Sabaidee Laos!

After the last night spent near the dam, we just had to head to the border to reach Laos! For the first time of the trip, it was necessary to put our bikes in a bus to cross the No Mans Land. It is a shame for two bike travelers like us!! But let’s go anyway… The first kilometers to Lao immediately remind us, that we are new in a much less westernized country (and also poorer unfortunately) than Thailand. On the other hand, the Lao seem to know how to bake some French baguette, at least we have this! The goal of the day is to take a boat (this is allowed) to go down the Mékong River! The 7 hours of slow boat are very quiet maybe because we have a huge lack of sleep from the last days. The river is quite narrow and has many meanders, fast and canyons, very pretty. It is a popular option for backpackers because they constitute half the boat, and there is a Moroccan colleague who travels by bike 🙂 We stop at the evening in a village named Pakbeng, for us will be a definitive stop, the other tourists continue by boat the next day Luang Pragang.

So we decided to join Luang Prabang by the mountain to enjoy the Laotian campaign, very good idea! The detour still has a couple 285km and it promises good climbs. The first relatively short step (for lack of motivation) brings us behind the first massif, and we again spend an evening drinking beers with the locals. A nice group of buddies that makes us drink cold bottoms up glasses of beer, we fit well in this country!

May 8, 100 kilometers of mountain! In the middle of the journey we will make a crucial choice between 120 km from Pure mountain or 190 km of detour to make a little less. Go for Option 2! After a long stiff climb and some trucks to hang on, we are on a beautiful peak with charming villages and smiling lao that offer us Leetchi, salvation. It is probably one of the most beautiful roads of the trip until now! The descent at the end of the afternoon is breathtaking and it takes us to a canyon that we follow up to a village. This time it is with no hesitation that we keep asking people if you can sleep at home or beside their homes. It works better than expected since a villagers opens his barn, then prepares fires to cook and brings us a sound system just in case we wanted to party, but the energy has left us. It will be cuisine then a good sleep. As we can not communicate, we offer our chocolates to the kids and let a nice primary school like drawing on the table in the morning 🙂

The next day, there is still 135 km, so we leave very early. It’s a slow start in the climbs on the bike … It’s harder than expected so we already know it will take another day, no big deal 🙂 at noon a Lao barbecue intercepts us in a move restaurant, and in the evening we leave for some 30 km, still climbs and a new type of landscape made of beautiful limestones massifs. Steph is in charge of searching a camp in a village and he finds a small country hospital, the teacher of the villages school speaks English and gently invites us to sleep in the meeting room at the edge of the river, sweet. In the evening it’s finally time to watch a little episode of Game of Thrones (downloaded at the last hotel) on the iPad!

On May 10, we are ready for Luang Prabang. Small waterfall morning (in private please) for Leo who left before, we find ourselves on the road at the last pass. Here we are in a very nice hostel (card games, pool table …) where we friends from the boat. We will be able to rest a few days, enjoy, and repair the stove and the water filter that both already have a defect!

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Thank you lovely Myanmar

And here we are, last week we finished our first part of the journey in this multi-faceted Myanmar. We lived there a lot of social, gastronomic and cultural experiences, and we were stunned by the variety of its landscapes.

We were touched by the kindness of this people with a complicated past, nevertheless very pleasant and curious. Here people give this impression of a simple day-to-day life: « be yourself and learn by yourself ». Indeed there is a certain trust between people and generations, just have a look at the family trips of 4 people on the bike with a baby in the middle, or children at the children playing with machetes.

On the other hand, in spite of our efforts we haven’t been able to put forward our meager knowledge in Myanmar language, but people had a good time laughing at us, and this is already something!

We headed for the Thai border at Mawlamyine in the south, after a good climb and some dusty roads. On the way, we stopped at Hpa An, city in the heart of a region dominated by karstic massifs. Pretty impressive! It is also here that lives a gigantic colony of bats which can be seen flying every night at sunset.

We are very thankful to this country and felt ready to discover Thailand!

Second week in Myanmar, the mountains in the east

Last day in Bagan, rest! In the afternoon we finally find the energy necessary to play the Tche Tche, this super spectacular sport practiced throughout Southeast Asia. It is a mixture of football and volleyball in the manner of Brazilian futevolei, except that the ball is made of braided plant material (bamboo?). It is very aerial, difficult for beginners but fun. We finally bathe in the Irrawaddy River in the late afternoon. The locals do not recommend it because the water is probably very dirty especially in this season! But it’s refreshing so we take it. In the evening we take a sleeper train to join Mandalay and gain some time. It shakes in all directions and we arrive at 5 in the morning, having not slept too badly though!

