OK, now we cheat.... We are not riding on our Suzuki DRZ's, but on Yamaha XTZ125 motorbikes.
For only a short holiday of 2 weeks in Myanmar it is too costly to ship our own bikes. So we rent this time...
After a long flight via Bangkok, we arrive in Mandalay in central Myanmar. Zach is already waiting in front of his little shop. He rents motorbikes, but organize also trips of several days. Our 2 reserved XTZ125 are waiting for us and when we mount our navigation system, tankbag and luggage rol we are ready to go.
We have minimum luggage with us, no camping gear, because officially camping is not allowed in Myanmar. So traveling light, special with these light bikes.
We leave the crowded center of Mandalay and follow a small road. But our Zumo navigator is already lost and wants to go back...We check our map, ask a taxi driver and he tells us that we are on the right way to Bagan. The road is only one car wide and takes us along fields, forests and small villages. We attrackt attension of the locals because we are tall and for Myanmar we ride "big" bikes. When we enter a village or pass a temple, often people stand in line along the road with silver-colored metal buckets with little stones inside and shake the buckets. They ask for donations for their temples and we notice that people throw money out the car windows.
At a little restaurant we stop to get some food. They don't have a menu and they don't speak english. Harald walk to the kitchen, point something out and a few minutes later we get several bowls on our table with meat, vegetables, rice and sauce. It taste great. At the end of the day we reach Bagan. This historical and UNESCO World Heritage site is founded in 849. On 100 km2 here is the largest collection of buddhist temples, pagoda's and stupa's located in the world.
Over narrow sandy roads we zigzag between pagodas and stupas. They are everywhere. This is amazing. Unfortunately are many pagodas and stupas by the earthquake in 2016 damaged. But some are being restored. Sitting on a terrace of a high temple we look out over the plain, where pagodas stick out between the trees. The sun sets and colors the sky orange. It feels mystic and is relaxing.
We booked a ballooning in Bagan, but it is cancelled due to rain. The next days are fully booked and we decide not to wait, but book a ballooning in two weeks, on our last day in Myanmar. Hopefully the weather would be OK then...
We take our 125's over road no. 2, southbound, towards Mount Popa. In Burmese it is Taung Kalat and it is a 737 m high volcanic mountain. With her sheer walls it pops out of the landscape as a pimple. On this holy mountain is a buddhistic temple, which can be reached by 777 steps. The stairway to heaven?
The fueltanks of the Yamaha contains only 10 liter and we rode already 300 km. Time for a fuel stop. Luckily petrol is easy to get and we see also little stalls next to the road where petrol is sold in liter bottles. We fill up and only 6.5 liter goes in one tank. Meaning fuel consumption of 1 liter for 46 km!
More to the south we have more often gravel roads, passing rice fields, little villages where carts are pulled by cows and women sit behind their merchandise on the streetside. This is great! We bypass Yangoon, because it is not allowed to enter the city with motorbikes and travel to Kyaiktiyo. Better known as the "Golden Rock". Eight kilometers from the rock we are stopped by a gate with guards. Of course we knew that we could not ride our bikes all the way to the Rock, but we are the BikeBrothers and we try...
So we ride back to the village and buy a ticket for the truck. Yep, trucks, loaded with 60 people, are riding up the steep, narrow mountain road. At a widening of the road, the truck waits for the down-coming truck to pass, and then get going. It feels like we are in a roller coaster. After an exciting 30 minute drive we arrive at the 1100 m high Kyaiktiyo mountain.
Kyaiktiyo is one of the most holey places in Myanmar for buddhist pilgrims. It is very crowded and we go with the flow. And there she is. We face the "Golden Rock". This gigantic rock is covered with gold paper and balances on the edge of the mountain. This is amazing. The legend tells that a hair of Buddha under the rock prevent it from falling down. The sun makes the rock more bright and it is interesting to see how the Burmese adore it, stick golden paper to it or offering candles and incense.
