We thought about skipping Myanmar, not only because of the Rohingya Crisis (which would have been more of a government boycott and not out of fear for our safety), but also because of actually biking around the country. Camping is illegal and the police are known to wake up campers in the middle of the night and move them along to the next town; but also because, as foreigners, we were only allowed to stay at specially licensed hotels, which could mean 30km between hotels or 200km between hotels.
I am so glad we went.
Here’s how our first few hours went:
We were stopped at a police checkpoint where the police gave us more bananas than we could carry and tried to give us more food!
Next, as we were cycling by a celebration for the opening of a new temple, I was probably looking miserable while biking up the steep hill, when all of a sudden members of the military (armed with giant guns and grenade launchers!) started pushing me up the hill! Then they gave us ice cream! Then we were given lunch and water!
We finally made it to our destination for the day where we knew we’d have to get a bus for the next 100km because of road construction. We looked around until we found a bus and we were told to go back at 2 o’clock. While waiting for our bus to leave, a woman found us at a coffee shop because, as the only English speaking person in the village, someone called her and told her we were there and she came by to see if we needed help! After chatting with her, we got on the bus and were the only two people on the greyhound style bus – it turned out the bus didn’t even stop in the city we needed, they were just being nice and dropped us off on their way through. This type of kindness was repeated daily over the next three weeks.
Because of the crazy distances between places where we were allowed to sleep, we decided to get a bus from Yangon to Inle Lake, cycle across to Mandalay and Bagan, and then get the train back to Yangon.
The bus journey started out with having our luggage loaded onto a bus until it was decided there wasn’t enough room for the bikes (in a place where we’ve seen motorbikes carrying other motorbikes on the back and even once a motorbike carrying a motorbike and a small fridge!) but somehow there was no room for our bikes under the giant bus, so we got put on another bus where I had to sit behind a man who spent the entire 12 hours HAWKING! It was an overnight bus and because of the blasting aircon, we were given blankets. At one point at what we thought was the middle of the night, the bus attendants were asking us for money for the toll into Inle Lake AND they wanted our blankets! We were half asleep and confused as to why no one else had to pay money, or more importantly, why no one else had to give up their blankets! It turned out we had arrived and they had to tell us several times to get off the bus while tearing our blankets out of our frozen hands!
Inle Lake was beautiful and we took a boat ride around the lake and stopped at a silver making workshop and a weaving workshop, which sounds lame, but was so impressive! There’s probably much more efficient ways of weaving, but the time and effort these ladies put into weaving is amazing.
From spinning thread from lotus plants:
To threading over 2000 individual pieces of thread by hand:
I realize this is really boring but I was amazed and also realized I will never want to be a weaver.
Here’s some scenic photos of the Inle Lake area:
We spent three days cycling to Mandalay which included a 30km and 1400m descent. It started out OK but then the road construction started and the road was sandy, rocky and being built by hand by men, women and children wearing flip flops, carrying rocks by hand and climbing and hammering precarioulsy from cliffs above the road. But here are some photos from that day!
We spent another two days cycling to Bagan. We somehow managed to drive past the toll for entering Bagan and avoided paying the $25 US fee!
Bagan impressed me more than I thought it would – there are over 2000 temples here! The big thing is to get up for sunrise photos. National Geographic posted this photo of Bagan on instagram today:
This is what our sunsrise photo looks like:
We didn’t have optimal sunrise conditions as it was a bit cloudy. We also didn’t have an optimal viewing point because we didn’t want to be asked for entry tickets. We are also shit photographers!
Myanmar is definitely the poorest country we’ve visited so far and cycling through small villages and even taking the train gave us a glimpse at how bad things are in some places. The most heartbreaking was seeing children lined up along the train tracks looking miserable, and they were just standing there hoping someone from the train would throw them money. One of the most shocking things we saw was a man watering a vegetable garden using a hose that led directly from the open sewer/canal and using his hand to direct the spray of the brown water.
We’ve been in India for a week now and will try and write an update soon because we already have some funny experiences.