Myanmar, a mental vacation

It’s unbelievable. Here I am, sitting at my dad’s dinner table. I never expected to be writing this story from home. But it is the way it is. Myanmar seems very far away now, but here we go.

Our journey through Myanmar started on the 8th of January, early in the morning. We met Dirk and Tina, our German travel mates for the coming week on the Indian border. They were traveling for seven months at the time, with their campervan.
Myanmar is a country where they make you travel with a guide. Otherwise you’re not allowed to ride or drive your own vehicle. It’s a very expensive way to travel. To share some of the costs we teamed up with Dirk and Tina. And we choose the quickest way to cross Myanmar, also to be on time to meet our friend Miranda in Laos. This meant a lot of riding and not much sightseeing.
This isn’t the way we chose to travel in the first place, but a guided tour has some advantages as well. As it turned out…
After shaking hands with Dirk and Tina on the Indian side of the border, we met again on the Myanmar side, together with Zaw, our guide and Than, the driver. We only had to show our passports and visas. All the vehicle papers had been arranged already. After a short talk they told us the route for today and we took off. Each on our own. Great.
The roads were good and we crossed many bridges. They were quite challenging at times, as we were trying to avoid the wheel-wide gaps in between the planks.
First impressions about Myanmar were great. After being in India for quite some time we noticed people are more calm and they approach you in a friendly manner. They’re also more polite in traffic, which was a true welcome! We weren’t used to that anymore and we were pleasantly surprised about getting right of way. Or when people waited for us to pass by. Another great thing we noticed during lunch: much more vegetables! Wow, we missed some variety in our meals, after all the veg or non-veg meals.
We didn’t have to ride too far, only 139 kilometer, from Moreh border to Kalemyo. There we met Crystal from the travel company. She handed us some gifts and most importantly, sim-cards. Very convenient, mainly because this way we could share our live location with the guides and ride at our own pace. No Pakistan déjà-vus.
We shared the meal together with our new company and of course, a beer or two. Getting to know each other a little better. We didn’t have a beer since Nepal, so this is worth mentioning, I reckon.
The next morning we got up early and after breakfast we headed for Bagan. We had the longest day of riding ahead of us, 408 kilometer. We were the first to park for lunch at the restaurant where we would meet the others too, when I noticed some wetness underneath the motorbike. It didn’t take me long to see where it was coming from. Because of all the bumpy roads, the exhaust pipe had come a little loose, and was leaning on one of the cooling hoses. But here’s the benefits of a booked tour, before we knew the guides had called a mechanic. While we enjoyed the lunch, they were working on the motorbike, replacing the hose and liquid.
In the end it cost us an hour or two and we arrived at our luxury hotel after sunset. We quickly changed clothes and dined with entertainment in a beautiful garden.

After a very luxurious breakfast we took a little time to be a tourist. After all, we were in Bagan, one of the former capitals of Myanmar and famous for its numerous amount of centuries old temples and stupas. We walked around, took pictures and left for our 265 kilometer ride of that day. Klaas had discovered his centre stand was coming loose. So while we had lunch in Meiktila, Klaas his centre stand was being taken care of at a motorcycle workshop, pointed out by the guides. We continued and climbed from the plains to about 1400 meter altitude. Views were beautiful and with the sun starting to set we took advantage of traveling with companions. Dirk took some pictures of us, which we put on our website and Facebook later. We stayed at the Hill Top View Hotel that night, in Kalaw. With the last moments of the setting sun at one side and the full moon rising on the other, it was quite a nice view indeed.

Saturday, the 11th of January, was a relatively short day’s ride, only 191 kilometers to Nansang. We came across stalls with fresh strawberries, which we couldn’t resist. We bought a small bucket and after the break we took what was left of it with us. I took a much needed nap at our hotel before dinner. Even though the atmosphere was relaxed, we got up quite early every day and had long riding days. I had been very much looking forward to some company, after all these pretty “lonely” weeks in India. Luckily, we had a good time with Dirk and Tina.

There isn’t really much to tell about the next riding day. 331 kilometers to Kengtung. We left seven thirty in the morning and arrived in the darkness. We did take time to take some pictures though, and enjoy a good lunch. It was the last full day of riding together. Because on Monday, we would cross the border into Thailand and each continue our separate journey.
We had quite a busy schedule on the 13th: three countries and two border crossings in one day! But first, 158 kilometers to the Thailand border. We’d said goodbye and good luck to Dirk and Tina the night before. They left a few hours before we did, and we already left at six thirty in the morning! Zaw and Than were right behind us, to make sure we would get through several checkpoints easily and out of Myanmar. They succeeded and on the Thai side we were awaited by Noi and Sandy.
We had sent them a huge pile of papers before, to cross Thailand into Laos according to the rules. In only three hours. Once we got in, first stop was an ATM. To pay the women a shit load of money. I didn’t get more than we needed to pay them, to not be left with a currency we weren’t able to use by the end of the day. But Noi was so kind to give us back some change, so we could get a drink. And so we did. On the way to Laos we came across The Golden Triangle. This is where the Mekong and Ruak rivers come together and you can see Thailand, Myanmar and Laos at the same time. We took a short break, ate and drank coconut(juice) and an ice cream and walked around in the touristy area in between buddhas, food stalls and many other tourists, enjoying the views over the rivers.
But we still had another border to cross that day, so we continued riding. Because it all followed in quick succession, we had not prepared this one very well. And we were screwed over, for € 60,- per motorcycle by the tourist police.
By the time we were at the Laos border of Ban Houayxay it was about 4 o’clock. We were tired and a little hungry. I needed a short break. After getting the visa we spent our last Thai Baht on cold coke and some snacks and sat down on the curb next to our motorbikes. At some point an officer came towards us, telling us we needed to talk with the tourist police. Sigh… Alright. He took us to an office with two other men. According to their story, also Laos had a law which obliged us to book a tour and a guide. But because we didn’t have, he would write us a “statement”. Whenever we would be stopped over by police, we could show this document and we would be fine. I didn’t believe one word of his story, but there was no room for argument. And as my patience and energy was drained already, I was even so stupid to tell him we had two motorbikes. So that cost us two times 60 euro! Tsjing tsjing! After telling them “enjoy your dinner and beers with our money tonight” we quickly left for the last passport check and rode into Laos. Lesson learned, we’d better do our homework next time.

Even though we would have made different choices this week, when we would have traveled alone, we did enjoy not having to look for a place to sleep every night ourselves. We enjoyed the luxury breakfasts, the comfortable rooms and not having to think about which road to take today, or think ahead for a few days. Even though it was a physical challenge with all the riding we did in a short period, we’ve been on a sort of mental vacation this week.

Originally posted: April 27th 2020

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