The day begins very early and we decide to visit the old royal cities outside Mandalay. All day we pass by a multitude of craft districts: the jade market invaded by its Chinese buyers, Buddhas sculpture workshops, tanneries, silk weavers … The visit of the great monastery of Amarapura is very beautiful. Thousands of monks queue at mealtime under the cameras of Chinese tourists who are quite unbearable for their Myanmar guides who can not stand it anymore: D. Outside, we walk in the calm of the monastery to see the monks studying and doing their daily chores. After the midday meal we fall tired and find a small hotel in Saigang. Siesta extended then visit of the beautiful old city. There are many pretty corners with peaceful monasteries and pagodas. We climb to the highest point to enjoy the 360 degree view. Some monks take selfies with us, because yes, they also live in 2019!

On April 8, we head southeast to finally get to the mountains! Fifty kilometers of highway where we see elephants on trucks, motorcycles that carry … Motorcycles! This kind of motorcycleception! After all this stress we can finally turn full east towards the countryside. What a contrast with the west of the country, here is everything much greener. We follow the bed of a river with clear water and find a great place to swim in the afternoon. We are tired but the locals do not let go at nap time, some selfies and voila! As there is no hotel, we begin the climb in the late afternoon and manage to hide on a ridge to finally sleep in wild camping. View of the mountains, the first puny trees crack when laying hammocks! We ended up being settled and we made a small rice with the fish of the river, delicious. The storm passes and leaves us be. Steph has some new belly problems so the night is not easy, but we do survive!

The next day is expected to be a hard climb. The road quickly becomes a crushed and difficult dirt track and it is quite steep. After the first passes, the landscapes become green and beautiful. It’s hard enough for the legs and Steph gets a flat tyre after about 60 kilometers. After the repair, light descent into a kind of Burmese Switzerland, very peaceful. Here there is no garbage, small trash cans in the villages. We arrived in the town of Ywangan (1300 meters above sea level) after a grueling day. The area is very nice but obviously not yet known at all by foreign tourists. Great hotel at an affordable price 🙂

On April 10, we drive about 90 km on the plateau of « Shan state highlands », made of agricultural landscapes and rugged mountains. On the way we pass by chance in front of a mountain where was built a monument consisting of 7 huge Buddhas of gold. Funny that we did not even see them on purpose! In the evening we are in Kalaw, 1400 meters above sea level and enjoy the cool pine forests. It changes. There is a small bar to go drinking rum with some tourists and Myanmar people from Yangon mastering English, they give lessons to children from surrounding villages. The bartender, Ye Ye, does some mind-blowing tricks, usually seen only on TV: Steph opens his clenched fist and a handkerchief pops in, unbelievable… Time to go to bed!

« Today quiet day » is what we were thinking before starting from Kalaw to the Inle Lake, only 60 km by road. We decide to cut through the mountain, which shortens the path, thinking that it will be funnier. After two hours we are already pushing in the onion fields and this is only the beginning. The Maps.me application plays tricks and invents paths, so here we are lost all morning on tiny hiking trails, where there is an intersection every 100 meters. It’s mountain biking, it rises strong, it is often necessary to go down and push. For the first time in a month Leo wonders what he’s doing here! Fortunately we end up falling on a remote village, and that’s all the beauty of this adventure! These people do not even have a decent path to connect them to civilization, but they are always so smiling and curious, except for the children who seem frightened enough to see two extraterrestrials like us. At the top we finally arrive in sight of Inle Lake and can begin to descend on the trails, a pleasure, except that we get lost again a few times. In the end this was a very big day, not for beginners! On arrival, surprise, there are traditional massage boxes, one hour for about 5 euros we will not deprive ourselves. Night in a bamboo hotel, tomorrow it will be rest. We even exchange our bikes for a scooter in the late afternoon to see the villages on stilts that line the lake, the houses are rather impressive in their size we believe in the Venice of Asia, with the Myanmar mom driving our traditional dugout around.

