Wow, the last week or so has been intense. From sitting in Thailand a week ago waiting to be allowed to enter Myanmar to waking up this morning in India. I entered India yesterday afternoon and I now have a few days here before heading into Nepal on Friday. I’ll tell you everything about India after I’m through, but first impressions are very positive.
Coming to India, I was expecting this
But instead I found this
Anyway, since my last update I spent another few days in Thailand but then most of the time in Myanmar (which is also the reason why this blog post is so late, internet in Myanmar is not at all reliable enough to upload a blog post).
This is what I have been up to over the last week and a bit
Day 60 to 64 – riding the Mae Hong Son loop in Thailand: I’ll keep this one short because I have already told you plenty about the riding in Thailand, but the loop from Chiang Mai through the Mae Hong Son province has some of the best roads and scenery I have seen anywhere in the world! So I spent a few days up there, including stopping for two nights in Pai to socialise with some other travelers over a beer or two.
This is what the roads are like on the Mae Hong Son loop
Day 65 – finally crossing over into Myanmar: On Wednesday the 22nd of March, it was finally time to cross the border to Myanmar. All the permits and paperwork were in place as of that same Monday so after changing some money I head over to the border at Mae Sot on the Thai side. I was expecting smooth sailing through the Thai border check point and then hours of slow paperwork on the Myanmar side. Well. The opposite is what happened…
When I first entered Thailand many weeks earlier the laws on bringing foreign registered vehicles into Thailand had just been changed (meaning you need a completely different set of paperwork from what I had) but because I had organised all of my trip before the law changed and the law itself was brand new they were nice enough to let me through with the papers I had. They were not nearly as nice and understanding when I tried to exit the country. In the end it took me a solid couple of hours being bounced between different immigration and customs booths and eventually I had to fill out a complete set of the new paperwork, including retroactively filling out the import papers. All whilst standing outside in the 40 degree heat with all my riding gear on. Then I got to the Myanmar side, met my guide (more about that shortly) and everything was done in 10 minutes.
So. Yeah. About obtaining permission to bring a foreign motorbike through Myanmar. Well, as you might have figured already you don’t just rock up at the border and roll through. No, you need to get a tour organised by a licensed tour agency, with a detailed day-by-day itinerary and a tour guide to follow you around for your whole visit. That maybe doesn’t sound too hard. But that’s not all. In addition to the tour guide, an officer from the Ministry of Tourism also has to come along for the whole trip (to do all the paperwork at the borders and various checkpoints). And once that’s all organised those guys need a car and a driver, and in my case the guide also had a guide trainee with him. So all in all I had an entourage of four people for the full six days in Myanmar.
Say hello to me and my entourage in Myanmar
And this is their van, which I followed through the whole country
Days 66 & 67 – making our way up towards Bagan: The main attraction on the agenda in Myanmar was Bagan, where we had planned it such that we would get there in time to catch the sunset and have the whole morning the following day to explore. So the first few days were primarily spent on the road, doing 7-8 hours per day and only briefly stopping to see various things along the way. And here in Myanmar, I finally got some of the dirt roads I had pictured in my head when I planned the trip!
This is what I was looking for the entire time
One of the highlights was going up to the Golden Rock, a Buddhist temple on the top of a mountain which is said to contain a lock of hair from Buddha himself. And regardless what you believe about that, the view from up there was spectacular.
Checking out the Golden Rock
Another highlight was passing through Naypyidaw, the newly built capital of Myanmar a few hours north of the old capital (and economic centre) Yangon. Naypyidaw is everything you could ever imagine a brand new capital city built by a military dictator would be, and more. The city basically contains all ministries and other government administration and lots of military bases but only has a population of around 100,000 people. My favourite detail was the main road through the city.
Main road through Naypyidaw, 14 lanes altogether – 7 each direction, no traffic
Day 68 – exploring Bagan: Now I appreciate that at this point the blog might seem like a 50% motorbike – 50% temple blog, but I just have to write a few paragraphs and show a couple of photos from Bagan. From here on, there should be much fewer temples. I promise.
Anyway, Bagan is a vast complex of Buddhist temples built around the 10th to 13th century and it is absolutely spectacular. It’s situated in the dry lands in central Myanmar so you get this amazing landscape dotted with low green trees where it feels like brick temples almost organically have grown up from the rust coloured sand.
Bagan looks like this, but much more
Good thing is you can take the bike to explore most of the temples
Big white temple, the name of which I could never pronounce and have now forgotten
Days 69 & 70 – going off the beaten track towards the Indian border: The roads got much smaller as we made it from Bagan towards the Indian border in the northwest of the country, so after Bagan we had some really long days on the road. And the temperature still hit 40 degrees every afternoon, as it has since I left Bangkok…
Roads got much narrower after Bagan
As did the bridges, not to mention woodier