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

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Setting off from Mandalay

Trial Run Day 1: Mandalay to Hsipaw
February 11th 2012

Start: 9:40am Mandalay
Arrival: 5pm Hsipaw
Travel Time: 7 hours 20 min
Total Distance Traveled (Zach): 210km/ 128mi
Total Distance Traveled (David): 206km/ 125mi
David's Mileage: 56 km per liter / 131 mpg
Zach's Mileage 57 km per liter / 133 mpg

After getting everything ready the night before we planned to set off this morning at around 9am but didn't get out until 9:40am. San San insisted that I eat breakfast before I left so we stopped at a nearby noodle restaurant to eat. Dad packed 2 bags and I just had one, very small, shoulder bag. Since Dad's duffel bag still had a lot of space, I put my bag inside his to help even the load between the 2 bikes. I was able to put the handles of the duffel bag on my mirror arms to hold the bag between my legs in the center of the bike. Dad had to buy a bungee cord from the neighbor to have his backpack sit upright on the back of his seat. After setting off from the noodle shop we traveled on 35th street down to the Mandalay-Lashio Road, the road that will take us all the way to Hsipaw. 
We had a dusty trip up to the mountains and we made it to Yadanarbon Cyber City in about an hour and a half. Yadanarbon is a green field project by the government to create a high tech city in this undeveloped country. The roads in this desolate city are concrete and perfect. The city has a training institute, Yadanarbon Teleport , which handles Myanmar internet traffic, and a few factories. The factories are almost empty and there are not any students walking around. I know this is Saturday but I have been through this town many times on my way to the farm and I have never seen many people. There are no restaurants in the city, unless the schools have cafeterias, or any sort of entertainment. There are a few restaurants on the Mandalay-Lashio Road which about ½ mile from the city so the inhabitants must go there to eat.
There are a number of new roads being build there so let's hope for the lonely people in Yadanarbon that they become more developed.
We skipped the dirt road to the chicken farm about half way between Yadanarbon and Pyin Oo Lwin (POL) because we would be going there in a couple days. We stopped in Pyin Oo Lwin, and took some quick pictures at their landmarks like the Defense Services Academy entrance, Governor's House, and Purcell Clock Tower. We stopped for lunch at Golden Triangle Bakery and Cafe for a good cup of coffee and a light lunch of bread and mixed vegetables.
The ride after lunch was so much nicer than when we were down in Mandalay. Since POL and all the towns after are up the mountains, it is a much cooler ride but still sunny and dusty in parts. The air is also still terribly dry.
We also stopped outside POL to visit San San's Grandfather's grave in the Chinese cemetery. The cemetery is on the side of a mountain with a great view of the surrounding area.
Dad, who hasn't ridden much in Myanmar is getting used to his new motorbike and driving in Myanmar in general. The Mandalay-Lashio Road is an undivided highway after POL so the driving can get a little hairy with all the traffic. He had his back tire slip out a bit on a curve because he leaned into the turn too much but other than that he didn't have any problems.
About 50km out of POL we stopped at a small roadside shop with a farm in the back for drinks. As we entered there were chickens in his shop pecking at a feed bag on the floor as Saign, the owner, came into the shop he chased the chickens out. We sat on very small plastic stools around a short round table not much more than a foot off the ground. I got an orange soda and Dad got water but he refused to sit. Since I am more more adept at sitting around, I sat while Dad took a stroll in the garden with Saign. Saign told Dad and I later that he had a European man passed through a couple days before on a motorbike too so I guess we are not as original as we thought. After the garden tour and the drinks we took a picture with Saign, his niece, her son, and another female worker before we paid the bill and left. The bill was double the Mandalay price for these drinks but maybe that included the garden tour. Saign asked us to stop again on our way back and we said we would.
About 20 minutes later we stopped at a gas station to fill up. We realized here that dad and I are getting different readings on our odometers. We don't know if mine, or his odometer is off (maybe we both are off) so we will keep separate records of our readings to calculate our mileage.
Dad trying to intimidate a truck on the way down Gokteik gorge

Truck collision
We really got to have some fun and test our driving skills at the gorge at the Gokteik Viaduct. I don't know the name for this place so I will just call it the Gokteik Gorge. The highway is still 2-way even though there are many switchbacks on the way down and up. We had to ride close to the edge because the trucks coming up like to drive closer to the middle and they need a lot of room to make the turns. Sometimes we even have to stop before the turn to give the trucks room to turn. At the bottom of the gorge we crossed an aquamarine river with many small waterfalls leading into it. We stopped to take some pictures and of the bridge and river when we were approached by an officer on a motorbike. I don't know if he was a police officer or with the military but he said he was in charge of the bridge. He asked where we were from and what we were doing and we told him about our trip and said we just wanted to just get some pictures at this river. He was very nice and Dad asked to take his pictures but he put up his hands and said “ No No No, No photo.” As we talked some more and I explained to him that I live here and have a wife and son here about 5 officers , 2 were in police uniforms, came pulled up on 3 motorbikes. I said “ minggalaba” to one and he just looked at me with no expression. After I got done showing the first officer who we had been talking with my son's pictures on my camera we said goodbye to him and the other officers who were still quiet. We walked back to the motorbikes and I said to Dad “ Let's get the hell out of here” under my breath and we drove away. The authorities keep looking at us as we began our ascent and we just wanted to get as far away from them as possible. We didn't get far when we saw a large Japanese truck facing downhill scrunched up against a chinese tuolaji, single cylinder diesel tractor truck. It must have just happened because there was not much traffic behind them. We were able to slip through but the cars and trucks couldn't get past. We were able to look down after a switchback or two and see the trucks has separated and traffic was clearing, From our high position we could also still see the authorities gathered around the same spot where we left them. The ride up went quickly through teak forest.

The road was a little hilly after we got past the gorge. This riding was relaxing and we were able to cruise at about 70kph.
At 4:10pm we stopped for drinks in Kyaukme. They also sold dried Yunnan cheese which looked good.
On the road to Hsipaw I stopped to take some photos of rice fields, watermelon fields and makeshift quarries but most of the time I took photos while driving but they came out a little blurry. We went down the cool northern slope of a mountain and drove along a river that led us to Hsipaw. I had been to Hsipaw once by train so I quickly found our hotel, Mr Charles Guesthouse. They were sold out of cheap rooms with a shared bathroom so we got a regular room for $32.
We showered up and went out to find something to eat. We were looking for a cafe called Black House Coffee on the river but couldn't seem to find it even though we knew about where it was. After walking around for over 30 minutes down the same roads we asked a girl who showed us exactly where it was, right where we walked past a couple times. The place was closed but there were no lights on the sign so it looked just like any other house. We did find a great Chinese place called Mr Food. We ate 3 dishes with 2 big bottles of beer for just 7300 kyat, about $9.
We made it back to the hotel after an hour stop at the internet cafe next door.

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