On Saturday, April 14 we head south to leave the lake and follow a river to a second lake (Samkar) located 100 km below. Very beautiful colorful landscapes in an agricultural valley, the road is not on Google maps and we quickly understand why, because it turns into a bumpy track, watch out for the buttocks! We still make 20 km of track before stopping in a restaurant at the lake for the break, it’s hot and we really have a communication problem with the owner, obviously people do not really understand our accent. This day is also the first of the famous water festival, the 4 days celebration announcing the coming monsoon. Young people especially take the opportunity to drink booze and party, watering themselves all day. We are in the middle of nowhere and the people of the village have installed a big sound system, we hallucinate seeing this, and while we were preparing to leave, we’re having a party with them for an hour, very fun. In the evening we hide to camp in front of the lake with a beautiful sunset. Pure happiness.

We are leaving early to begin the crossing of the massif that will take us back to the central plain, the program, about 250km including 180 of mountain, it looks hard! The first 40 are marked by religious processions on the Sunday of the twigs, because yes it is surprising but the region suddenly becomes very Catholic! There are many churches and crosses are gradually replacing the pagodas at the top of the mountains. That said, the two religions seem to cohabit very well. On the way we also get plenty of water because the water festival is in full swing. So it starts to rise and the landscapes are made of beautiful mountains again. At the break we stop up near a village with stalls of “long neck women” like the ones who can be seen in Africa, another surprise! A young man from the top works in Thailand where he is an elephant rider, contact made, we will try to see each other! Small wild camping on a beautiful ridge where we make a good ratatouille after a 25km session in the late afternoon 🙂

The next day we ride only in the mountains, about 2000 meters of positive elevation, our record so far! Always beautiful, very quiet and back again, we appreciate this places and huge valleys so deserted by tourists because we have them just for us. Once again, people are hallucinating to see us around. At noon we are at the edge of a small river in a valley, where we eat with our fingers, Moroccan style. Another wild camping in the evening, no choice, there is no place where you can sleep (it’s still the same problem in this country). Providence offers us a nice, discreet shelter in a former Catholic cemetery. The same evening in Paris, the cathedral is in flames …

It’s the last day of mountain to reach the city of Taungû. Another difficult day because the legs are heavy and we have another 50km of ups and downs! We try to finish fast to go to the station and try not to miss the first train to the south. Huge descent, to arrive in the heat of the plain. Halfway there is a beautiful oasis with a great variety of fruits (pineapple, durian, leetchi, mangoes and other delicious that do not exist at home) and we throw ourselves on it! Towards the last kilometers the road gets bigger and it’s quite incredible because the water festival is in full swing and all the young people of the region are on the road to party, processions of scooters and party trucks with sound systems. The playboys are out and we get watered with the fire hose and receive large seals of water! It also allows us to finish the last kilometers in the heat! Arrived in town it is the big party, sonos everywhere, well drunk people, carnavalesque atmosphere guaranteed! On the other hand, everything is closed so it’s not easy to eat. We are rinsed in every sense of the word so we will go out only in the evening to go party under the fountains, a very good moment of fun, thank you in Myanmar and it’s people! The train leaves only the next day so it’s night at the hotel, it’s good we were very dirty after those last 3 days. We will soon be in Thailand for new adventure, Myanmar has feasted us by its diversity and the attitude of his people for now, we could stay!

First week on the bike: Yangon – Bagan

That’s it, today is the 29/03/2019, and we are off to Bagan and its magnificent and emblematic temples! We first took a train on the recommendation of a local cyclist to get out of Yangon. The reservation is old fashioned, no automatons, no computers at the counters! Just operators who still write down everything on paper. With about 150 or 200 km in 8 hours the SNCF (French railway company) does not have much to envy! Good atmosphere, between the grasshopper-eating neighbors, the small fans on the ceiling, the large open doors that allow you to get your head out to the air… Here we are in Pyay at 9 pm and looking for a place to spend the night. We try everything to sleep, even the Catholic Church where we are not welcome either! The teenager there takes us on a motorcycle to the cheapest guest house in the city, very friendly family living in a traditional house.

