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!