11 October Maesot, Thailand –
I first had breakfast at Krua
Canadian, an European restaurant run by a Canadian. The owner
has been living here for 17 years, and he is a mine of
information. The food is excellent and comes just at the right
time when most people have had enough of noodle soup.
Afterwards, I cycled the short
distance to the border, crossed without any drama, drew 300 000
Burmese kyats, bought a new sim card, and then set off over the
mountains. It was already midday by the time I left, and
although the new road was open, it was still a slow process and
steeper than it looked. There were no less than two truck
accidents along the way; they were, obviously, not used to the
new, faster road yet.
It started raining, and by the
time I had cleared the mountains, I was soaked and happy to find
a guesthouse in Kawkareik. Kawkareik is a tiny village where I’m
sure no foreigner ever stops. After booking in, I took to the
streets to look for food and felt like I was the circus that had
just arrived in town. I don’t pass through these villages
unnoticed, to say the least. I was dead hungry, as always, but
there was no electricity in town (it only comes on around 6
p.m.). I managed to find some food, albeit cold food. Not even
the roti man was frying roti’s; everyone was waiting for the
electricity to come on.
12 - 13 October Kawkareik – Hpa-An
It was a bumpy ride to Hpa-An.
The road was hillier than expected, terribly narrow, and in poor
condition. Everything shook loose, and I nearly lost the tripod!
I had to keep diving off the road to avoid the trucks and busses
as there was just not enough room for all of us. Fortunately,
there were plenty of roadside stalls where I could stop for a
cup of tea just to take a break from the shaking as it got kind
Again, there was no power when I
arrived in Hpa-An, but this time I could find food without any
problem as I found a room right in the market area. Than Lwin
Pyar Guesthouse even had a ground floor room at a reasonable
price, something I'm always happy about. I also stayed in Hpa-An
the following day as it was quite an interesting place.
14 - 15 October Hpa-An – Kyaikto
The road was much better than the
previous day, and although narrow, it was relatively smooth.
Myanmar is very rural, and people live close to the earth. It is
also the rainy season, and there was plenty of rice planting and
other farming activities on the go.
On my arrival at Kyaikto, I was
more than happy to pull into the Happy Guesthouse. It was a bit
pricey but rather comfortable. The following day, I went to Mt.
Kyaiktiyo (Golden Rock). What a mission it was to get there!
From Kyaikto, I first took a pickup to Kinpun, but even that
sounds easier than what it was. From Kinpun, trucks were running
up the steep mountainside. They packed us in like sardines, and
the narrow benches were hard as stone and only about six inches
wide. It was not designed for foreigners!
Pilgrims come here in the
thousands as it is said to be a place of miracles. The reason
people come is to worship at a huge boulder that is perched on
the very edge of the mountain. By now, the rock is covered with
gold leaves, and a stupa has been built on top. It is said that
it contains a hair of Buddha donated by a hermit in the 11th
century. Apparently, the hair was salvaged from the bottom of
the sea and brought here by boat. The boat subsequently turned
to stone, and a rock resembling a boat is visible just a few
hundred metres away.
16 October Kyaikto – Bago 95 km
At breakfast, I met two cyclists
from Canada on their way to Thailand. It is so seldom that I
meet other cyclists that we first had a nice long chat before
leaving. It was smooth sailing to Bago, and I arrived very
early. I stayed in exactly the same place as before as the
Emperor Hotel has a ground floor garage for storing the bike,
making it a rather convenient place to stay. The stairs are,
however, relatively steep, but there is always a helping hand to
get my panniers to the room.
17 - 19 October Bago – Yangon 90
The following day, I cycled into
Yangon, and as before, it was a busy road. After about 30
kilometres, I turned off onto a smaller road, which turned
out to be a rather bumpy one, so it was six of the one and a
half dozen of the other. Once I reached Yangon, I headed for
downtown and the famous Sule Pagoda.
Where else in the world will you
find a 2 000-year-old golden temple forming the main roundabout?
It's not only in the heart of downtown, but there are also some
really inexpensive guesthouses in the area. I first checked out
a few, but in the end, I went to the Ocean Pearl Inn, where
I had stayed before. It was not cheap, but
its value for the money was far better than the other options.
I had to wait until
the following Monday to hand in my Indian visa application, so I
had some time on my hands. I explored the area by foot until I
could do the necessary paperwork.
