Granny or free wheeling

Pinlaung – Ngaunshwe (Inle Lake) = 80km (May 21)

Up early is the norm on ride days and by 6am we were sitting at the coffee shop getting our breakfast sorted for the big day ahead. The staple of bread donuts and samosas are always found in the tea shops early in the morning.

As it is so difficult to find information on cycling in Myanmar we actually had no idea what the terrain would be like. Well first thing this morning we realised that yesterday’s tough day was a breeze as we were straight into granny gear up the steepest of Mountains we have ever climbed. This continued for 25km as we battled our way up in Granny gear (easiest gear) and were rewarded with some free wheeling. At times down hill was too steep we had the brakes smoking. The road was remote, minimal traffic which was just as well as only designed for motorbikes so when a truck came by it was down to one lane.

This hill tribe village was amazing as we rolled through the Mountains. Such a tough basic life as we watched these village folk in the morning take their water containers to the community well. A basic life seeing them showering outside their houses wrapped in a sarong showering with a bucket.

A few Myanmar potholes and another broken drink bottle cage on Betty we made it through the Mountain down to the flat.

School in the Mountains

Once out of the Mountains the stunning scenery continued as we weaved our way through villages and then we could see glimpses of Inle Lake through the smoke haze. Rolled into the town of Nyuangshwe at 1.30 and noticed a significant increase in temperature compared to the Mountains. Checked out a few places to stay and realised after the first guesthouse that it is low season and they are deathly quiet. We managed to negotiate a room that sells for US45 in peak season for US23 and it is fab and includes brekkie. They have 15 rooms and we are it so we are being fussed over with the lovely Burmese hospitality. So here we will be for 3 nights.

All alone at brekkie one table set up for the kiwi cycle tourists.

Mr Saw sent us on a trip

Kalaw – Pinlaung = 76km (May 20)

First day of cycle touring in Myanmar we were super excited and up early to hit the road.

A recommendation from Mr Saw a tour guide from Yangon who sat alongside us on the train from Thazi to Kalaw suggested we cycle to Pinlaung. Not on the tourist trail we had no idea where he was sending us but he assured us the scenery is beautiful. So on and we were off into the unknown yet again.

Words can’t describe the day of riding through the hills and hill tribal villages all living off the land. Every steep hill we grunted up, corner we turned we were rewarded with breathtaking scenery, and greeted by the friendliest of country folk.

The houses looked to be really well made especially for the colder winter months. The 2 level houses we saw had a packed clay floor and they used downstairs to store the produce and dry the garlic and upstairs for living.

Not a rice field in sight it was all produce mainly cabbages and garlic. Apparently cabbages are only 10c each and garlic seems to grow like a weed.

A hoe in hand and these 4 ladies off for a day in the fields. This was such a common site.

Checking we were still going the right direction we pulled off the highway into a village to find some lunch.

3 generations making food and we got to eat the finished product of spring rolls, samosa and bread donut sticks. Washed down with some green tea. A chat of sorts to this lovely family and back on the road on a high after such a cool experience.

The grandma with her orange head scarf and black clothes is what a lot of the female tribal people of this area wear.

No cell phones, PlayStation or toys here but the kids were having a ball with their handmade kites playing in the school grounds on a Sunday afternoon.

A big day of riding in the hills we rolled into the remote village of Pinlaung at 2pm. Very few foreigners venture here except for a few trekking from Kalaw but none in site today. Stayed at the “wine wine hotel”!

Conveniently across the road from the hotel was a beer station so that was us sorted for the evening as they always do good basic meals of rice and noodles of sorts. Had fun with some interaction with the locals who are just super friendly.

Even the guy with the chickens was a happy chappy. Not sure about the chickens though.

So an amazing day possibly our best ever and I know we have said rhat before.

Not called the slow train for nothing

Thazi – Kalaw via slow train (May 17th)

Another super early start to bike 1km to the Thazi station. Purchased some yummy rotis and donut/breads for 15c each for brekkie that were being whipped up next door at 5am. Bit of sleepy looking happenings around the station first thing, but most impressed to see them cleaning up the rubbish and sweeping it at 5am though.

