan was conveniently located along
the road. Although it was a short day, I felt tired and was
happy for the short distance. I found a room at the Kaung Kaung
Guesthouse just at the entrance to the town. The rooms were
terribly expensive and no negotiations could bring them down in
their price. I looked for another guesthouse but could not find
one. Eventually, I settled for a room. I was doubly annoyed when
I discovered that their Wi-Fi did not work, after asking them
first if they had Wi-Fi and then I specifically asked them if it
worked. I hate it when people are dishonest.
20 - 21 April -
Myingyan – Mandalay - 110 km
It was a hot, dry
and dusty day on the road and it felt like I could not get
going. Just as I started getting annoyed with the road being so
narrow, bumpy and busy, suddenly, I started freewheeling. I was,
in fact, going slightly uphill and halfway the road descended
down to the river again. It was most likely around 40ᵒC and it
felt that it was only I and the mad dogs out in the midday heat.
Most drivers pulled off the road at shelters and had a bit of a
snooze before continuing on. I wanted to get to Mandalay so I
put my head down and cycled on.
And so approached
the end of the road to Mandalay. Mandalay is not as romantic
looking as Kipling made it out to be. It is, in fact, a rather
dusty, sprawling city. The cheapest bed in Mandalay must surely
be at the AD1 Hotel, which was situated in the midst of the
onion market, making for a rather interesting location. Here one
can still get that old timeless Asian feel. I got myself a $13
room with en-suite bathroom and air-conditioning.
I stayed in
Mandalay the following day as well, but it was too hot to do any
22 April -
Mandalay – Yangon - By bus
It was time to
head back to Yangon to see if my passport turned up in the
meantime. I was running out of visa time in Myanmar so I took
the bus. The bus was cheap at $10 and very comfortable, with
reclining seats and air-conditioning. It hardly ever stopped and
we arrived back in Yangon at around 5.30 p.m. I cycled back to
the Ocean Pearl Inn, where I stayed before, which was a bit of a
nightmare. The traffic was heavy and it soon became dark with no
23 - 24 April
passport turned up but as I found out that my old passport was
still valid, and it still had the two blank pages, there was no
need for an emergency travel document anymore. I spoke to the UK
embassy and they agreed to refund me the money I paid them. It
looked like things were starting to turn in my favour again.
I bought another
bus ticket, this time to the Thailand border. As the traffic to
and from the border was only on alternative days, the next bus
was on 25 April. It was a night bus which meant that I would
arrive at the border on 26 April, just making it by the skin of
my teeth to be out of the country before my visa expired.
The following day
I wandered around the city but there was not much to see and I
was kind of bored.
25 April -
Yangon to the Mywaddy (Thailand border)
Seeing that it was
a night bus, I slept late, had breakfast, and then packed my
stuff. I had the whole day to kill so I was in no hurry and even
went for a facial. I did not cycle to the bus station as I did
not want to sit next to people with my sweaty body. It turned
out that the bus was a bit of a disaster from the start. First
they wanted 10 000 kyat for the bike and in the end I still had
to pay 7 000 kyat, which I thought was a rip-off. The bus was
everything but luxurious and the seats extremely narrow; two
people could hardly fit next to one another.
I never managed to
sleep at all and one can hardly drink anything as once the bus
goes, it goes and very seldom stops. It was a slow process
through the night and at daybreak we were in Hap-an. From there
on things went from bad to worse. We stopped for breakfast and
then got onto the mountain road. The road was extremely narrow
with only a very narrow pavement in the middle and steep exposed
drop-offs into the valley below. So narrow was the road and so
tight the corners that the bus could not always make the turn
and had to do 3-point turns.
Close to the top
we encountered road works. There was not much one could do but
wait, and what a long wait it was. This was not your normal road
works, but all work is done by hand. Eventually, we were waved
through and not much further, just as we were negotiating a
rather tight corner, the bus got a blowout. As we were mere
inches from the cliff people let out shrill screeches and
started instinctively leaning the opposite way, not that that
would have helped. And there I thought they were all asleep.
It turned out not
to be the tire but something else. The driver and his cronies
got out, crawled in under the bus, and an hour or so later we
were on our way again. We were hardly on our way or we stopped
at a temple were monks were handing out drinks in exchange for a
It was past midday
by the time we got to the border and, as expected, it took
longer than usual as I now left the country on a different
passport than the one I came in on. Once all was sorted out, I
cycled off to Mae Sot village which was only about 5 km down the