On Monday, 19 October, I
discovered that I did not have the right-sized photo for the
visa application (ahrggggg), but I at least obtained
the required permit to enter the restricted area at the
India/Myanmar border. At $100, it was not cheap, but there was
little I could do but pay up. Except for the receipt, I
got nothing to show for it. I was told that the permit would be
forwarded to border officials, and that it
would be there when I got there. The strange thing was that it
was date-specific; I had to give them the exact date
of when I intended to cross the border. Come hell or high water,
I will have to be there on that date.
On my way back, I stopped at the
very famous Shewadagon Paya, the holiest of places in all of
Myanmar. It is a massive complex of temples and pagodas, shrines
and “zedis,” and it is rather popular. No matter what time of
day you visit, there will always be masses of people paying
their respects. I did not like the crowds so did not linger;
just snapped a few pics and left again.
20 October, Yangon
The following day, I was ready
with my forms and photos for the Indian visa, and I did not even
have to pay anything for it. Bargain!!! The only drawback was
that it took three days, which meant I could only collect it on
21 - 22 October, Yangon
I did all I had to do so had some
time to explore more of Yangon. I took a walk to Canon to see if
they could fix my camera, which had been playing up. They did
not repair cameras, but we reset all the settings, and after
that, it seemed to be working OK.
There were not many tall
buildings in Yangon, but I did go up to the 20th floor of the
Sakura Tower to get a shot of the city from above. It cost me a
rather expensive cup of coffee, but I enjoyed both the view and
I also heard about the circular
train one can take, and so off I went to the station. I bought
my ticket and got on the next available train; however, it was
somewhat uninteresting, so I got off again and took a taxi back
to town. A pickup taxi is exactly that; it is a small pickup
with a canopy and benches for sitting on. From time to time, one
also needs to share it with the chickens. The traffic was really
bad, so I walked the last kilometre or two, which was far more
interesting. I passed mothers catching nits on their kids'
heads, monks doing their laundry, and numerous food stalls and
street vendors. What a fascinating world it is.
Head lice - I do like this
intimate scene between mother and child. Although it is kind of
gross, head lice are non-disease carrying lice. Interestingly
enough, they spend their entire lives on the human scalp and
cannot jump or fly and humans are the only known host of this
23 October, Yangon
It was my last day in Yangon, and
I was keen to collect my passport from the Indian Embassy. I
could, however, only do that after 3 p.m. I first went to the
supermarket and what a modern complex it was! It was so
entirely different from downtown (where I was staying) that one
could hardly believe it was the same country. I just bought the
necessary and then returned to the downtown area to collect my
passport. The collections queue was a long and rather
interesting one. Of course there were Burmese, but it was the
foreigners that were the most interesting, both in looks and
reasons for being there.
I spoke to Eric, a
French/Peruvian guy, who was a bit like me, as he had no plan
and just went wherever the wind blew him. Then there was another
French guy, a bit of a hippie-type who was also wandering around
the globe. He was on his way to meet his mom, who also sounds a
bit of a hippie gal, now living in India.
Later that evening I went for a
drink at the Vista Bar, as it was rumoured to have great views
of the Shwedagon Pagoda at night. I was not disappointed with
the view, but I failed to get the pictures I went there for. The
reason for that being that the vibration from the speakers
(albeit providing excellent music) did nothing for my long
exposure focus. Sigh! I decided to walk the five kilometres
back to my room and what an interesting walk it was. All the
food stalls were out and people were sitting on plastic
kindergarten chairs eating their pork offal and other delicious
looking foods. I find it rather difficult to sit on those tiny
chairs as it feels like my knees are coming past my ears.
24 October Yangon – Okekan – 110
I was more than happy to leave
Yangon and get back on the bike. It was not as hot as in April,
something I was happy about. It was not cool by any means; all
I'm saying is that it was not as hot as before. I followed the
potholed road north in the direction of Mandalay, passing small
villages where water buffalo grazed in the rice paddies and oxen
pulled carts laden with freshly cut rice stalks.
When a person travels by bicycle,
you get used to people staring at you. I find them as
interesting as they find me. Today, however, someone exclaimed
“Sweet Jesus!” I've never had a “Sweet Jesus” before; I must
have looked particularly haggard.
In any event, I continued along
the bumpy road until I reached the small village of Okekan and
thought it a good place to call it a day. The Okkan Hotel was
conveniently located on the road, and it felt that each and
every member of staff came out to help unload the bike and carry
the panniers to the room. They giggled and laughed, brought me
cold water, switched the air-con on, and put my bike in the
store room. I was treated like royalty!
