Ride: Hpa-An, Burma to Mawlamyine, Burma
Terrain: Dead flat and very beautiful. Follow the Thanlyin River south onto the main road (again, there's only one) to Mawlamyine. When you get to the next river crossing at Zar Ya Pyin, get off your bike and push it across the bridge. This is no joke. The bridge is basically 20 tram lines laid right next to one another, and wide enough to catch your wheel.
Eat: It's a relatively short, easy ride that we finished in a morning. A hefty breakfast should be enough to see you through, although there are plenty of tea houses stationed along the way.
Sleep: After Hpa-An, we learned to book ahead for accommodation when possible. We made a reservation the night before at the Sandalwood Hotel on Myoma Tadar Street, which intersects Strand Road by the Thanlyin River. It's one of the nicest places we stayed on the whole trip, clean and comfortable with very welcoming staff.
To read more about Mawlamyine, click here.
After enjoying another delicious spicy noodle salad at yesterday's food market, we set off the following morning refreshed and ready to tackle another day in the saddle. We had finally learned our lesson - a breakfast a day keeps the 12 PM hangry monster away. The weather was cool and occasionally showery, a lovely morning for a nice gentle ride, easing ourselves back into the swing of it after a rest day.
For a lot of the journey, the road looks like this:
Flat. The odd stand here and there selling water and snacks. But again, what makes the scenery so beguiling is the evidence of a society that is stuck in the past. Farmers who live off the land using tools that the rest of the civilised world grew away from in the industrial era. There was no major revolution here to mark the transition between agriculture and brute force manufacturing. Or if there was, it was kept only for the cronies to benefit from. The rest of the country received nothing.
This is what you see when you travel to places other than what is normally prescribed for tourists. The Burmese government has tried to steer tourists away from the abject poverty that blights this nation. It has also been afraid of its citizens meeting Westerners and learning that there's something different, perhaps even better, out there than what their current circumstances dictate. An ignorant populace suits this goverment because they're easier to oppress, and consequently they've been deprived of education for decades.
In cycling through the country, we endeavor to visit these places that are otherwise consigned to oblivion. We go inside tea houses owned by those who most likely have never had a visit from a foreigner before, much less two of them on a tandem bicycle. "What is this demonry?" they ask with a mixture of confusion and amusement, laughing at the enthusiasm with which we scoff down their cakes.
We are now on Day 4 of our trip and are starting to get the hang of it. Everything seems a lot less scary and new. The roads are blending in together with each passing kilometer. We reach a good cadence early which allows us to maximise our energy and effort. More sightseeing and relaxing whilst pedalling, less stressing and worrying about the creaks and gremlins.
Oh bugger. What's that up there?
Jesus Christ on a bike. It's a bridge made entirely of tram lines.
Spanning almost a kilometer long, the bridge is laden with steel beams running longways, conveniently spaced out just enough to take you down. Fine in a car, deadly on a bike. As per our little status video above, we had read about a guy who attempted to ride across it, only to end up in a hospital. He broke his collarbone and had to cut the rest of his trip short.
Yeah. Not chancing it. We got off and pushed.
It was not the smoothest walk we've ever had. We were constantly picking through the gaps in the beams and our SPD cleats only added to the instability. At one point, the camera we'd fashioned to the back of our bike fell off. Thankfully, some kind souls whose faces you see in the video above found it and brought it back to us once we'd reached the other side.
20 increasingly sweaty km later, we were in Mawlamyine. And boy, we were glad to see it.