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

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Day 3: Bago to Kyaiktiyo

Day 3: Bago to Kyaiktiyo
February 22, 2012

View Mandalay Trip Day 3: Bago to Kyaiktiyo in a larger map

Start: 10am Bago
Arrival: 2pm Kyaiktiyo
Travel Time: 4 hours
Total Distance Traveled (Zach): 142.2km / 88 miles
Total Distance Traveled (David): 141.1km / 87.5 miles
David's Efficiency: 62km per liter / 145.5 mpg
Zach's Efficiency: 53km per liter / 125 mpg

Big Buddha in Bago
Breakfast In small town of Payagyi. Miscommunication ordering; got the coffee in a plastic pouch, but not the fried rice. There was a colorful chicken walking around inside the restaurant. It's wings had red and yellow feathers; however the young hen was not paying attention to him, and our affection did nothing to extend his genetics.
Downtown Bago

Heading north out of Bago was hectic, with soot belching trucks, hundreds of motorbikes and tens of bicyclists vying foe the same piece of asphalt. Much honking of horns and bluffing for position. School children were competing with heavy Fuso diesel trucks, and all seems to live through the exchange.

Several miles north we turned east on highway 8 to Kyaikhtiyo. What a welcome change. The surface was relatively smooth and well kept. Traffic was not too heavy; often there was not another vehicle in sight. When passing through rice paddies the air was cool and crisp. The paddies were several shades of green; light for the young shoots, darker for the one to two foot tall plants and green with a yellow cast for stalks with rice grains along the upper portion.

The area is part of the Mon state, in the Sittoung River delta. Tributaries of the winding Sittoung River flow briskly along the edges of the paddies, providing the water they crave. Grain is transported by oxen pulling carts, trucks of all sizes and even motor bikes with rider and a couple grain sacks.

The predominant agriculture changed to rubber plantations east of the Sittoung river. Thousands of thin trees in neat rows. There was no evidence of tapping for sap.

The Golden Rock, Kyaikhtiyo, Is one of the major tourist destinations in Myanmar. At Zach's gentile urging, despite my desire to spend as little effort as possible to another Temple, monastery or stupa we set off to see the Golden Rock. Our hotel was only 100 yards from the bus station, the only transportation source to the rock. We decided to go up late in the afternoon to see the sunset from the top of the mountain.

The bus was actually a large straight truck with seven 4x6 inch planks running cross ways in the cargo area. A steel 18 inch high railing enclosed the sides and back. Forty people were sandwiched into thee back of the truck, six rows of six people each, two rows Of five (with large Brits and us Yanks).
We climbed up nicely chromed 10 step movable stairs with good hand railings, the type of stairs used to board airplanes upside at smaller airports. Up the steps, over the steel railing, over a couple plank seats and we were ready to sit our large western bottoms on hard wood planks. Knees could be either pointed down beneath the plank ahead of you could spread your legs to straddle the back side of the person ahead. The people on each side could hold onto the railing; the rest of us had to try holding the plank at either side of us, if there was room. After the first sharp turn I reached across the man next to me to grab the railing. This also supported the back of the monk sitting ahead of my neighbor. With my right hand I held onto the plank ahead of me, between the hips of the people in front. No one complained, so they must have understood.

The bus ride was about 30 minutes of steep switchbacks, a roaring engine and passengers swaying from side to side with each turn. Zach said he was not looking forward to the trip down the mountain, as it could be even more hair-raising.

We expected a 45 minute climb up the mountain following the truck ride. We were in luck: the bus stopped at the designated unloading spot and the movable steps were pushed up to allow our exit. Then they removed the stupa and the truck drove on, up really steep slopes to the to of the mountain. What a relief. I was not looking to a 45 minute stair limb to see a golden rock ... Or anything else.

The view from the top was spectacular; a sharp, heavily wooded drop off on each side. We were on the top ridge. The Golden Rock was impressive, as were the marble walkways and beautifully done religious buildings.

Then our luck turned. At the truck unloading spot we were told to walk 30 minutes down an extremely steep set of steps and paths to get to the main loading area. Not really bad news; we did not have to endure the expected 45 minute uphill climb from the main loading area. A 30 minute downhill walk was doable. I had to stop to rest a couple times during the downhill walk. My knees were inflicting pain, the only way they know to complain. It was wonderful for me to reach the truck loading area. Zach was less pleased. He was fretting abut the ride down the mountain.

There were many passenger trucks at the loading area. None we're filling with weary tourists. Our query with truck to board was answer with "no". We pressed, but every answer was "no trucks". The trucks stop running down the mountain at 6 pm. As much as I dislike the attitude that money solves all problems, I knew the opportunity for a nice profit would bring forth a car, or even motorcycle driver. Not to happen. Every person we asked said we could stay at a hotel Top the mountain, or walk 2 hour(7 miles) back to town. One man said we could get a truck to drive us down for 80,000k ($100 US). I do not believe it would have happened, as no one else offered and no trucks moved.

Into the darkness

We debated our course of action. The hotel room back in own was quite nice, we are both cheap and did not want to pay for a room at the top in addition to our room in town, my knees really hurt during the last 15 minutes of walking down from the rock. Zach offered to carry me if my knees gave too much pain. My response was that would result in two crippled people. We decided to have a nourishing dinner, drink plenty of water and attempt a 7 mile walk down steep, unknown mountain roads in nearly total darkness. Then we saw the three Brits come by. They were also walking down, but did not want to take time to eat. We did not join them.
I almost tripped of the edge of this little bridge when I went over for the pic

Our dark 7 mile evening stroll started a 7:07 pm. Within minutes my right knee began protesting. Zach suggested I push on his shoulder to lessen the downward pressure. It worked and did not cause him discomfort. Before long our eyes adjusted to the starlight, the sky was filled with them. We could not see the moon. There were some mishaps, such as nearly walking off the road in one of the asphalt areas, stumbling on rock protrusions on the road surface and walking into a concrete post used to separate the two lanes in a switchback. None of these caused ongoing problems

I take a picture of Dad every so often to make sure his eyes don't get too adjusted to the dark. ha ha

The 2 hour and 20 minute walk gave us quality time together. We talked about our 3.8 mile walks we took around the block in Norwell. MA for several years, the familiar sounds of the forest at night, our ability to see in relative darkness and many other topics. At one small settlement by a river three young men were fishing. They showed us one 6 inch catch and a couple dozen crawfish. Zach took a group photo which they enjoyed. Their flashlight caused us to lose our night vision abilities for a short while. We were thankful that the air temperature was perfect. Never a sweat nor chill.

One motorcycle came up the road in over two hours: no cars or trucks.
Entering town the cause was revealed, a pole was secure across the road and the guard station was untended.

Another first in our adventures, with sore feet, ankles, legs and knees which may remind us of our evening stroll tomorrow. The hot shower was wonderful, the laundry we sent in this afternoon came back, Zach did not have to endure a frightful ride own the mountain and we each saved a 2,500 kyat truck fare.

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