Finally open, Myanmar motorcycle tours are truly special.
Bagan, truly gob-smacking beauty
A quick BBQ pork brick in Mae Sariang on the way down there
Early morning start, everyone ready for the border crossing into Myanmar
Exit Thai Customs paperwork had all been processed the night before to speed up our Thailand exit
A bit of jumping through hoops and we all exited Thailand pretty quickly and onwards to the Mywadaddy, Myanmar international border
Our Myanmar fixer, lets hope he’s got it all under control
Depending on your group size, it takes around an hour to process the Myanmar entry. West of Mywadaddy the road is one way on alternate days westwards over the mountain. The road is nasty! Lines of trucks that you you have to overtake on a rubbley, single lane mountain road, it’s quite a work out.
Over the worst and having a break – we made it!
Our first Myanmar pump, the bright orange bikes caused quite a stir with the locals
White and red ones too
Completely different to all other regions for sure
A quick stop to get some Myanmar money, great to see ethnic, tribal dress
Lunch – how the hell did they get the pagoda’s up there??
Ten’s Kawasaki Versys 1000 – he likes it a lot, not a lot of ground clearance though.
A long first day in Myanmar, we were all fried, great to make our destination
Kyaik Hto Township, Mon State
Lots of power cuts in Myanmar, it’s just one of those things
Traditional tribal dress was worn just for us
DRZ 400’s throttle had been playing up, Glenn’s an ex-superb technician (Rolls Royce) …so time to take a look
Kevin’s radiator bracket had broken, it’s awfully close to the exhaust and was a worry. A cut piece of wood with wire ties to keep the two apart might do the job.
Ken giving the Multistrada its daily bath
The town of Kyaik-Hto makes the perfect base to go explore the big, golden rock perched on the top of the mountain, Kyaik-Hti-Yoe. The only way up is in open topped trucks, they are ALL owned by one man. This is one of the most sacred places in Myanmar.
From the top its still quite a trek, bag carriers touting for business
You can be carried
Which was Keith’s choice
Everything is carried on the head here
A piece of cloth on top of the head spreads the load
There’s a hotel right at the top, looks like maybe some things are too heavy for neck compression
All memorized by the complete change in ethnic people, it took us a while to get to the rock, you need about 4 hours to complete this trip.
Around the bend and out first view of Kyaik-Hti-Yoe, sherpa’s scurrying around from the hotel near the summit
It’s one of the most unusual natural things you’ll ever see
The legend associated with the pagoda is that the Buddha, on one of his many visits, gave a strand of his hair to Taik Tha, a hermit. The hermit, who had tucked it in the tuft of his hair safely, in turn gave the strand to the king, with the wish that the hair be enshrined in a boulder shaped like the hermit’s head. The king had inherited supernatural powers from his fatherZawgyi, a proficient alchemist), and his mother, a naga serpent dragon princess. They found the rock at the bottom of the sea. With the help of the Thagyamin, the king of Tawadeintha Heaven in Buddhist cosmology, found the perfect place at Kyaiktiyo for locating the golden rock and built a pagoda, where the strand was enshrined. It is this strand of hair that, according to the legend, prevents the rock from tumbling down the hill. The boat, which was used to transport the rock, turned into a stone. This is also worshiped by pilgrims at a location about 300 metres (980 ft) from the golden rock. It is known as the Kyaukthanban Pagoda or stupa (literal meaning: stone boat stupa).
Legends also mention that pilgrims undertaking the pilgrimage by trekking from the Kinpun base camp three times consecutively in a year will be blessed with wealth and recognition.
