The time finally came to head into Myanmar, and luckily the food poisoning from Pai had cleared up. I won’t be eating cashew vegetable stir fry for awhile. It was the first time in years that I got it. I thought I was immune. Myanmar is a country surrounded by Thailand, the Bay of Bengal, Laos, China, India, and Bangladesh, it is going through rapid transformations and opening up to the outside world. After a long stretch of British rule, it became an independent democratic nation in 1948, but in 1962 there was a coup which resulted in a military dictatorship until 2011. During this time Burma, which was the name of the country until 1989 when the military changed it, it was one of the most impoverished countries in the world. In 1987 the UN highlighted it as the least developed country on earth. The military junta was dissolved in this 2011 following a 2010 general election. A civilian government was set up, but the military still holds onto huge amounts of power and influence. There’s a long history of human rights abuses in the country, which continues to this day. Many accusations circle around the military and government. Civil wars have plagued Myanmar since it’s independence, which have mostly sub-national and ethnic groups fight for autonomy. Currently there are a number of conflicts going on, which include the Kachin conflict between the Kachin Independence Army and government forces, an ongoing conflict between the Shan, Lahu and Karen minority groups and government forces in the east of the country, and a war between Rohingya Muslims and government and non-government groups in Arakan State. Since 1992 the government has encouraged tourism, but it wasn’t until recent years that it’s really opened up. Much of the country was kept restricted and much effort was put into keeping tourists from having contact with regular Burmese. There were laws that would imprison the Burmese for talking politics with a foreigner. It has become the new place to go. In SE Asia it’s the cool new place to get in and see before it’s morphed into another Thailand, or at least that’s the fear. It was one of the sections of the trip that took a lot of time and planning. They’ve just started allowing foreigners to drive in to the country in the last couple years, and really only in the last year they’ve opened the possibility of crossing from Thailand to India. When I started researching for this trip, there had only been a few people who had done it. It was tough to find info, and most people insisted it was impossible to do. Even along the way the last few months whenever I told somebody my route and how I would cross Myanmar they would tell me it wasn’t possible. It’s definitely possible now, but still very restrictive. It takes time for people to realize things have actually changed since so many of the forums claim otherwise and most travelers spread stories to each other that it’s not an option. It’s possible to ride in and exit back out through Thailand because I met a guy on the border doing it. At this point do the crossing from Thailand to India, or vice versa, you have to do it with a guide and government official, which means going through a tour agency that supplies the pilot car with a driver, guide, and the government official. As well as this, they acquire all the permits, paperwork, and permissions needed to be able to do it, which is a lot. Myanmar loves its bureaucracy and paperwork. I went through Burma Senses, which some other motorcycle travelers had used and talked about on horizonsunlimited.com. The tour includes all the hotels along the way and some excursions along the way. The original group I was in formed online, and consisted of three other motorcycles. We had all met in the forum and had the same plan. In the couple months leading up to the cross, they all had issues that held them up and forced them to reschedule. In the end, I was joined by a german couple in their huge green camper, a swiss couple in a land cruiser, a french family in a motorhome, and one other motorcycle.
The other rider is Steve from New Zealand who is riding around the world. He has a cool website/blog telling about his adventure, which is steveridestheworld.com. Thank god I had at least one more motorcycle in the group to ride with. After a night in Mae sot, the border town on the Thai side, the entire group met on the border at 8 AM. Even at eight in the morning it was hectic and a mob of people trying to make their way through he border.
It’s an easy formality leaving Thailand. They just have to stamp your passport out and collect the motorcycle paperwork from when you entered. It was pretty funny, the girl charged me twenty baht (60 cents) to collect and stamp my paper, which she said was because working hours are 8:30-4:30. Being 8:15, the office supposedly wasn’t open yet, but it sure looked like people were there working to me. Always getting nickeled and died in Asia. On the Myanmar side it was pretty straightforward and smooth since the Burma Senses guys were there with all the permits and paperwork to get us in. There’s four of them; Aung the guide, the little old government official man, the driver, and a small young chubby guy who handled the finances. We all met each other in a mad rush and hurried to get going. The big bank at the border exchanges money. It was crazy, right in the middle of the bank room behind the counter they brought in sacks of money and dumped them out all over the middle of the floor.