The next day is the big departure with freshness. We start by crossing the Irrawaddy River which goes down all the Myanmar from north to south to join a road parallel to it on the other side. Very quickly the landscapes become rural, there are a lot of crops and rice fields, all dry in this season. Three-quarters of people greet us or honk us so we try to answer most of them! Also, on the road, we often go through checkpoints where people ask drivers for money, it’s pretty kitsch because they all have music and a MC who keeps talking in the microfone. We still have no idea why they do that but they are everywhere! Around 11h Leo is already feeling too hot (it’s the critical time, we must stop) we’re on the side of the road in a kind of shelter, the food looks pretty bad, and we do not know how long it has been here, but no choice! In the afternoon it is nap time in the shade until 15:30. After that the temperatures are acceptable again and the colors are warm! 🙂 In a nice little village we created a crowd of 50 people, hallucinating, people were really enthusiastic! They have probably never seen tourists (the last ones came in December, then a person at the beginning of March according to the police checkpoint book 40 km earlier, and they certainly were not on a bike).

The little troubles started not so long after. We had just found a beautiful place to sleep in a hammock, an empty peasant shelter in the fields, up a hill, with beams to put the hammocks. Super cute! We try to be discreet when settling and preparing our vegetables for the stove. No luck, a troop arrives one hour after dark! They are armed with sticks and are not happy at all, the leader makes us understand that we have 20 minutes to clear and resume the road, by night then. The others quickly realized that we were not naughty and some even start taking pictures which is pretty funny. But what a disappointment! After 15 km, in the next village, we go to restaurants to ask for help. The police are already waiting for us and once again nobody wants us, but it is already 9 pm and we are exhausted. The chef is really the good samaritan of history, the cops do not care about us and just want to get rid of us. Our friend offers us food and beer then manages to find us a taxi that we have to pay a fortune to ride 50km north where we can apparently sleep. Everything seems very complicated, we can explain that we will sleep anywhere with our hammocks, nothing helps. We arrive, re-negotiation, phone calls … Finally we can lay in a bed at midnight in a city that is not even referenced on Google, almost unimaginable for us Westerners! 4:30, we knock on the door. It’s the cops, they wake us up and ask us to clear! We have nothing to do here either, again… Here we are on the road at 5am with the cops following our butt, it will take 85km to get to a city that can accommodate us. The second day was therefore mind challenging, because of the intense fatigue and heat that starts again at 10am.

We are really in Myanmar from another era, where ox carts dominate. What a contrast with the city! There is no electricity in the villages of houses often made of bamboo. Some are connected to battery or solar panels. We learn to taste the water found in the jars near each village. Water is called “Jay” in Myanmar language, it will become our favorite word: « Oh, you still have some Jay …? » Must say that we are at 6 liters per day and per person.

The situation is pretty complicated in the country, it is difficult to understand why it is so hard for a tourist to be hosted and why it is so hard to go out of the touristic itineraries. Clearly, Myanmar still has a lot to do, and its past as well as its recent international-scale scandals (the Rohingyas were persecuted in the Rakhine state just 100 km to the east from where we pass) really stretched the context. But it is an outstanding experience and we are aware of it!

The evening of this second day (31/03) we are faded! We who thought about starting to cycle smoothly … After a large dinner and a nice night we decided to return to the east and pass the other side of the Irrawady River. The contrast is striking, it is the return to civilization. The police looks like real police, registered and in uniform, people do not stare at us anymore and the traffic is intense (75% of mobilettes). In the afternoon, Leo tests the micropurs with tap water, it’s a failure because Steph ends up with a good fever, vomiting and Leo has a stomach ache! Amazing! Too bad, we were just starting to be in shape.

The next day is very difficult, extreme heat and stomach cramps prevent us from moving forward and we finish the 50km to Yenangyaung suffering. Fortunately the afternoon of rest restores us and we re-feed! Here we are again at the banks of the river in a small village. A young Myanmar who is very motivated to learn English spends the evening chatting with us, he runs away from his parents’ house and has the head full of dreams, we wish him to see the world! (03/04) Day started at dawn, in the cool. We do a check-in, we eat some vegetarian samosas done with dexterity in front of the hotel. After the meal we decide to go make our haircuts Burmese salon. For me it is the long crest and the red dye, Steph is a Buddhist monk and it is successful! All for the modest sum of 4 euros. After that, we go to visit Mount Popa, which is a Buddhist monastery perched on a rocky peak. Very nice view, an army of aggressive monkeys protects the place and they make us laugh.

