Around 1 PM, we rolled into the town of Yenangyaung and stopped at the Country Hotel off the main road for lunch. Double portions of Chinese fried rice and noodles were provided and wolfed down. We were famished and thirsty. It had been such a long, slow day. Battling ever-steeper hills and a headwind gets disheartening after a while. You think you've finally conquered it, only to find that there's ten more hills ahead of you.
We knew that from our lunch stop, it was just a short climb to the Lei Thar Gone Guesthouse. One final ride up a steep hill with a gradient of at least 18%, and one final slippage of the timing chain as we tried to push through it and asked too much of our bike. It was a tough end to the day.
But getting to heaven is hard.
This place was incredible. Perched above the Ayarwaddy Valley, with views forever in most directions. Gorgeous landscaped gardens inviting you to sit and enjoy the peace and tranqu...
"They've been doing this for 60 hours straight now", said the proprietor.
We're really developing a talent for this. We're on top of a hill on the fringe of a small town. We've found what is probably the most serenely beautiful accommodation in the entire country, and there's not really anybody else here because it hasn't officially opened yet. And what's right next door?
A monastery. With a giant PR system. Which three monks have been using for tag-team chanting since the day before yesterday, non-stop, round the clock.
We had booked a Superior Double room for the night, which of course happened to be the closest room to the monastery. The owner took pity and upgraded us for free to a suite, as far away from the megaphones as we could get. For 50,000 kyat, we essentially got a house with a bedroom (including double and single beds), a huge bathroom with hot water and modern fixtures, a kitchen area, a dining room, a front porch, and back terrace. Free water and breakfast is also included.
We couldn't believe our luck. It was spectacular.
And so were the views.
Lei Thar Gone (Burmese for "a gentle breeze") was founded by Eric Trutwein in 2006, when he returned to his native Burma and sought to help alleviate the devastation poverty and HIV had wrought on his home turf. Over 100 orphaned children have the opportunity to go to school and make something better for themselves, and staying at the guesthouse is a means of funding this initiative and their future.
It is truly heaven on earth, and the perfect place to spend a rest day or two. Had we known just how peaceful it is here, we would have planned to stay longer. If you want (and trust us, you do want), they will serve you a wonderful three-course sunset dinner made from local ingredients for a well-worth-it 8,000 kyat per person.
The town of Yenangyaung itself is quite small, and we took a walk to the centre before dinner to see what it had to offer. Besides the usual mobile shops and open-air beer houses, there isn't much, and it's easy to see why Lei Thar Gone offers the complete package of accommodation plus restaurant that they do. Besides, why would you want to eat anywhere else when it's this good?
We spent some time speaking with the proprietress, who gave us a bit of history of the place and how they've been trying to get it off the ground. Incidentally, she told us that when we turned up at the hotel, the police were on the phone within twenty minutes, asking if we'd arrived yet. We hadn't told anybody where we were going, apart from the guy at the Country Hotel where we had lunch. Word travels fast.
We suggested that they should promote the place to passing cyclists like us, as a haven to rest and get their feet back on the ground. It's an attraction in its own right, this. It's also a brilliant way to see how the country is getting on its own feet in spite of the best efforts of the outgoing regime to rob them. By focusing on the people, they ensure that the money and benefits go where they really belong.