In February-March of 2012 I took a motorbike trip with my 68 year old father around Myanmar (Burma) as a way to explore the country on 2 wheels. I live in Mandalay and Pyin Oo Lwin with my wife, who grew up here, and son, who was born here.I never much rode far outside of the Mandalay area so when my Dad came to visit I had the perfect excuse. We wrote a trip report and posted pictures for our family but it has now become a bit of a guide for anyone else who is interested in these areas or, more specifically, to anyone who wants to travel Myanmar on a motorcycle. If you are interested in doing a trip like this, read this blog, ask around on the travel forums, check with the Myanmar Travels and Tours website to see which areas are off limits and read the news. Our trip worked for us but things change and roads open up or close so please seek out updated information.
Zach B

Monday, May 21, 2012

We Did It! Final Trip Report

Final trip Report

View Myanmar

Zach David
Total Distance Traveled 2620.2km
1628 miles
Total Gas Used 53.85 L
14.2 US Gallons
51.62 L
13.6 US Gallons
Efficiency* 48.66 km per liter
114.34 mpg
50.39 km per liter
118.41 mpg

*doesn't include data from our 3 day trial run to Lasio

I know its a little late but I finally got the map of our entire trip done. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Day 16: Magwe to Mandalay

Day 16: Magwe to Mandalay
March 6 2012

Start: 8:30am Magwe
Arrive: 6:30pm Mandalay
Total travel time:10 hours
Total distance traveled (Zach): 335.6 km, 208.1 miles
Total distance traveled (David):332.1 km, 205.9 miles

David's fuel efficiency: 48.67 km per liter, 114.4 mpg
Zach's fuel efficiency: 49.02 km per liter, 115.2 mpg

Our motorcycles showed the stress of 3,500 kilometers of mostly rough
roads today. Zach noticed a strange rattling near his engine soon
after starting out today. We found a detached rubber drain hose, and
reattached it; the rattle remained. The engine oil level was within
tolerance. Zach stopped at one of the many bamboo shack repair shops
along the road. The young man, who appeared to be a teenager, found
the problem quickly. The 1/2" x 8" bolt on which the yolk that holds
the rear axle moves, snapped on the right side. It allowed the rear
wheel to move slightly left and right. He replaced the bolt, adjusted
the idle and fuel mixture to prevent stalling at low speed, and
checked the engine oil. The total charge for the part and 45 minutes
labor was 2,000k ($2.50 US).

Later Zach noticed the bolt holding the muffler on my bike was about
to come off. We  tightened it. A few hours later the bolt was gone and
there was not a village or mechanic around. We used the wire hook of a
bungee cord that was securing our suitcase to my bike. It still held
down the front of the suitcase, and also held the muffler up where it
Dad's Jerry-rigged muffler
Balancing Dad's bike to fix the muffler
belonged. The exhaust system sounded like a gasket was blown, so I
stopped at the first repair shop we saw. They replaced the bolt and
retightened the bolts connecting the exhaust system to the engine. The
price was 500k ($0.60 US). It seemed strange to us that the beating
the bikes had taken on the rough terrain had not damaged them more.

The landscape north of Magway was interesting. First it was flat, with
One lane bridge in on Highway 2
large fields that were bordered with tall, straight palm trees. It was
arid, yet cultivated for crops. Next came a hilly terrain with many
shrubs and few trees. If it was cropped, it was for some type of
fruit. There were no open fields. It was the first area in which I
noticed Yucca plants. That transitioned into an area somewhat similar
to the badlands of South Dakota. Sharp hills, deep gullies and in flat
areas. The land could not even be used for recreation.

Highway 2 was relatively smooth and lightly traveled for many miles.
Later is turned into a decent single large road, crossing several dry
Mount Popa from the road
rivers, one which had an approximate 1/4 mile bridge, yet no water.
Some of the dry rivers would flow over the highway during the wet
season. The road looked as if a snowplow was used to create a path
through the river bed. Later we had to ford rivers in four places.
River across Highway 2
Three were driving on the riverbed, on sand. One had a concrete
surface on which to drive, yet still under water. I was concerned
about one crossing because the water was covering the bottom portion
of the engine, apparently not the spark plug or the engine would have
stopped running.
Sino-Myanmar pipeline propaganda

A wrong turn resulted in us coming to the Yangon/Mandalay expressway
Dad on the Mandalay- Yangon Expressway
41 miles south of Mandalay. Our plan was to take local roads to
Mandalay. The sign was correctly pointing to Mandalay, just not on the
road e wanted. Police officers motioned for us to stop they appeared
to be writing a citation to another motorcyclist. One officer inquired
where we were going. Zach replied "Mandalay". The other officer, who
was not part of the conversation, as he was writing something for the
Coming into the outskirts of smoggy Mandalay
other motorcyclist, shouted for us to move on: we did so immediately.

