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

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Day 7: Bago to Hinthada

Day 7: Bago to Hinthada
February 26, 2012

Start: 8:25am Bago
Arrive: 5:45pm Hinthada
Total Travel Time: 9 hours 20 minutes
Total distance traveled Zach: 201.7km, 125miles
Total distance traveled, David: 200.6km, 124.4 miles

Dad's fuel efficiency:  60.4km per liter,  142mpg
Zach's fuel efficiency: 58.6km per liter,  137.7mpg

Jade Garden Hotel
Last night was quite stressful for us.  San San called to say Max was hit by a motorbike on one of our small gravel roads near the farm. He was walking with San San, our local monk and Mimi, our maid, when a young teen drove past on his motorbike and sideswiped Max. I am not sure exactly what happened but Max fell down and cried for a while but then was mostly fine except for a bump on the back of his head. San San went to Mandalay that night to take Max to the doctor. One doctor would not see Max and told San San to take him to an emergency room. The emergency room doctor saw Max and said he was fine and we had nothing to worry about. I got this news around 9pm.
We were awake at 6:45am and enjoying our breakfast at 7:20. I called San San and Max was awake and fine so I could relax a little today. My stress had switched from worrying about my son to how we would get to Hinthada. We needed to drive down south from Bago, near Yangon, and drive up highway 2 until we could cross over to a small town near the ayarwaddy river. There are no bridges in that area. Yangon doesn't allow motorcycles in the city limits so I was worried that we might not be able to drive as close as we planned before we got on highway 2. I was also concerned that we would not be able to find a boat to cross the ayarwaddy to get to Hinthada on the west side. There is a bridge west of Yangon over the Ayarwaddy but the only way to get there is through Yangon.
Election poster  for Aung San Suu Kyi
I  had planned to spend some time in the Internet cafe this morning but we decided to get an early start since there were some unknowns to our day.
We left Jade Garden Hotel at 8:25am. We went to the bus station to change some money where we got 750 kyat to the dollar. Not a great rate but we didn't have a choice since none of the banks seem to change money outside Yangon and Mandalay. The travel agent who changed our money also said we should be able to drive down to highway 2 without trouble. He said Burmese wouldn't do it but since we are foreigners we could probably get away with it. I asked it we could try to drive into Yangon to cross one of their bridges to get on the highway going west, a much better route, but he said that was too far into the city and we certainly would not be allowed.
We made great time down highway 1 until we got to the place to turn off onto highway 2. We asked some police where the turn off was for highway 2 where the new expressway starts and they happily told us where to go. I also asked if we were allowed to go this way and they said it was fine as long as we didn't go any further south into town.
Highway 2
We turned of onto what we thought was highway 2 and it was a crumbling mess. Thankfully  this road was just a short connector to highway 2. Once we got on highway 2 the road was decent and we could speed along at a good pace of 65kph. There was some traffic now and then as we passed through small villages or a particularly slow truck or tuolaji blocked a line of cars on this 2 way highway.
 Between the villages we were usually driving on a tree lined stretches of road with  rice paddies on each side. The rice paddies cooled the air like a natural air conditioner.  We stopped  to fill up in Taikkyi around 10:40am, I also bought a slice of watermelon from a vendor at the station for 100 kyat.  We stopped for drinks just before we thought we should turn off highway 2 because we weren't sure if there would be many vendors off the main road.
When we got near where we thought we should turn left we stopped many times to ask for directions. When we got to the turn we asked a police man, in uniform, to double check. He said we were going the right way and for us to follow him.  We traveled along a bumpy somewhat paved road at a snails pace. Another officer came up from behind us to escort us on our winding trip through a village. We were not happy at how slow they were going but we were happy that someone was guiding us through this village. He would honk at everyone and we felt like we were a convoy of VIPs. The officer got us through the village, most of the time while talking on his walkie-talkie , and he pulled over at a small bamboo shack.
At the shack we had to show them our passports where they painstaking wrote down our visa and passport numbers. At first a plainclothes officer with a police helmet on tried to write everything down but he was having trouble so the frustrated uniformed officer took over. After they got everything down, they gave me my passport but tried to keep Dad's photocopy. We explained that this was the only copy he had so they gave it back after writing everything down from Dad's passport again.
Escorting officer #2 (we didn't get a pic of #1)

