• Sunday , 21 January 2018
No Burma-Shave in Myanmar

No Burma-Shave in Myanmar

Myanmar is reluctant to let foreigners in with their own vehicles. We saw on the registration log book at the immigration office that our bikes were the 140 and 141st vehicles allowed entry from India in the past twelve months, not a lot of folks coming this way. Currently, the only way to do this type of crossing in Myanmar was as an organized tour. Our group consisted of six motorcycles and one backpacker who rode in the van with the guide for a total of seven people. We also had the tour guide, a government official to keep tabs on us, the Burma Senses’ operation manager (the company arranging the tour), and a driver for the van. It was a good group, we bonded quickly, and we all got along well for the two-week journey.

Riding in Myanmar is not a simple affair. The government has strict regulations concerning foreign vehicles and we jumped through many hoops to make this happen. Once on the road however everything becomes free, easy and fun.

Most days we rode as a group but sometimes we went at our own pace. The guide would provide GPS coordinates of our stops and hotels. On our second morning Shannon braked hard to avoid a dog running into the street and her bike quit in the middle of the road. And, just like in India the week before, it refused to start. I knew that sneaky problem would shows its face again because I hadn’t really fixed anything in India. I ended up towing Shannon’s motorcycle behind mine with a nylon strap for 53 miles. This was necessary to get to a crossroads where we could hire a truck to haul the dead motorcycle. It was an exhausting trip on a road that was, at times, steep and twisty. Once at the crossroads we were able to hire a truck so we sent the bike ahead to hotel in Bagan where we would reconnect with it in a couple of days. Shannon took turns riding pillion with me or as a passenger in the van. She was sad not to be on her own bike in such a stunning country.

Our first full day in Myanmar and Shannon’s bike dies in the middle of the road an hour into the morning. The bike refused to start after doing all the roadside tricks I could think of. I was forced to tow her behind my bike for 53 miles to a place where we could hire a truck.

Towing is relatively easy on flat, straight roads. Unfortunately our route had twisty and steep sections that were difficult and slow.

We negotiated a local delivery truck to take the broken bike to the hotel in Bagan where we had rooms booked. We said goodby to Zippy and Shannon either rode with me or in the van with the guide for the next two days. When we finally reunited with the broken motorcycle Bernie and I were able to sort out the problems and get Zippy running again. Shannon was able to tour the rest of Myanmar under her own power.

The predominate religion in Myanmar is Theravada Buddhism and touring different temples was an almost daily affair on our two week transit of the country. The Thanbuddhyi Pagoda is home to over 500,000 individual Buddha statues and figurines., Monywa, Myanmar.

The second largest standing Buddha in the world can be found in Monywa Township, Central Myanmar.

It is a lot of stairs to get inside the head of this massive Buddha. Monywa, Myanmar.

The framework of the mind. Monywa, Myanmar.

Kevin and Bernie have come overland by motorcycle from Switzerland. Having a group of 6 motorcyclists in our Myanmar group made the trip special and we never ran short of adventure stories to tell each other.

The first pleasant surprise to being on an organized tour was how nice the hotel rooms were. We are too cheap to stay in resorts with pools, flower petals on the bedspread, breakfast buffets with more than three items, and plumbing that entirely works. It seemed that every night in Myanmar the room was better than the last, and since lodging was included in our package, we never asked what these rooms cost. Our trip across Myanmar was a vacation and we loved not having to worry about anything except where we wanted to eat dinner each night.

Bagan is an ancient city in Central Myanmar along the banks of the Irrawaddy River. There are over 2,000 Buddhist monuments dotting the flat plain.

Bagan, Myanmar at sunrise.

Electric scooters were provided by our tour company for exploring Bagan. Mike and Bernie stayed back at the hotel fixing Shannon’s broken motorcycle. Our tour guide Phyo was salt of the earth and he became a friend to us all.

Hitting the market in Bagan for fresh fruit and lunch supplies.

Bagan, Myanmar.

Temple carvings, Bagan, Myanmar.

Serenity personified, Bagan, Myanmar.

The fish market stalls on lake Inle could be smelled in the breeze long before we got to them. Inle Lake, Myanmar.

After raiding the local market this biker gang gets down to the series work of making lunch.