It was a mountain of cash and they didn’t even have a vault for it. The guy stacked it all neatly under the counter. The first days drive was pretty wild up over a mountain pass. Apparently there’s a good road, but we didn’t have permission to go on it. A single lane, gravely sandy, pot-hole filled road led up along cliff edges. The views out over the valleys were nice.
Coming down the other side was much worse. The road was rutted and washed out in many places and there were very tight turns. Many vehicles filled the road and the dust was terrible. It was a couple hours of hot, bouncy riding filling the lungs and everything else with dust. Eventually we made it down into the lower plains and enjoyed some cold beer. The French guy wasn’t too happy about driving his motorhome over the pass. In the afternoon we took a route to Kawgun cave, which involves going over a long bridge with gorgeous views on each side. The caves are full of ancient wall carvings that date back to the 7th century. Buddha statues fill the cave. A lot of the wall carving s were damaged in World War II, but it’s still incredible.
From the looks of it the Buddhists are awesome rock climbers, or build excellent ropes and ladders. Buddha sure resembles a woman most of the time.
The first night we made it to a small town along a river named Hpaan. All the locals and hotel staff were very excited to see us and gave a warm welcome. I think they were mostly mesmerized by the big motorcycles and massive campers.
By the time we got all unpacked and settled it was dark and enough time to grab some draught beers and grub. The only thing we found was a place with deep-fried everything. Mushrooms, vegetables, potatoes, soy-balls. They really love oil and frying everything in SE Asia. It’s impossible to get away from greasy sliminess. It was a heart clogging dinner. The next day led us Kyaikhtiyo where the Golden Rock is at. In the morning along the way we stopped at another cave filled with pagodas, Buddhas, and colorful intricate statues. The reflections off the pond gave an incredible contrast to it all.
It’d been awhile since I’d seen any live monkeys, so it was ice to see some of the little buggers. Some of the local guys were swimming in a pond and it looked so refreshing. I changed into some board shorts and hopped in. Unfortunately in was a hot water and felt like a bath tub. Would be a cool place to swim at night under the stars in the warm water, but during the hot day it wasn’t the best.
For the next hour I couldn’t stop sweating. In Kyaikhtiyo we all got on a massive tuck with bench seats in the back and rode up to the top of the mountain to visit the Golden Rock. I think we all though it was a short ride up to the wherever it was, but we kept going and going. You could see something way up on the mountain top in a haze and thought there was no way it could possibly be where the truck was headed, but we kept climbing and climbing, and the road got steeper and steeper with hairpin turns. Eventually we ended up all the way on top with views out over the entire surrounding area. Unfortunately it’s a bit of a zoo and turned into disneyland. I’m sure the Golden Rock has some big significance for the Burmese and Buddhist people, but for me it’s just a big rock painted gold.
The thing looks like it’s about to tumble off the side of the mountain and just barely hangs on. I would love to be there when that happens. It’s a beautiful setting with the bright blue sky in contrast to all the gold and shiny colors. The best part about the place for me is people watching and just checking out what all the local people are up to. It’s not just me taking pictures of them. I catch many of them sneaking pics of me on their cellphones.
The people in Myanmar all use a whitish paste on their faces, and I’m not sure yet exactly what it is. They really are obsessed with white skin and try as hard as they can to cover up their beautiful dark skin.
The kids especially have a lot of it on they’re faces, and it’s always in some shapes and designs. I picked up some new protection while down in town. They sell pagoda guns everywhere and have entire stores dedicated to small to massive guns and swords all made of wood.
They told me they were pagoda guns. It doesn’t seem very Buddhist to me and I don’t get where it fits in, but they are pretty bad ass. Unfortunately I don’t have enough room to fit a massive weapon so I had to settle on a smaller one. It goes perfect with my ammo cans, and made in the USA.
It was hard for me to believe they could sell very many of them, but they definitely do. I saw many old ladies stocking up their arsenal and buying bunches of them. We should take caution and keep an eye out for these little kids and elderly women.
It’s quite possible they’re stockpiling for a mission to take over. I’ve never trusted young children and old women. You can tell they are up to no good behind all that sweet talk and baked goods. So when the attack comes I’ll be prepared to defend myself and pretty much be like the terminator mixed with Brad Pitt at the end of Benjamin Button where he’s riding in India through beautiful landscape.
I’ll create the new loving race when I’m the only able man left. It’s going to be epic. The only problem is some of the hotels won’t let me bring my gun and smokes in the room.