From Kyaiktiyo we ride up north again towards Lake Inle. According to the map we could follow a "yellow" marked road, which would be a huge short cut. But it will go through a restricted area. These areas are closed for foreign travelers, mostly due to conflicts between the Myanmar government and etnic minority groups. In Myanmar are many of these restricted areas and some can be visited by getting an expensive permit and a guide. It are mainly areas that border with the neighboring countries or where etnic tribes are living that stand up for their independency. Well, we see... The road is narrow but still paved. After 20 kilometers it becomes a good gravel road. The light yamaha's are very easy to handle, it's fun to ride. After one hour we come at a wooden bridge that looks very shaky. But it will probably hold our light bikes. Slowly Harald goes on the bridge and we hear the wood cracking, but it holds. There is a little cafe and we stop for a coffee. Two locals come to us and surprisingly they speak good english. They seem like a mayor or headman and explain that we are in a no-go area. We say that we did not know that and with the map we explain where we want to go to. They were worried about our safety, but after some talking and showing our route, they say it will be OK. We continue our route and the gravel road gets narrower. Often there a huge water holes or even mudpools that cover the track. Some we can pass by through the bush, but others we have to go right through. One mud pool is too deep and Harald get stuck. Lukily the yamaha is not heavy and we pull out the bike. Now we are covered in mud. But it's fun. Not even 100 meters further there is a huge mud pool. Harald walks around/through it to see how the track looks behind. After 15 minutes he comes back and tells that a local farmer further down was making an "X" with his arms. So probably it will become worse. We check the distance to the next city and considering the late hour, we will never make it before dark. We decide to go back...
Covered in mud we arrive just before dark at a nice looking hotel. They have a room, but we don't want to leave the bikes on the road. The receptionist opens the front door and we can park the bikes in the lobby. We push the wet and mud covered bikes in the lobby on the beautiful white marble floor. Then the guy has second thoughts and calls two young boys. We have to push the bikes out and the boys have to wash the yamahas. Well, in this case, they can also wash our clothes and shoes...We are glad to have fresh washed clothes and we give the boys a huge tip.
At a crossing with police control we ask about the road conditions. We show the "white" thin road our map and one of the policeman points with his finger to the tarmac. OK, but we are a bit more careful with the road indications of the map. The road is only one car wide, but indeed of good condition. On both side grows lush forest and the road meanders up the hills, There is not a straight part, Steep up and down, sometimes our little Yammies have a bit trouble to keep the pace. But this is great riding. Who needs 100 horsepower...We don't seen other traffic, the road is ours. The mountain is getting higher and our navigation system shows 1700 meter. Dark clouds develop over the mountain and a little later it starts to pour. There is no place to shelter and it is probably one more hour riding to the first city. We ride on and our clothes are soaked. We are getting cold to the bone. Finaly we reach the valley where the city Lokwai is. We stop at the first hotel we see. Shivering from the cold and just before dark we ask for a room. The cheapest is US $ 60. Expensive, but it is large and very luxury. It has a hot shower and even a hairdryer, so we can dry all our clothes.
At Lake Inle we take a rest day and make a boat tour on the lake. Our boatman guides his longtail boat over the lake. We see fishermen throwing coneshape nets into the lake. They stand on one leg and with their other leg they control the paddle. What a technique! We reach the floating gardens with tomato plants and at a village, build on poles, we visit a silversmith, lotus-fibre weavers and a sigar factory. At one of the weaving looms there are women working from the Padaung tribe. They are better known as "Longnecks". They have several brass rings around their neck and wrists. Because of the weight of the brass rings their shoulders are pushed down, so it looks if their neck is longer.
Like a Condor...
We ride back to Bagan where we booked a balloon flight. Luckily is the weather forcast for tomorrow good. The next morning at 05.00 hour we are picked up ar our hotel with a very old bus that takes us to an open field. Balloons alreay lay on the field. We get a briefing about the rules and then giant fans blow air in the balloons. When there is enough volume in the balloons, the burners are ignited. The balloon grows and stands up. How huge! We enter the basket, the pilot opens the burner and we take off. Quickly we gain height. We look around and count 22 other balloons that are filling the sky. In the meantime the sun rised and the stupas are getting visible between the morning haze. This is beautiful. At a certain height the burners are shut off and we hoover in the sky. Silence, everybody is impressed. I feel like a condor... Slowly we float over temples and villages. The sun gets higher and long shades slides over the plain. This is great and almost better then riding your bike...
Late in the afternoon we deliver the Yamahas back at Zach and he asks how is Myanmar?
In one word: GREAT!
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