Ride: Mawlamyine, Burma to Thaton, Burma
Terrain: Again, very very flat the entire way. Road conditions today were better than we've seen before – Mon State seems to be more prosperous generally. You'll cross the train tracks several times – for the most part, it will be on your left as you ride up. Lovely countryside views and tons of flora and fauna sprouting about. Fun fact: the Thanlwin (Mawlamyaing) Bridge out of Mawlamyine is the longest one in Burma.
Eat: We stopped at a cafe on the outskirts of Yinnyein for some chicken soup and rice.
Sleep: Tain Pyar Guest House is possibly the only foreigner option in Thaton.
To read more about Thaton, click here.
Normally, we're up incredibly early and eager to get going so that we can take advantage of the cooler morning hours. But because we were still waiting for our laundry to be finished, we decided to spend some much needed time to fix the issues on our tandem that had been dogging us relentlessly for the last couple days.
Couplings: FIXED. Bike is as sturdy as ever.
Gears: LUBED. Chains are shifting smoothly.
Third brake: ATTACHED. Now we can go down all the mountains we want with additional stoppage power. Perfect for the current flat-as-pancake landscape.
Frame: CREAKING. Hmm.
Oh well. Can't win 'em all.
Riding out of town, our first viewpoint came whilst crossing the Thanlwin (Mawlamyaing) Bridge across the river, which connects Mawlamyine to Mottama. 3km long and with a parallel railway track, it is the longest bridge in Burma. After the dreaded bridge crossing yesterday, cycling on this was a veritable dream thanks to the smooth asphalt surface and relatively light traffic.
The rest of the way was quite enjoyable, especially because we rode past several schools. We received waves and hellos from so many children, and their enthusiasm and wide smiles kept our spirits up as the temperature rose higher and higher. It was encouraging to see the emphasis the Mon State places on education, which is a different story altogether than in Kayin State, where we spent our first few days. It's noticeably more populous and prosperous here – whether it's because the local economy is inherently stronger, or simply because they aren't constantly at loggerheads with the federal government, we couldn't say.
The road is mainly flat and nicely paved. You could look out at the landscape and see for miles all around. As well as the usual pagodas dotted throughout, there was a colossal, grandiose white government-looking building situated in the distance (it reminded us of a smaller-scaled Prora in Germany). There seems to be a large-scale initiative in this area to improve the forestry industry and grow more nurseries, so the fields were lined with beautiful gardens.
The later start today, along with the greater concentration of roadside villages, afforded us a constantly changing perspective of the daily rhythm of life here. Kids riding home from school on their rickety single-speed bikes, trying to race us when they weren't doubled up giggling at the sight of us. Women washing their hair standing in front of their homes. Groups of men gathering for their daily ta kraw kickabout as the sun went down.
There was something beautifully rustic about riding over level crossings and seeing laundry hanging from the railings, their owners sitting on the tracks. But like in Mawlamyine, the spell is broken when you realise why people are just sitting about by the side of the road. They are waiting. Waiting for the next train and the chance to make a bit of money. Waiting for something different to happen than before. Waiting for anything.
For much of this trip, we've been that "something different". People stare when we ride past and they talk and point openly. But you know what - we're perfectly fine with being a source of amusement for people. Maybe they think we're totally ridiculous, and let's face it, they have a point. But this entire country is our something different. The least we can do is give them a laugh in exchange for all they're giving us.