Crossing Myanmar by motorcycle: Yangon, buddhalicious pagodas, & friendly burmese at work

Day three sent us to the old capital of Yangon. Our original itinerary didn’t include it, but people wanted to go. It was a pretty quick ride since we weren’t a great distance away. We passed through watermelon heaven on the way. It had to of been close to twenty km that was lined with watermelon stands. Massive piles of these delicious green beasts were dumped everywhere.

It looked like they didn’t even know what to do with them all and some just went to waste ending up rotten. It’s heartbreaking to see and if I had a big truck I would have saved their delicious souls. At least if they’re going to be wasted I would mash them all up in a swimming pool and have female only watermelon wrestling. I took a little detour once and rode down into the fields where they were loading trucks up. I’d never seen so many melons in my life. It was torture having to keep going along with the group and not stop. Traveling in a group is a whole new game, and not really my style. I like to stop whenever I see some random thing that interests me and maybe end up exploring a spot for a half hour. I hate just zooming through the small villages, and would usually stop to take a quick look. It isn’t bad to be riding with one other person and I enjoy it, but to have a whole crew is too much. Fortunately we finally stopped at a stand and pigged out till our bellies were smiling.

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It was cooking by the time we reached Yangon and the gods were kind to us when our hotel had a big pool. We drove into the city and did a few things in the afternoon. There was a massive buddha laying on it’s side at an old monastery. Once again, I’m not convinced that Buddha is a man by the looks of the lipstick, eyeshadow, painted nails, and all the features of a woman.

At the pagodas in Myanmar there is always people dumping little bowls of water over the statues. The one that gets the most loving is the baby Buddha. They love washing his bald little head.

An old lady with a googly eye took me into her shop and painted me up with the white paste. She really took her time slowly rubbing it on with her wrinkly fingers. Turns out the stuff everyone wears on the face is thanaka.

It’s a yellowish-white cosmetic paste made from the ground bark, roots, or wood of several trees. The little logs are for sale everywhere. It’s ground with a little bit of water on a stone slab and they use it as a sunscreen and for beauty and style. It also gives a cooling feeling. The majority of people have some on their face. Maybe just a tiny bit on the forehead, a circle on the cheeks, a leaf design on the cheeks, the nose and chin, or even covering the entire face. There’s definitely no rules to it. We wandered and hung at the park, which is the perfect place to people watch and be watched. Kids are everywhere running around and playing, cooking food, and taking care of chores.

In the evening everyone went up to the famous Shwedagon pagoda, but I just stayed out and roamed the area. I hate being herded up into an attraction like cattle where everyone will stand side by side taking the same pictures. The temples and pagodas can be nice when it’s super peaceful and hardly anyone around, but with mobs of people and loud noise it takes away the ambience. I’d rather find a local to talk to or stumble across something unusual or deserted. I found a massive gold pagoda pretty much across the street with nobody there. It had a pond full of huge turtles. People fed them bread and they just floated on the top gorging on soggy white chunks. Life looked very simple for them. The next day was a very long one and we drove around 400 km all the way to Naypyidaw, which is the new capital of Myanmar. It used to be Yangon, but the government moved it in 2006 to the new location. At some point in the afternoon the group got separated and I ended up on my own, which wasn’t the worst luck since I was free. Luckily Aung, the guide, told us the name of the hotel so I knew the end location for the day. My map didn’t have it, but I could get myself to the city and then figure it out. On the way, we passed through lush lowlands full of rice paddies.

Bright green stretched out into the horizon in both directions. It’s like going back in time seeing everyone working in the fields. In a lot of SE Asia I saw them using engine powered machines to prepare the paddies, but here it’s all manual labor. Instead of an excavator to dig a long new trench, they use fifty people side by side, and use teams of ox to plow the fields. Getting close to the city the roads turned into a massive super highway. I’ve never driven on anything like it before. It was an eight lane beast that looked more like a runway for jumbo jets. I’ve never weaved around and played on a major airports runway, but that’s what it felt like. Maybe in southern California I’ve been on some massive interstates, but the difference is they’re empty here. Literally you hardly see any other cars and it makes you wonder what the government was thinking except trying to show off. The motorways were the same. Turns out we didn’t get permission and motorcycles aren’t allowed on them, but we used them quite a bit before getting in trouble. We were stopped after one of the tolls and they were trying to figure it out when a guy pulled up in a new land cruiser and got out acting like he was somebody. Turns out he is high up in the military, loves motorcycles, and is a rich man.