One of the joys of traveling by motorcycle is being able to stop whenever you want and take in the magic of the lands you are passing through.

Phyo sheperding his flock of tourists to all things great and small.

After getting Shannon’s bike working in the morning I was able to join the electric scooter gang in the afternoon. These things are an absolute blast to bomb around on. Bagan, Myanmar.

On Christmas Eve our gang had an impromptu party on the roof of our hotel in Inle Lake. Presents were given to all from Kevin, we were delighted and surprised by this thoughtful kindness. Phyo, our guide, was given some whiskey and soon he was barfing into the bushes, the sign of a party well done. As the teetotaler of the group I looked on in amusement knowing no hangover was in store for me, we all had a great Christmas Eve.

It can be said that our trip around the world is one long vacation, it doesn’t always feel that way, but it is an accurate statement. The trip through Myanmar was a vacation from the vacation and we were more than happy to give up control of our daily destiny. We no longer had to plan routes, food, where we would sleep, or what tourist activities we would see and do. Everything was spoon-fed to us and we had no problems. However, two weeks was about our limit and we were ready to regain control of our daily affairs at the Thai border.

Dressed to the nines in Mandalay.

A visit to a woodcarvers shop.

Woodcarvers shop in Mandalay, Myanmar.

The Shwenandaw Monastery is entirely made of intricately carved teak wood. Mandalay, Myanmar.

Halfway through Myanmar another bike in our group broke down with coolant water leaking into the engine case and mixing with the motor oil. A series of trucks were arranged and Kevin’s bike was eventually hauled all the way to the Thailand border. Since we have all been there the other bikers took the delay in stride and good cheer, just like when Shannon’s bike broke down a week earlier and delayed the group.

One of the other bikes in our group broke down this time. The rest of us pulled over by the side of the road to wait and see if it could be fixed on the spot. As we waited some villagers nearby invited us into their home for a snack and a visit. This kindly grandfather gave us a tour of his village and introduced us to all his friends and family. The kindness of the Myanmar people was boundless and sincere.

Another one bites the dust. The second bike in our group of six gets a lift in a truck. Kevin’s bike ended up being hauled all the way to the border and towed into Thailand by another motorcycle. The needed parts were waiting in Thailand and Kevin is back on the road.

The Pindaya Caves are a Buddhist pilgrimage site. The vista from the cave entrance gives a commanding view of the valley below. Pindaya, Shan State, Myanmar.

There is a legend surrounding the Pindaya Caves. Seven princesses bathing in a lake were captured by a giant spider and taken hostage inside the caves. I survived capture by slapping the spider with my flip-flop and singing Madonna’s “material girl” at the top of my lungs.

Debated swapping bikes in Myanmar but I like my Suzuki better, even if it has one less cylinder than this powerful Chinese beast.

Quite an amazing process. At this craft factory lotus flower stems are carefully split and the silk-like fibers removed. These fibers are spun and eventually weaved into a luxurious fabric. Inle Lake, Myanmar.

The village used boats and canals for transportation. Inle Lake, Myanmar.

Myanmar has yet to be jaded by the onslaught of tourism and the people outside of the tourist hotspots were just as curious of us as we were of them. We often found ourselves with police escorts, lights flashing, when we arrived or left some of the smaller towns. This VIP treatment was unnecessary but novel and fun nonetheless. The Myanmar people were what made this trip special. The folks we came in contact with were friendly and accepting of our presence and we felt enveloped in genuine kindness. It is only too bad we could not spend more time here traveling free and unguided like tourists on a bicycle can.

A fisherman at sunset. Inle Lake, Myanmar.

Golden Rock is the third most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in Myanmar. According to legend the granite boulder is perched atop a strand of Buddha’s hair, perpetually defying gravity. Mon State, Myanmar.

The last day of the trip through Myanmar on the banks of the Salween River Delta. We were a happy group and enjoyed each other’s company. We are excited about entering Thailand but all a little sad to leave the magic of Myanmar.

As a group of foreigners on their own vehicles the government kept a close eye on us. Our government minder was with us the entire way and sent daily updates on us to his bosses. At first his presence seemed a little draconian but he was a friendly and good natured fellow and ended up becoming quite attached to our group. By the end we greatly enjoyed his company.

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