We arrived at the Sein Sein Hotel in Mandalay after dark, around 6:30
pm, after refueling the bikes.

Back in Mandalay after over a week on the road and ready for a shower!
written by David, posted by Zach

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Day 15: Pyay to Magwe

Day 15: Pyay to Magwe
March 5 2012
Map (not exact route because new road that bypasses Taungdwingyi is not on google maps)

Thank you Magwe Immigration! if only the immigration officer in Mandalay was this nice!

Start: 845am Pyay
Arrive: 4:30pm Magwe
Total distance traveled Zach: 222.7km, 138 miles
Total distance traveled, David : 221.4km, 137.3 miles
Dad's fuel efficiency:50.3 km per liter, 118.1 mpg
Zach's fuel efficiency: 50.4 km per liter,137.3 mpg

The trip north to Magway was through a mostly arid area, reminding me
of the central plains of Turkey. Near Pyay rice farmers were tilling
their flooded fields, riding wooden implements pulled by water buffalo
and oxen. The fields were in all stages of development, from dry
fallow, to flooded tilling, small rice shoots being planted and rice
that was nearly mature. The fields were probably supplied with water
from the Ayeyarwady River.

Dried up river

Further north were plains, with large fields, some with corn, peas or
beans, but mostly bare land that had been tilled. Some brown pasture
areas had cattle grazing. Nearer Magway tall palms, I believe they are
Toddy Palms, lined the fields, making a unique visual picture.

Short cut under construction

We took a chance on going to a road not marked on the map. Zach
thought it may be a new road: it was. The road was wide and smooth for several miles. Then it turned into a road under construction, still
not really bad. Some sections were packed dirt, some a rather well
packed stone, and others not good at all.I tried to get off a single
lane portion to allow a bus that was coming towards me to pass. I was
driving slowly, and got stuck in the deep fresh earth. The bus driver
did not honk his horn; he just opened the door so a helper (relief
driver) could get out to help me get off the road. By that time I was
Ahhh, a smooth road!
able to drive the bike and push at the same time to clear the road.
Magwe (photo taken from the bridge into town)

Hotels in Magway are relatively expensive, and well booked. Two were
full, a couple were not to our liking. The lady in charge at the Htein
Htein Thar Hotel refused to register me because my visa expired
yesterday. We explained the renewal process to her. She would not
budge. Zach suggested we go to Immigration and have them approve my
stay. She agreed. It took half an hour to find the office, then the
man in charge would not make a decision. He called another office,
then and an employee escort us there. The man at the second office got
his assistant and three office ladies involved, then called the
hotel to give approval. The process took over an hour.
Stupa with moon in Magwe 
Riverside at the foot of the stupa looking south

Friday, March 9, 2012

Day 14: Taung-gok to Pyay

Day 14: Taung-gok to Pyay
March 4, 2012
Misty mountain crossing

Start: 8:30am Taung-gok
Arrival: 3:45pm Pyay
Total travel time: 7 hours, 15 minutes
Total distance traveled (Zach): 166 km, 102.9 miles
Total distance traveled (David): 164.8 km, 102.2 miles

Dad's fuel efficiency: 43 km per liter, 101 mpg
Zach's fuel efficiency: 37.3 km per liter, 87.7 mpg