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He had a big rolex full of diamonds that sure looked real and gave me his business card. All of a sudden we were off and turns out it was because he told us to just go. The motorways are all giant, at least five lanes in each direction, and completely empty. For whatever reason, maybe the tolls or not allowing a lot of certain vehicles, they were empty except for the few nice cars. After being on narrow roads full of vehicles where you never can get much speed, the motorways were a blast. We could open the bikes up and cover some ground quick. Going slow on a motorcycle is still fun, but going fast is a lot more fun. A plus about riding a motorcycle through Myanmar is you don’t have to pay the tolls. The vehicles in our group had to stop many times every day to pay toll charges and road fees while Steve and I just cruised right through on the right side. We never had to pay one cent. I found the hotel, found Steve, and we rode out to a massive Pagoda that I’d seen coming into town. We showed up at sunset for a perfect wind down of the day. Unlike the other big pagodas, this one wasn’t mobbed with people. You only have handfuls of people praying to different Buddhas inside and bringing offerings to areas on the outside They play a really relaxing peaceful music throughout the place that gives an awesome ambience in the evening.

When the sun goes down the lights come on and illuminate the huge gold pagoda. It’s actually just barely smaller than the famous Shwegadon in Yangon, but it’s free and not filled with a thousand people. The contrast of the dark sky with the final hints of blue behind the pagodas bright gold intricate work is beautiful.

A big growing moon rose up above the spires. They’ve put some crazy money into these pagodas. They’re impressive, but it doesn’t make sense to me. When you have people all around them with nothing and living in poverty it seems like the money could be better spent elsewhere. They spend millions of dollars to build them and then fill them with donation boxes. At every turn there are different sizes and styles of cases and statues to put money into. All the local people come and empty they’re pockets into them. You can tell most of them don’t have a lot of money to their name. It’s a culture of having to give as much money as you can to prove your faith and earn your way to Buddhas love. The amount of money that these places are pulling in is wild. I wonder where all of it’s going. All along the roads are groups of people asking for donations with metal bowls clanking around change in them.

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It reminds me of the basket going around in the catholic church. If you love your god you better give all that you can. If the Buddha is real, I feel like he would tell the people to go and use their money for the good of their fellow man and not give to the establishment. Inle lake was our next stop. A lot of the roads don’t have the best natural scenery, but there’s always so much to see with the people hard at work and living their lives. Guys lead their ox-carts down the sides of the road, groups work in the fields, mechanic shops overflow with greasy work, all sorts of vegetables and fruits are piled up for sale, kids carry buckets of water, and the daily life flows along.

I love stoping in the small villages and going for a wander. There’s always somebody excited to see you and eager to show you some part of their life. With a little searching you will stumble across so many interesting little spots with interesting locals. The thing that usually sticks out is they’re extremely hard workers that work their butts off. One place we stumbled upon was a metal workshop. They had a wild contraption built to melt down scrap metal and the guy loaded chunks into the fiery inferno of the barrel.

With the recycled material they made parts for farming and large cooking pans. The ladies hand scraped the pans to get the final finish and a guy tirelessly worked on his pieces.

A lot of their roads have construction going on and it’s a lot more hard labor than heavy equipment. They pretty much are hand building the roads. Large crews, which are many times a majority women, carry basket after basket of gravel on their heads, rake and smooth the surfaces out, and spread out tar with handheld contraptions. Some of the work that probably takes them an entire day to complete could be done by a machine in about twenty minutes, but hey it employs the people.

Barrels of tar are heated along the sides of the road and the empties litter the area like beer cans after a huge party. The thing that struck me was the positivity on most of their faces. They smiled, talked with each other, and worked as a team. I asked our guide and he said most of the laborers on the roads would make about three dollars per day. This was much needed income for their rural families. People complain about their lives in western countries when they don’t know what it means to have it tough.

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About Trueworldtravels

Following my heart around the planet. Bringing to life the unique world around us through writing and photography.
This entry was posted in adventure travel, Kawasaki KLR650, locals, Motorcycle world travel, Myanmar travel, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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