The boulder, which gleams golden and popularly known as the Golden Rock on which the small Kyaiktiyo Pagoda has been built, is about 25 feet (7.6 m) in height and has a circumference of 50 feet (15 m). The Pagoda above the rock is about 7.3 metres (24 ft) in height. The boulder sits on a natural rock platform that appears to have been naturally formed to act as the base to build the pagoda. This granite boulder lies on an inclined plane and the area of contact is extremely small. The golden rock or boulder and the rock table on which it is resting are independent of each other; the golden rock has an overhang of half its length and is perched at the extreme end of the sloping surface of the rock. There is a sheer vertical drop in the rock face, into the valley below. A lotus shape is painted in gold leaf, encircling the base of the rock. It appears as though the boulder will crash down at any moment. A staircase leads to the pagoda complex that houses several viewing platforms, pagodas, Buddhashrines, and Nat (spirit) (spirits worshipped in Burma in conjunction with Buddhism shrines). However, the Golden Rock is the main attraction for the pilgrims who offer prayers and also stick golden leaves on the rock in reverence. A short distance away, there is a circle of gongs with four statues of nats and angels in the centre.
A main square close to the golden rock has many establishments that deal in religious paraphernalia for worship and offerings made by the pilgrims. Adjoining the plaza area is the Potemkin village where restaurants, gift shops, and guest houses are located. A new terrace has been built at a lower level from which visitors can get a good view of the rock and the pagoda.
Kyaiktiyo Pagoda or Golden Rock has become a popular pilgrimage and also tourist attraction. At the peak of the pilgrimage season, during November to March, an atmosphere of devotion is witnessed at Kyaikhtiyo pagoda. As the golden rock gleams in different shades from dawn to dusk (the sight at dawn and at sunset are unique), pilgrims’ chants reverberate in the precincts of the shrine. Lighting of candles, meditation and offerings to the Buddha continues throughout the night. Men cross over a bridge across an abyss to affix golden leaves (square in shape) on the face of the Golden Rock, in deep veneration. However, women are not allowed to touch the rock so cannot cross the bridge. Pilgrims visit the pagoda, from all regions of Myanmar; a few foreign tourists also visit the pagoda. Even disabled persons who are staunch devotees of Buddha visit the pagoda, walking up the track on crutches. Old people, who can not climb, are carried on stretchers by porters to the Pagoda to offer prayers to Buddha. The Full Moon day of Tabaung in March, is a special occasion for pilgrims who visit the shrine. On this day, the platform of the pagoda is lighted with ninety thousand candles as reverential offering to the Lord Buddha. The devotees visiting the pagoda also offer fruits, food and incense to the Buddha.
Women are not allowed to touch the rock, up untl about five years ago, you were allowed to push on it and some say you could feel vibrations of it moving, now this is forbidden
It looks like it could fall at any moment
Only a tiny area of the rock actually makes contact with the mountain, its quite amazing
Pilgrims add gold leaf to the stone which can be bought at a daily gold market price at the top of the mountain. Here Eddie, Kevin & Glen adding some bling.
It’s carefully watched
Food in Myanmar is very oily. It’s quite easy to get fried noodles and fried rice etc…. meat quality varies a lot
One more rock photo
Huge, huge traffic jam, what the hell could this be?
Turned out to be a nasty truck crash, we might be here for a long time
Bicycle’s are the main mode of transport in Myanmar, you can carry anything
The odd Chinese copy enduro bike scattered around too
All split up, time for some re-grouping
Beetle nut wraps, hugely popular in Myanmar
A late arrival in Naypyidaw , we were all tired and glad to be there in one piece
The next morning, a visit to the Oat-Pa-Pat-Taian-Ti Pagoda in Naypyidaw, first a quick picture of this beautiful building
This is quite a Pagoda ( Oat-Pa-Pat-Taian-Ti Pagoda)
Onwards north west towards Bagan, a public telephone along the way
Military trucks lined the streets, this was probably a convoy for personnel change over
The tire changer
4 riders bought knives from this chap, he was having a good day
We ask the farmer what he grows here. He told us it changes every year, he tries to foresee what there will be a demand for and adapts to that
Then to the palm liquor and peanut oil farm
The peanuts are ground by the huge branch and the oil captured below
He seemed pretty well cared for and looked happy
Palm oil liquor – 60% proof!!