Worst sleep ever. The Khant Guest House took the prize for worst sleep on this trip. The room was tidy, clean and we fell asleep quckly. Sometime after midnight the air conditioning cut out and the room got very hot. I removed my blanket only to be eaten alive by mosquitos. I woke up the manager who told me that the power for the air conditioner would come on at 4am. The lights still worked fine. I got some bug spray for the room and started to spray around the room to at least kill the bugs. The brand was Raid and it was from Thailand because it had all Thai writing on it. After I sprayed and brought back the can I saw that the can also had English on it. It had a warning to not enter the room for at least 15 minutes after spraying. I ran back back, opened the door and used my towel to fan out the room. Dad was sleeping. The whole thing took me over an hour and I finally got back to sleep after another 30 minutes. At 4am the power for the air conditioner came on and I slept well until 7am.
We got out after 8am and ate quickly at a tea shop. There were clouds in the air that made us think it may rain. We quickly ate our banana pancakes and drove into the mountains. The mountain road was wet which made us think it might have rained or been very misty just before we came up. The road was in fair condition but we did have some long stretches of road that were ripped apart by the trucks or just not well paved at all.
The environment was great. We drove through the misty forests with steep drop offs on one side and a mountain on the other. We did see the occasional village too.
I saw many different birds that made me wish I had a bird book along. We saw jungle foul, a hornbill, parrots and other small brightly colored birds. We also saw many butterflies. The mountains we crossed were part of the Rakhine Yoma Elephant Range but I didn't see any elephant poop, or elephants, this time we crossed. Compared with our crossing on the way to Gwa, this part of the range was much more beautiful. It was much more wooded than the the road to Gwa but it was similar in parts. When we went to Gwa we started on the eastern side and worked our way west but today we were on the west and made our way east. The east side here was also very arid and dry. We saw many forest fires on the easter part of this road as well.
Leaving Rakhine
Just before we left Rakhine state we had to cross a checkpoint that took at least 30 minutes. These immigration guys were so slow but they were very glad to see us and even took our photo with their personal camera.
Dry eastern side of the mountain
The gps said we climbed to about 1000 meters before we started heading down after leaving Rakhine state. We came to another checkpoint over an hour later just as we were about to get out of the mountains. When we stopped and gave the officer our paperwork we went to the tea shop across the street to order coffee and wait for him. This guy had our paperwork done in 5 minutes so we didn't even have to get coffee but it was nice to relax for a while.
Fast and friendly Rakhine checkpoint
We crossed one more checkpoint at the bottom of the mountain but there was no officer in sight so we left quickly before he woke up or came back.
On the potholed, but otherwise ok, road to Pyay I ran out of gas. Dad also ran out of gas just as we were about to cross the Nawady bridge into Pyay. I'm glad I just used half of our old water bottle of gas on my bike.
Billboard in Pyay
When we drove across the bridge I was happy we didn't have to take a boat to cross the Ayeyarwady like we did in Hinthada.
We drove around Pyay and eventually found a great hotel on the river called the Lucky Dragon Hotel for just $35 a night. They also had wifi with information on how to set up the proxy so I could access blogger for the first time since Bago.
We had BBQ at a stage show restaurant on the river after a long walk around town. A stage, or beauty show, restaurant is like any other beer station but they have a large stage with girls who sing songs and walk up and down like its a catwalk. It is very uniquely Myanmar as I have not seen this type of restaurant anywhere else in Asia.
We went back to the hotel and talked for about 2 hours with a Flemish guy who would be taking the road to Taung-gok on his bicycle the next morning. His name was Koen which he said meant brave in Flemish. This guy had been traveling around the world on and off by bike for the past 8 years. He was quite brave since he said he planned to camp in the woods by the side of the road since there were no hotels in the mountains between Pyay and Taung-gok. It is also forbidden for foreign tourists to stay anywhere besides a hotel in myanmar so he is taking a big risk.
We went back into the room after 11pm and, after I fiddled with the blog for a while, I was in bed by 1:30 am.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Day 13: Ngapali to Taung-gok

Day 13: Ngapali to Taung-gok
March 3 2012

Start: 12:15pm Ngapali
Arrive: 3:30 pm Taung-gok
Total travel time: 3 hours 15 minutes
Total distance traveled (Zach): 95.2 km, 59miles
Total distance traveled (David): 94.7 km, 58.7miles

David's fuel efficiency: 52 km per liter, 122.3 mpg
Zach's fuel efficiency: 40.1 km per liter, 94.2 mpg

Max was tired of waiting for the bus
Replacing a tire before departure
We got a late start to the day because San San and Max's bus didn't leave Thandwe until 1pm. We took our time getting packed and ready. We had one last lunch at the Best Friend restaurant of seafood salad, Rakhine shrimp and tomato salad before driving the 4+ miles to Thandwe.
San San and Max's bus to Yangon was on time and they left at 1pm. Dad and I crossed the bridge out of town toward Taung-gok just before the bus.

Sending the tire out to get fixed
The road to Taung-gok was narrow but paved the entire way. There were some rough and uneven spots but overall the road was good. We had many dusty detours around old wooden bridges that were being replaced by concrete ones. I think all the bridges were being replaced on that stretch of road so that is good news here in Myanmar. I just hope for the people on the southern end of Rakhine state that they improve the road all the way down to Gwa.

Bridge repair
We actually paid our first tolls on this trip too. We paid 2 tolls at 2 separate gates of 200 kyat each. It's funny that we are almost done with our long trip and we have driven through countless tolls without paying. San San later told me a private company is doing the road construction to make the road wider so I guess they make sure they collect the tolls.

We drove along the winding inland road for about 50 miles until we got to Taung- gok.
Each map we use seems to have a different way or spelling Taung-gok so i am just going with the way my road map spells it. Taung-gok looks more like a big neighborhood than a city. There are countless houses and 2-story concrete buildings but no particular area that seems like a down town. We drove along a river and around town for a good twenty minutes before we spotted a guest house. The first place we passed looked bad so we didn't stop and the Royal Guest House next door looked ok until we saw the shabby room with only a shared bathroom. If we stayed there that would have been the worst hotel room on this far.

We drove for a little longer and thankfully came across a small but clean place called Khant Guesthouse. We checked in and walked down the street to the bus station to see if San San and Max's bus arrived yet. We got to the bus station just as San San and Max were getting off the bus. San San said that the bus was held up at many of the spots where the roads were being repaired so it took them a while to get to Taung-gok. We didn't have any problems since we could zip past the construction areas and detours on our little motorbikes.