Train departed on time at 7am and we were the only foreigners on board about to begin the slow train through the Mountians to Kalaw approx 140km distance taking 6.5hours (average speed of 15-10km per hour). Traveling upper class again these seats cost nz$1.85 each and an additional 30c each for bikes and we had a great window view. However several times we got swiped by trees and twigs through the window.

The scenery was stunning as we took all the sights in.

Several stops at small mountain villages along the way. The mountain village people selling anything and everything through the train windows. Tough way to make a living .

The second last station stop was something else. Another train opposite and swarms of sellers between the two trains.

We rolled into the beautiful Kalaw at 1.30pm and immediately fell in love with the town. This British Colonial hill station town is set at 1320m elevation so is significantly cooler with day time temps around 27deg and nights dropping to 17deg. First time this trip no aircon or fan required. With no accommodation booked we biked around the town getting a feel for the place. Settled on the Golden Kalaw Inn for nz$25 including Brekkie.

We will stay here for a few nights exploring the town and surrounds by bike which is renowned for trekking to the hill tribe villages. We will try and give Betty and Nancy some off road treatment.

Off the grid in Myanmar

Just an update that we are having the most incredible time here in Myanmar. Unfortunately though wifi is minimal to non existent and power outages are really common. In fact the village we stayed at last night only had power between 6pm-9am. Our biggest battle is keeping our phones charged for GPS when riding.

So no blog updates/pics at this stage but will be some great delayed posts on this amazing adventure and stunningly beautiful country when we can.

Just letting you all know we are safe and well and having a ball.

Rocking and rolling to Thazi

Mandalay – Thazi by train

The perfect alarm clock at 4.19am as the neighbouring mosque called it’s followers to prayer. It got us out the door to the train station at 5am. Was still dark and the heart got racing with 4 dog chases (at one stage Andy off the bike chasing the dog that was chasing me) we cycled the short 1km to the station.

Express train to Thazi which does go all the way to Yangon. Not sure about the life insurance on the ticket for 80k which is 80c

Not too much action at the station at 5am but a lot of people sleeping, some looked like it was their permanent home and others maybe waiting to catch trains.

One asleep on the ground and one on the seat at the official luggage counter area. Paid our additional NZ$3.6 for the bikes and then asked to pay another 20c to carry them into the carriage. Was high finance at 5am.

Betty and Nancy all on board the luggage compartment tied by a bit of string fixed to the carriage wall shared with the above luggage, a few veges and boxes.

Really impressed with our upper class seats for NZ$2. Comfy soft seat, and an automatic recline function when the track was super bumpy! Windows that opened and we could see out of if we stood up and even ceiling fans. What more would you want………….maybe a coffee?

What do you know out of nowhere a guy walks down selling coffees. 30c for an instant coffee
Sellers constantly walking the aisles selling random food

We rocked and rolled our way down the tracks settling in for the 3 hour journey. It was absolutley awesome and exceeded expectations with so much to take in, especially when stopping at stations.

Hand held barrier arms

Young girl trying to sell fruit as we pass on by

About 4 stops later we bounced into Thazi. As quick as we could, we got our gears off to get to the luggage carriage which was the other end of the train from “upper class”. Halfway down the platform the speaker goes on and we see guys hauling Betty and Nancy off the train. Our brisk walk turns into a run to rescue them and help them get off the train and no more than 10seconds later the train pulls out. Super close call and a few scratches on Nancy but no major damage.

And here we are in Thazi………we hope, south of Mandalay
Tonights digs at the Wonderful guesthouse NZ$20 with the most wonderful owner who has great English.
No room for Betty and Nancy tonight but they are just outside the door

We were lucky enough to check in at 9am went next door to a tea house and then on the bikes for some exploring.

Tea house.

This town is unreal. Has a great feel to it, people amazingly friendly, and feels like we have stepped back in time to another world.

Main street of Thazi

Was time for an ice cream as 37deg

This lovely family sold ice cream and rice. Odd combination, icies and ricies in Thazi’ s.

