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Bagan or Bust
The day before we left Burma, we woke up in the pitch dark and headed out in the early morning to catch one final sunrise.
This wasn't the easiest thing to do due to the lack of street lights. We had also disconnected our own lights to divert dynamo power to our USB charger, so we were riding by starlight and the dim headlamp of the odd passing motorbike. Romantic, but hairy.
It was well after 5 PM when we passed through the main city borders of Bagan.
We could scarcely believe it ourselves when the gates loomed ahead of us. It didn't seem possible that the last two and a half weeks, from the moment we left Berlin, arrived in Mae Sot, rode across the border into Burma, and went over and up through the country, were over.
We were never supposed to make it to Bagan today.
Because the last few rides had either been excruciatingly long and/or hilly without any reprieve, and because we also had a bit of time to play with, we had decided to give ourselves two easy days to split the 112km between Yenangyaung and Bagan.
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.
We've now been in Burma for two weeks, and we haven't yet tried the national breakfast dish. Time to rectify this frankly disgraceful state of affairs.
Mohinga is catfish soup with rice vermicelli, onions, lemongrass, garlic, chilli and lime, and it is delicious.
The taxi drivers that surrounded us were pointing at Jess and repeating the above phrase again and again.
We always knew that we wanted to use this middle bit as a chance to skip some of the more boring bits of Burma.
One of the first things we did in Pyay was get to the river pronto to see the sunset.
After watching this, can you blame us?
After breakfast cake at the Wei Wei Sar Sar Cafe (at this point, we were practically locals), we set off for our 90+k ride to Pyay.
Weather conditions were great, we felt full of beans, and the first 30k were an absolute breeze. We settled in for a beautiful rest of the day.
Then the bike started to play up.
When we first entered Gyobingauk, these subsequent thoughts entered our minds:
- There is only one main road that passes through this town and it ends after a couple hundred meters.
- There's got to be something better than the Paradise Guest House.
- Nope, there isn't and it's getting dark. Back towards it we go.
Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, after that short interruption to your regular service.
WE'RE BACK ON THE ROAD!
After taking the 1 PM train from Yangon (which was miraculously on time), we arrived in Letpadan a little after 5 in the evening.
The first thing we noticed was that we were definitely off the beaten track here. There was many a stare as we lumbered out of the tiny train station after assembling our bike back together.
Over the last few days, we've both come down with a second run (excuse the pun) of the skitters in as many weeks. We were half-dead of the norovirus as we left Berlin, and now, inevitably, we're sick again. Neil in particular has had a bad go of it, combined as it was with a cold, so to give him one more day to recover, we decided to take the train to Letpadan.
With the amount of gold leaf that covers the surface of Burma, you'd think it was the richest country in the world.
We've remarked here before about the contradictions inherent in the state of the towns. The ever-growing piles of plastic waste, the dust-covered shacks where people make their homes, the ravaged state of men's mouths from chewing betel juice...
...and the impeccable condition of the pagodas.
When we woke up the next morning in Yangon, we found ourselves surrounded by the usual big-city sounds of traffic, large crowds of people, and life happening. We could have been in Bangkok for all we knew. Then we looked outside the window and saw this across the street:
In retrospect, we should have known that this was not going to be an easy day.
Since it was going to be another dawn to dusk job, we woke up insanely early to get started. After a free breakfast of fried egg and rice at the hotel, we packed up and kicked off. The now-customary evening tinkering session had allowed us to sort out our slow puncture and out-of-step pedals, and we were fit and ready for anything.
If you happen to be in this part of the world, there is a fantastic rollercoaster that not too many people know about. It involves sitting in an open backed truck crammed to bursting with people, no safety equipment, and the threat of imminent death constantly at your doorstep. Oh, and you feel as if you're blind.
We're flying now. Up with the lark this morning so we would have time to get up the Eastern Yoma Mountains and see Kyaiktiyo, also known as the Golden Rock. This is Day 5 of our ride (excluding rest days), and we're getting stronger and fitter by the minute.
After a string of stays in the likes of Hpa-An and Mawlamyine, it was back to the start with the town of Thaton. Slightly bigger and exponentially more well-off than Kawkareik, Thaton used to be an important port town until the sea went away, leaving it high and dry and rather sleepy.