25 October Okekan - Gyobingauk 95
It was a Sunday morning, but the
village was as busy as one would expect on a Saturday morning.
It was rice harvesting season, and everyone seemed involved in
the process. From cutting to transporting, everyone had a job.
It was quite remarkable how labour intensive the process was. It
was equally remarkable to see what all one could load on a
bicycle! People in different parts of the world carry their
wares in different manners. In South East Asia, they frequently
use a bamboo pole with baskets dangling from each end. It
appears that one needs to walk in a bouncing manner to get the
The most remarkable thing I saw
today were the hundreds of huge spiders in their webs among the
trees. They were easily the biggest spiders I have ever seen,
definitely larger than my hand, and only in the one area. There
were even little ones, but maybe the little ones did not belong
to them. In Gyobingauk, I found the Paradise Guesthouse on the
northern outskirts of town. I was not much of a Paradise but a
good enough room for the night.
26 - 27 October Gyobingauk – Pyay
After a bite to eat at the nearby
café, I headed for Pyay. The road was flat, and most of the way
had a concrete shoulder that made for easy cycling. When people
want to get your attention in Myanmar, they clap their
hands. There was a lot of clapping and “hey you,” today! I
felt like I was coming down with a cold or something as I did
not feel very well, and it was a drag getting myself to Pyay.
I passed a multitude of
salespeople, bicycling along the way; it is mind boggling what
they can pack on a bicycle. Once in Pyay, I found a room at the
local hotel, easily the worst place in which I have stayed in a
long time. It was so dirty that it was downright scary! I gave
it a good spray before settling in; who knows what-all could
creep out from under that wobbly bed! Although there are a few
other options in town, they are all very much alike.
I stayed in Pyay the following
day just to take a break and see if I could rid myself of the
oncoming cold. I did not do much except walk to the nearby
temple and local market. I stocked up on vitamin C, and that
evening I ate my fill at the local night market, a sure sign
that I was much better than the day before.
28 October Pyay – Aunglan 75 km
With camping being against the
law in Myanmar, I checked out accommodations along the way more
thoroughly than I normally do. The only place that looked like
it had some form of accommodation was Aunglan, which made it a
relatively short day. The next place with accommodations
appeared to be Magway, which was still 130 kilometres beyond
On cycling into Aunglan, I asked
a local guy if there was a guest house. He was very kind and
escorted me all the way to the guest house; he even helped carry
the panniers into the hotel. The people here are so sweet. He
looked so proud of himself that he could help me. The Win Light
Guest House was once again conveniently located on the main
road. It was a lovely place with spacious rooms and even a
balcony, but it did not come cheaply at $25.00.
29 October Aunglan – Magway – 133
It was a long and slow day; it
felt like I was stuck to the road. It was not even mountainous,
and I did not climb to any substantial height; it was just up
and down all day long. Fortunately the road, albeit narrow, was
shaded, and that made a big difference.
There was not much to do but put
your head down and keep moving forward. I had to remind myself
that if I keep moving forward, I will get there…eventually! I
pulled into Magway (which they pronounce as Magwe) as it got
dark. I took the first hotel I spotted, right at the roundabout.
Again, it was not cheap, and I most likely could have found a
cheaper one downtown. But in the dark, it was not worth my while
as most people don’t use their lights, and if I had an accident,
I would have thought the extra $10 cheap.
30 October Magway – Chauk 120 km
Again, it was slow going. I even
stopped to check if my brakes were stuck, but no, there was
nothing wrong. It was just me! It was a gradual climb for the
first 90 kilometres and then suddenly the road went down, down,
down…..something I was happy about.
Chauk was a busy, dusty town with
no real accommodation. I checked at the police station, and they
pointed me across the road to the one and only guest house in
town. The guest house gave me one look and announced that they
were full!!! So, this meant going back to the police station to
explain my predicament. This time, they came with
me to the hotel, and after a lengthy discussion and $20 later, I
had a rather basic room. I’m sure I was charged more than double
the average rate, but what can a person do? I was annoyed, but
that is just the way it is in Myanmar.
31 October Chauk – Bagan, 40 km
It rained through the night, and
in the morning, the road was one big, muddy mess. I waddled
across the street to my bike, which I had left at the police
station, loaded up, and set off in the direction of famous Bagan.