Continuing to explore the back streets of Thazi by bike we find this

Human hair factory! We came back to our guesthouse and asked what it is. He said this hair would most probably be human hair from India but possibly Myanmar. They then sell it to the Chinese. Still unsure what the Chinese do with it but he thought for movies! Hmmmm not so sure about that!

Wow what a day. An overload to take in but we are definitely getting our Myanmar Mojo. Mandalay was too busy and hectic for us, even though it was great. We prefer these small towns where we can explore by bike and see the locals way of life.

Tomorrow an early start with the “slow train” through the Mountains to Kalaw and from there on we are hoping to get pedaling.

Myanmar or Burma……?

So what is it…….? Well up until 1989 it was Burma but now goes by the name of Myanmar but the people are still referred to as Burmese.

We are super excited to be visiting this country with 55 million people that only opened their doors to Tourism in 2012. It borders India and Bangladesh to the west (where the problems are and we will be staying well clear of), China to the North/North East and Thailand and Laos to the East.

We have just read that Burmese refugees in NZ form the largest group with over half of all refugees in NZ being from Myanmar.

A new country for us, different culture, currency, food and everything in between. Hope to see as much as we can during our 25 days here (maximum stay is 28 day visa)

Bangkok – Mandalay via plane

Arrived at Mandalay airport yesterday which was incredibly small for the 2nd largest city and a population of 1.3 million. Got ourselves a taxi and had 10+ helpers scrambling over us to carry Betty and Nancy.

All the family in the van and off we went for the 36km journey from the airport to city.

Back driving on the right had side of the road but get this…………the drivers seat is also on the right hand side!
Checked into the hotel and what a lovely warm welcome.

Not sure where the party is coming from….?
Bell boy at this small hotel

Time to explore by foot and get our bearings in a city that the street names operate on a number/grid system. Supposedly making it easy to get around but we couldn’t find our hotel.

But we did find one of Leo’s rellies at what they call a “beer station”. Was a chance to catch our breath and realise we had actually walked past the hotel just didn’t recognise it. Nothing wrong with Myanmar lager!
Local taxis
View of Mandalay streets from breakfast dining room
View from hotel room

Up early to put the bikes together and thankfully Betty and Nancy 100% after the flight and enjoyed taking in some sights around this crazy busy city.

Then it was off to the train station to try and get a ticket to Thazi.

Overshot the station UTurn. Tough job for the workers on the road
Outside rail station and poverty evident

Started lining up to get tickets only to be told this was where you get your driver’s license renewed.
Getting closer to finding a ticket but have no idea where we are off to!

Yahoo we have 2 tickets to Thazi by train tomorrow at the whopping cost of $2 each for “upper class” which we are sure will be far from upper class! 6am departure time and have to get there at 5am to ensure Betty and Nancy can get a spot also. Apparently approx 3hour journey and one hell of an adventure.

Tickets all sorted it was time to find some lunch.

Asked for a black coffee and it came looking like a black coffee but tasted nothing like one. Had lemon juice and sugar in it. First coffee Myanmar style!
Egg Roti for lunch was a hit 70c
Lovely family run coffee/tea house and great Roti

24 hours in Myanmar

It is so different to anywhere we have visited before. The men wear skirts called “longyi”. Both men and ladies suck betel nut which is a stimulant of sorts depending on how much you have. They then spit out the excess which is a thick red saliva paste and the footpaths and streets are covered in it. Thankfully it’s hot around 35deg so drys quickly! We have experienced this in Vietnam but not to this degree.

Nearly all ladies and children wear this yellow/cream paint on their face called “thanakh” for cosmetic, beauty and cleansing. Don’t think this kiwi will be latching on to this beauty regime.

Little dot with face painted and heaps of makeup
Her sister in the taxi/tuk tuk

The people are incredibly friendly and helpful. Some have enough English to work things out in fact possibly better English than the Thais.

So far having a ball and we can see we are going to be in for one crazy adventure. Looking forward to getting on the bikes soon but due to large distances between towns and no foreign guesthouses (they have foreign and local guesthouses that get policed) and terrain too mountainous we are going to have to take some public transport also. So Betty and Nancy are pumped for their first train experience tomorrow as are their owners.