Myawaddy to Kawkareik

Myanmar….Burma?……we coast our bikes into Myawaddy, the poverty was immediately evident, and the notorious human and drug trafficking border town has a seedy, dangerous feel as the sun goes down and the majority of tourists….on a visa run….cross friendship bridge back into Thailand. Until August 2013 tourists were unable to travel further into the country from any land border and Myawaddy was a place to enter for 1 day only, before re entering Thailand to be granted another x amount of days Thai visa. During our visit the majority of people entering Burma were still doing “the visa run”. Yes it feels dangerous in that people are living on the edge, sandbag bunkers and soldiers, machine guns, crowds of people and very little street lighting as the rubbish piled up upon market streets and people prepared their meagre stalls for sleeping.
But the soldiers smiled, the men were curious, children stared, laughed and women beamed, all the more alluring decorated in their beautiful tanaka. (Paste that dries white to golden which is ground from branches of a tree and applied to the skin for both sun protection and make up.)
The Thai people rarely stare but entering Myanmar where people are less reserved, we are back to being the travelling circus. But it is a comfortable curiosity, friendly…and very quickly we feel safe and welcome. 11 kilometres out of town we come to our first police check point, a chaotic place full of trucks and food stalls. We are guided to the guard who needs to check our passports. We discover quickly that the people are more than willing to help and even in the smallest villages there is always someone that can speak at the least a few words of English. There are many knowledgable people, knowledgable about the world at large despite years of oppression and subjugation. People also instruct on how to avoid the fees at tourist traps, fees that will go to the Government and unlikely to go to the people.
The next police check we are given cans of red bull as we wait for the police to complete the necessary paperwork. As the road begins its upward journey, people at a road side stall beckon us over, give us coffee and refuse payment…..steeper….I am stopped by a truck and given another can of energy drink and cool water. The generosity of not just spirit, but peoples hard earned produce is challenging to one so fortunate.
Around 20 kilometres from Myawaddy the road begins to deteriorate and we understand why vehicles are only allowed to travel in one direction, the direction alternating each day. We see a truck overturned…..later a bus…. moments before having overtaken us….. on its side….and the walking wounded.
But the road is not too bad…. We have done worse in Georgia and Kazakhstan and I enjoy the ride…or at times the pushing over rocks and deep channels of sand.. We push past a traffic jam, cars, buses, trucks, vehicles for which I can not name….2 kilometres before we pass the broken down truck that is blocking the way….then a road all to ourselves for over an hour before the truck is repaired and the traffic slowly catches up. Pushing 3 kilometres upwards, then down because of the poor loose surface. The inclines are generally gentle and not too challenging as the temperature rises to a much more challenging 36 degrees. At around 40 kilometers we coast down slowly, avoiding creeping to close to the edge, avoiding the ruts and holes, stones, before the road flattens out. 66 kilometers to Kawkareik and we were almost as fast as the cars…taking broken down and overturned vehicles into consideration. We recognise vehicles passing us that we left behind at the beginning of the climb.
We pass 3 police check points between Myawaddy and Kawkareik. We are told to take it “slow and steady”. For me this ride proved to be my favourite cycle route within Myanmar, a relatively challenging ride with time to rest and enjoy what was incredibly picturesque, accompanied by beautiful hospitality and an area still relatively untouched by tourists.

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