We thought we were done and could move out on our own but surprisingly the plainclothes officer started to escort us down the road on his motorbike. We followed the plainclothes officer on the paved road until it became a dirt/rock road.  The road was along the top of a dyke going through low lying fields, ponds, and marshlands. There were many small bridges made either of wood or concrete.
Small footbridge at the bottom of the broken bridge
We came across two broken bridges. The first one had trucks lined up on either side of the bridge with people unloading trucks on one side and reloading trucks on the other. There were a few boards going across the water at the bottom of the dyke so we could cross on the bikes but the trucks couldn't cross.
The next bridge that was out had a detour around it, that we passed, so instead of turning back to the detour we drove strait down a steep path on the side of the dyke. We probably wouldn't have done this if we were by ourselves but the cop did it first so we followed suit. We followed a very dusty and slippery oxcart path along the road for many kilometers until we came to two more plainclothes officers on one motorbike. We got a photo of the first plainclothes officer before he drove back and then we went off with officer 3 and 4.
Officer #3 and #4
Officer 3 and 4 both looked like tough guys because they each had big scars on their faces. Both scars were also near their eyes.  They may have looked tough but they were also quite friendly. We were with them for over 30 minutes and they asked us twice if we needed to stop to eat or rest. We were back on the dyke after they picked us up and stayed on the punishing bumpy road Until we were handed off to officer 5.
Officer #5 helping Dad reattach his bag
Officer 5 wasn't in uniform either.  The road had improved a bit and officer 5 was taking advantage it. He was going about 50kph down the road. The road was still not in great shape but Dad and I followed closely behind. We hit a few big bumps and Dad's suitcase shook loose so he had to stop and retie it. We came to a village on the Ayeyarwady  after crossing another larger dyke.
A dusty Dad in Tharrawaw
In total we were escorted by 5 police officer on 4 motorbikes along 39.6km of backbreaking road. We were very fortunate and thankful to have had this service. They really took great care of us. If we didn't have this escort we would probably be unsure that we were on the right road. I bet we would have been stopping for directions every half mile.
The village that we would catch a boat across the river was called Tharrawaw. It was a small village with many people making bamboo panels that they use as walls on their houses. We stopped at a small tea shop run by a policewoman friend of officer 5. We waited for about an hour. We sat with officer 5 and talked quite a bit while a small crowd of children and curious people watched on. We were also interrupted periodically by a drunk friend of the owner who said at least 10 times that he could understand English, lived in Singapore and Malaysia for several years and supported Aung San Suu Kyi.
Photo op with Aung Byo Htun

 Officer 5 was Aung Byu Htun. He is 31 years old and has a wife and 6 month old baby girl. He Spoke English  pretty well so that helped a lot. We are lucky to have met him and all the other police who helped us so much on that day.
Loading the bikes

The medium sized long tailed  boat came around 3:30pm. We drove the bikes down and had some locals help load them on the bike. I did most of the heavy work why the were very rough and unstable with the bikes. I only realized after we got the bikes in the boat that one of them was terribly drunk. We took his picture and then he kept asking for money to buy booze or cigarettes. An older lady shooed him off the boat. The boat had 3 motorbikes and less than ten passengers when we set off at 4:10pm.
The boat ride was beautiful as we went down stream to get around a sand spit before we turned upstream to Hinthada. When we made the turn a passenger started to pump water,that was pooling below the floorboards, out of the boat. We arrived at the landing at 5pm.
Unloading the bikes outside Hinthada

"Road" into Hinthada
The passenger who had the other motorbike offered to show us to a hotel in Hinthada so we took him up on his offer. After the bikes were unloaded and brought up a steep slope to the level high ground, we followed our new, less official, escort into town. We passed through bean fields and crossed another dyke before we were on paved roads. It was a good feeling to be back on paved roads.
Thank you Mr. ?
In town we came to a guesthouse that refused to take us because they didn't have a license to house foreigners. We went to another place that said the same thing. Our new guide must have been kicking himself for offering to help us find a hotel. The third place we came to, Shwe Ein See, was reluctant to take us as well. I'm sure it must have been a strange sight to see two dust covered foreigners pull up on motorbikes and ask for a room. We looked at the room and asked how much when they paused for a good minute while they deliberated in Burmese. They quoted 30,000 kyat so I immediately asked for 25,000 kyat and got it. I am pretty sure we were still overcharged but then again, they seemed to be the only place that would take us. They took our passports, looked them over for about 20 minutes before were satisfied that we could stay there and they let our friend go. We thanked our friend, I already forgot his name, and got a photo with him before he left.

Seems like everyone wants to escort us around today
We showered up and I washed my dusty leather sandals that had needed a washing ever since our trip to Lashio. One of the hotel staff walked us to, what he called, " the best Burmese restaurant in Hinthada". After a meal of beef, goat, pork and several side dishes the young man took us to a pagoda on the riverside. It didn't look like it was on the river because it is the dry season now but he said in the rainy season the water comes right up to the pagoda. It was very pretty and clean in the compound.
We went to try and get online but there is no connection in town tonight. They suggested we come back at 9:30pm but we won't be doing that.
At the hotel the manager asked to see Dad's license because his temporary plate's numbers faded away. We showed them our paperwork and wondered what authority they had to ask for this but didn't bother to argue. They were satisfied with the paperwork and we went back to the room to rest up for tomorrow.

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