San San and Max just stopped in Taung-gok for about 30 minutes before they got back on the bus to Yangon. They will arrive in Yangon tomorrow morning and then board another bus to Mandalay. They won't get home until tomorrow evening, about 28 hours in transit.
River view on the way to get gas
We went back to the hotel and drove the bikes out of town to get gas. There were a string of newer gas stations, none with a pump, across the river from Taung-gok. I guess the local government moved all gas sellers out of town because of a fire at one of them before. We recalculated our mileage and my efficiency was much worse than before so I think I wasn't quite full the last time I calculated. We will recalculate at the end of our trip to get a more reliable, overall, number.
Where is the fire?
We stopped at a local Internet cafe to try and get in the blog but with no luck. As we were in the cafe, the next shop had a generator fire or explosion. I didn't see any fire but there was smoke and pink dust all over the sidewalk. I went outside to see what was going on. Nothing much happened after that but when a fire truck arrived at the scene, about a hundred gawkers on motorbikes we're closely behind. The road was terribly crowded but later cleared out when people realized there was nothing much to see.
We had a big dinner, we didn't think we ordered much, at a local beer station and went back to the hotel to sleep.

Day 10, 11, 12: Ngapali Beach

Enjoying the beach with San San, a healed Max, and Dad.
 3 days to rest our asses before we're on the road again.
 I have a little less space with San San and Max on board

Day 9: Kanthaya to Ngapali Beach

Day 9: Kanthaya to Ngapali Beach
February 28 2012

Goodbye Kanthaya Beach Resort
Start: 9:10am Kanthaya
Arrive: 3:30 pm Ngapali

Total distance traveled Zach: 115.8km, 71.7miles
Total distance traveled, David : 114.8km, 71.2miles

Dad's fuel efficiency: 49.4 km per liter, 116mpg
Zach's fuel efficiency: 61 km per liter, 143.2mpg

Tidal river

Bought gas from a roadside vendor near the hotel. The hotel manager said thee are no pump fuel stations in this area. He was accurate. The plastic liter bottles were not full, so it took six bottles to get 2.6 liters of fuel in each bike. Mine was not full.

Stopped in Kyeintali for breakfast.
Egg, coffee and fish breakfast

The raised road was so bumpy the locals would drive on the dirt path next to the road
The road variations were similar to what we experienced the the past days; relatively good and smooth in some places, very rough pothole ridden asphalt, reasonable gravel, one-jarring stone, and deep dust. Riding generally parallel to the beach gives the advantage of seeing nice green fields, banana groves and fish drying in the sun. We arrived in Thandwe around 2 pm. The block where the market stood last year was mostly empty, with a small building under construction. A fire had consumed the market several months ago.
The bikes were so dusty we did it like sitting on them, so we had them washed for 500k each. Zach,s would not start, even when pushing it. He pushed it to a mechanic's shop where the young man cleaned the start plug, adjusted the idle, tightened and lubricated the drive chain on both bikes. The total charge was 1,000k (about $1.25).

Bike wash in Thandwe
kids working at the repair shop
I wanted Zach to experience the Lin Tar Oo resort, so we checked in there. The lady manager remembered me from last year. She asked questions a out the motorcycles: Zach said we just had them washed in Thandwe. She smiles and remarked that the clean bikes did not fit with two dusty, dirty riders. Dust was caked on our shins, faces and in the folds of our clothing.

The Lin Tar Oo did have a double room available for the night, at $50. We Checked in and hurried to the beach to rinse off the day's grime. The water was clear, warm and delightfully refreshing. We were the only people in the water. There was no one else on the beach; the sun was too bright.

Our beach home for the next few days
After showering at the edge of the beach we started a conversation with Lloyd and Ann, an Australian couple from Perth, who were occupying the room next to ours. They invited us to share a beer.

They had gone fishing in the morning, and caught a bag full of several types of fish. They asked if we would like to join them for a fresh grilled fish dinner at nearby restaurant. The chief would be cooking the fish they caught earlier today. Five good sized fish were more than the fur of us could eat. Fresh tomatoes with onion, sour cooked potatoes similar to German potato salad, sweet fried bananas and Myanmar beer perfectly completed the meal. Zach and I split the bill, as Lloyd and Ann supplied the fish. The total was only 11,000k. The conversation was interesting. Ann is a native old Yagon who moved to Australia many years ago. They come to Myanmar every year to visit family, and make donations to a few chosen schools, families and homes caring for the aged. Lloyd retired recently, but said he does not know what retirement is like: they left for Myanmar the day after he retired. He will have an opportunity to see what it is really like once he returns to Perth.

Written by David, Posted by Zach