Kawkareik to Kinpun
We were bemused and lost as we rolled into Kawkareik. Foreigners are not allowed to camp in Myanmar and instead must stay at foreigner licensed hotels or guest houses. As a cycle tourist this means ensuring there actually is legal accommodation within a day’s cycling distance. Unlike our previous months on the road, if we become tired or sore we can not choose to stop, relax and…..drink beer. Beer is plentiful in Myanmar, and well deserved at the end of each hot day, but we have to make our next guesthouse. We are aware of cyclists forced to take transport by the police when accommodation is not within reach. We also had to alter our route, due to restricted areas, lack of permits and red tape. We became resigned to the fact we would need to hop on buses to ensure we visit as much as possible in a country where the distances between sights can be very large.
So back to Kawkareik….It does not take us long to be rescued by a man on a motorbike who we are invited to follow to our destination, the “Honey Guest House”. A cold bucket shower (heaven) and no electricity for the entire town until 6pm….then our new friend Ko Htwe collects us, this time, in a car to give us a tour of the town, invites us into his house to meet his family followed by a meal at his favourite restaurant. In the morning we return for breakfast and advice on the road ahead before a fond farewell with even more food gifted for the journey. It is also Chinese New Year so we weave out of town amidst the small colourful procession of dragons, lions and drummers…..and exhausted nearing our destination, more drummers, beats spurring us on the final few kilometres. We fell lucky and filled with prosperity.
119km to Mawlamyine. No choice of shorter routes or to quietly amble. We have done days this long in Europe on good roads, but generally prefer sub 100km days to really enjoy the experience. The next licensed accommodation is here….or take the slightly, ever so slightly shorter road, at 70km a Y junction to Hpa-an. The road was fine….we wondered what all the fuss was about, having been warned of the poor condition of Myanmar roads…..until the final 40 kilometres, 42 degrees, sweaty bum….sore bum, the road again deteriorated and we bumped along painfully and exhausted. This was by far the worst “bitumen” stretch of road in 11 months of cycling…. in reference to comfort. Yet not many large vehicles were stupid enough to transverse this road and we felt quite safe avoiding collisions. We rode in the centre of the road as it was marginally smoother. We arrived in the dark, having crossed several long bridges where the boards were laid parallel to our direction of travel and just a wide enough gap to snag a tyre and come acropper. Li was extremely unimpressed but the sunset views over the Thalween river made up for it. We check into the first hotel we come across, hoping to move into cheaper digs in the daylight.
I am thankful for the offer of a motorcycle ride the next day when I go back to collect Li during a change of guest houses. The “Breeze Guest house” was far more basic and sparse than “Than Lwin Hotel” but we made the move due to cost and sincere hospitality including a wealth of freely given information.
Another day, another road side stall and I am enthralled by the simplicity of a handcrafted bottle opener made from a rusty bolt and scrap of timber. I ask to swap it for my fancy metal one. I am given the bottle opener as a gift while mine is only accepted after much pleading from myself.
The days begin to bleed into each other. One day feels like a week, there is so much to see, experience….and this just from the bicycle, small villages, farms and many days riding between the major tourist destinations.
We meet Ellen and Yann, 2 Belgian cycle tourists, find we have more in common than beer….lots of beer….ok…after beer….yes we all like the local whisky too….and of course cycling in common. Staying at the same guesthouse in Thaton, Greg another Belgian turned up.
Despite hangovers and a desire to stay in this vibrant town we agreed to cycle together the next morning. It was an enjoyable change to have company. So we loaded our 5 bikes, had breakfast together, watch the monks, the women road workers, the children…..too young to work, a child of 5 moving the bamboo road block barrier, to allow entry for a motorcycle. We watch, we contemplate our lives, the world at large, then pedal off into the unfamiliar…..and the roads remain remarkably good considering the laborious task undertaken by a predominately female work force. Stones are crushed by hand and carted on trays on top of their heads. Even the bitumen is mixed manually and potholes filled and smoothed, without the used of tools or machines.
From Thaton we ride 82km to Kinpun basecamp to visit the Golden Rock Pagoda. The 5 of us are shocked…..after relative solitude….we have hit one of Myanmar’s tourist hotspots..
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