Fortunately, it was a short ride as I was in no mood for any
The road from Chauk to Bagan is a
rather rural road, littered with small villages, temples and
goats. It did not seem unusual to ride behind a woman
who was herding her cattle down the road past 1000-year old
temples. No one chased her on, hooted or hurried her in any way;
buses, cars, and trucks all waited patiently until she turned
Even though I had been in Bagan
not too many moons before, I was once again in awe of this
remarkable place; a place in which just about everywhere you
look, there are old temples jutting out of the forest. I did not
stop too often as it started drizzling, and I wanted to find a
room before I got soaked.
1 and 2 October - Bagan
As mentioned before, the central
plains of Bagan are literally littered with temples. I'm not
exaggerating when I say that there are temples everywhere! This
time around I spent most of my time exploring the inside of
these amazing buildings. I could, however, not resist climbing
one of the higher temples and snap a few pics of the overall
Bagan dates back to 849 AD, but
it was between 1044 -1283 AD that it reached its true greatness
and that these temples were commissioned. Today about 2 000
remain and it felt that I visited all 2000!
On the morning of the 2nd
of October, I woke to a steady rain and found my laundry still
sopping wet. That was enough to make me stay put for another
day. I hired myself a horse and cart to take me around to
temples I have not visited, and it was a wonderful relaxing day.
What I found most extraordinary is that people live and work
amongst the temples; they farm, kids play, cattle graze and,
most of all, they still worship at these 1000-year-old temples.
3 October Bagan – Pale 130 km
I knew that I had already wasted
too much time and that I had to take a lift somewhere to get to
the border by the 7th. I decided to give it my best shot and see
how far I got. Again, it was already late by the time I left.
The road was not too hilly but
narrow and bumpy in places; just before Pale it disappeared
altogether but, fortunately, appeared not too far down the road.
I cycled into Pale just as it got dark. Pale was a small village
with a few shops spread along the main road. After asking around
for a guest house, I was pointed to a building that did not much
resemble a guest house but it had a good few rooms, all very
basic with a toilet and shower in the back yard. I did not
It made sense to take a lift over
the slowest part of the route, especially after the owner
offered to phone around and see if he could find me a lift to
either Gangaw or Kale the following day.
4 October Pale – Kale By bus
Getting a bus was easier said
than done. In the morning, I was informed that the small busses
cannot take the bicycle and that the big bus departed only at 8
p.m. That meant losing another day, not something I had
bargained on. There was not much I could do about it, so I
settled in for the long wait. I was not looking forward to the
bus ride over the mountain at night.
I took a walk down the road to
find breakfast, and that alone was an experience. The little
restaurant was tucked away and fitted with a dirt floor and a
few wooden tables. A whole array of food arrived while people
came to take pictures with me. In the end, they wanted no money
for the food.
The day passed quickly, and the
little village was quite lively with the pre-election
activities. Truckloads of people drove down the main road, all
with load music and huge speakers announcing (false?) hope for
the future. Flags were being waved, and all seemed to have a
jolly good time.
At around 8 p.m., the bus arrived
and by then it was already filled to full capacity with both
people and luggage. In some miraculous way, they found space for
my bicycle inside the bus and off we went on the narrow road
over the mountains. We bounced along, and there was not the
slightest chance of catching some sleep. Not only did you have
to hang on to your seat but the music also kept playing through
The 270 kilometres took 11 hours,
and we only arrived in Kale at around 7 a.m. the following
5 - 6 November Kale – Tamu 140 km
I got off the bus and straight on
the bike, heading for Kale. I knew it would be a long day and
heard someone say one cannot do it in one day. I did not know
what to expect so hurried along. I had a quick bite to eat at a
roadside stall, and although I could have done with a bit of
sleep, I wanted to get underway a soon as possible.
It sure was a long day, but at
least it was not mountainous. Along the way, I even met another
cyclist going in the opposite direction, and at least felt that
I'm not the only crazy one out there.
I had reached Kale before it got
dark, something I was worried about as the sun goes down around
5.30 p.m. and it is pitch dark soon after that. Just as I cycled
in, I spotted the Shwe Oakar Guest House, where I was to pick up
my permit. It looked a good enough place to stay so I got myself
a room and could not wait to have a shower and get some food and
My permit stated that I had to
cross the border on the 7th, so I had a day to relax before
crossing into India. It was an exciting day as the elections
were the following day and the town were busy with pre-election
activities. Truckloads of voters took to the streets, waving
flags and singing songs.
They appear to be from the
opposition party, I don’t blame them as there is no electricity
in Tamu. The guesthouse where I was staying had a generator
between 6 pm and 10 pm and it also used solar energy.