Wake up at 5am the next day to join Bagan and complete our first step! The caretaker still sleeps in the hotel’s yard but he quickly opened us. It is a quiet little step on a beautiful hilly road, sugar palms line the road and a landscape of small mountains surrounds us. We arrive at 9:30 am at our hotel, which will allow us to start the temples visit in the evening! There are more than 2000 temples referenced on 42km ^ 2. Buddha always sits at the center of each temple and its statues are sometimes huge! All of them are from the ninth to the thirteenth century and were built by the kings of the first Burmese empire. In the evening, westart cycling on the dirt roads in this beautiful savannah. The lights are beautiful and the red (brick color) dominates. That’s wonderful! Steph gets a flat tyre in the savannah so we find ourselves just in time near a temple that is closed to the public for sunset. Climbing is easy enough and the view is truly magical! We will return the next day for the sunrise. A woman wants to ruin the moment by threatening to call the police, but after tough negotiations, we end up paying a little. The rich people, pay a ride in hot air balloons passing right in front of our temple, adding to the magic of the moment. The rest of the morning is dotted with small stops to enjoy people (some want their picture with us), the atmosphere, architecture and villages. This is the end of our first big stop in Myanmar! The bodies are now a little better trained and we will begin to pace in the coming days to go down to the south and reach Thailand, passing this time by the mountainous east of the country!

First days in Myanmar

We have been in Myanmar for 10 days now already, our first country in Southeast Asia ! The action we conducted alongside Green Lotus (see previous article) kept us busy for a week.

Aside from that, the full week in Yangon has allowed us to get used to the very hot temperatures, approaching 40 degrees every day around 11 am and until around 3:30 pm. The city is very polluted and the chaotic traffic seemed scary at first by bike, but after three days we already feel at ease, one just have to be very careful and know how to give a big pedal stroke when necessary. We have discovered here a very rich culture, its smiling and helpful inhabitants, discreet also sometimes, but always curious and ready to cheer the tourists. The traditions are very strong here. Men and women are still wear the traditional clothes (the Longyi for men for example, a sort of skirt closed by a node not so obvious to master for beginners, which can be risky in the public places). One can also see many Buddhist monks in the streets and visit a multitude of temples and monasteries in town. In short, coming here from Europe gives you a shock, but we have acclimatized very well.

We both encountered technical problems with our bikes from the first outings in the city, we had to deal with this quickly. This resulted in big mops in the city from store to store, with all the misunderstandings and related to language! The latter does not seem too complicated from a grammatical point of view but the pronunciation is really delicate. The writing is very beautiful but totally incomprehensible for a European. We quickly learned that beer is beer and how to ask where are the toilets (Eaing tah bar mae lae, among others). Regarding the visits, there was a weekend at Dalaa a village on the other side of the river. We realized by chance just before the departure of the boat that we had climbed into the bad one which was going to some unknown place and we just had time to get off with the bikes before it went! We then started cycling at 11 am to visit the place, what an idea, it was way too hot! The highlight of the week was, of course, a visit to the magnificent Yangon golden pagoda, a splendid Buddhist temple where you can stroll, meditate and admire the various statues and temples.

After this week of adaptation, we were rather impatient to finally take the road, so Tatar (goodbye) and see you soon for the beginning of the bike adventure 🙂

Summary of the action with Green Lotus

It has been a week since we landed in Yangon (Myanmar). Tomorrow the cycling adventure begins for good (and will be the subject of another post)!

To close this first chapter, we spend the day in the office of Green Lotus in order to finalize the video editing of the interviews of the inhabitants of Ward67.

May and Léo working on the video

A total of 9 residents agreed to introduce themselves and tell their story. Because no, most of them have not chosen to settle here! The purpose of these interviews was to review the Ward’s functioning, and to learn how community life is organized. We also asked them about their living conditions, their housing and the sanitary conditions in which they live:

  • What are the recurring problems, what solutions to bring?
  • How do they see the Ward’s evolution in 10 years?
  • (Young people) How do they live their youth here?

It was also an opportunity to discuss the Green Lotus #TrashTag day and to get their opinion on this type of action: the number of plastic waste is impressive!

See you soon for this video 😉

The online crowdfunding for or two partner NGOs is now open :)

We opened an online crowdfunding on Leetchi to accompany our visit to the NGOs with a donation, thus helping them to continue their wonderfull humanitarian work!

The whole amount received thanks to this crowdfunding will be shared between our two partner NGOs Entrepreneurs du Monde and Green Lotus for their projects.

Link to our crowdfunding: https://www.leetchi.com/c/a2rp-bike

You can follow the link and participate in a clic.

  • Everyone participates as he wants.
  • All the payments are secured.

Want to help us gather more funds? Share this page! Thank you in advance!