Up he goes to get some more palm oil
50 meters up and hanging on just with one leg
The palm oil is best quality in the mornings, its then distilled (1st fermentation with sticky rice)
Sugar from the evaporated remains
The palm oil in the background being fermented with sticky rice before distillation
Som giving some of the limonia acidissima a shot
Cutting the course food for the cow
We made Bagan just in time for sunset, here at the Bagan Riverside Hotel
A spectacular Bagan sunset
The next day, Bagan Pagoda’s …..
From the 9th to 13th Centuries, Bagan was the capital of Burma (Myanmar)., over 10,000 Pagoda’s had been built in the region, around 2,200 survive today. In 1287 AD the Bagan / Pagan empire collapsed due to Mongolian invasions.
14th to 19th centuries
Bagan survived into the 15th century as a human settlement, and as a pilgrimage destination throughout the imperial period. A smaller number of “new and impressive” religious monuments still went up to the mid-15th century but afterward, new temple constructions slowed to a trickle with less than 200 temples built between the 15th and 20th centuries.The old capital remained a pilgrimage destination but pilgrimage was focused only on “a score or so” most prominent temples out of the thousands such as the Ananda, theShwezigon, the Sulamani, the Htilominlo, the Dhammayazika, and a few other temples along an ancient road. The rest—thousands of less famous, out-of-the-way temples—fell into disrepair, and most did not survive the test of time.
For the few dozen temples that were regularly patronized, the continued patronage meant regular upkeep as well as architectural additions donated by the devotees. Many temples were repainted with new frescoes on top of their original Pagan era ones, or fitted with new Buddha statutes. Then came a series of state-sponsored “systematic” renovations in theKonbaung period (1752–1885), which by and large were not true to the original designs—some finished with “a rude plastered surface, scratched without taste, art or result”. The interiors of some temples were also whitewashed, such as the Thatbyinnyu and the Ananda. Many painted inscriptions and even murals were added in this period.
20th century to presentThe original Bupaya seen here in 1868 was completely destroyed by the 1975 earthquake. A new pagoda in the original shape, but gilded, has been rebuilt.
Bagan, located in an active earthquake zone, had suffered from many earthquakes over the ages, with over 400 recorded earthquakes between 1904 and 1975. The last major earthquake came on 8 July 1975, reaching 8 MM in Bagan and Myinkaba, and 7 MM inNyaung-U. The quake damaged many temples, in many cases, such as the Bupaya, severely and irreparably. Today, 2229 temples and pagodas remain.
Many of these damaged pagodas underwent restorations in the 1990s by the military government, which sought to make Bagan an international tourist destination. However, the restoration efforts instead drew widespread condemnation from art historians and preservationists worldwide. Critics are aghast that the restorations paid little attention to original architectural styles, and used modern materials, and that the government has also established a golf course, a paved highway, and built a 61-meter (200-foot) watchtower. Although the government believed that the ancient capital’s hundreds of (unrestored) temples and large corpus of stone inscriptions were more than sufficient to win the designation of UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city has not been so designated, allegedly mainly on account of the restorations.
Bagan today is a main tourist destination in the country’s nascent tourism industry, which has long been the target of various boycott campaigns. The majority of over 300,000 international tourists to the country in 2011 are believed to have also visited Bagan. Several Burmese publications note that the city’s small tourism infrastructure will have to expand rapidly even to meet a modest pickup in tourism in the following years.
Source : Wiki
We weren’t sure if they were going to let us take the motorcycles into the Pagoda areas, we managed to get permission.
If you love your motorbike, this has got to be one of the best places in the world to get some photo’s of it!
Managed to convince the Myanmar lady to sit on the bike, she was terrified it would fall on her
Bagan is definitely something you must see in your lifetime, one of the most amazing places i’ve ever been.
On the way to Pyay, a huge expanse of riverbed that’s used for farming in the NE Monsoon, would be interesting to see this in September
Oil rigs in the background
Look no hands
The bike carnage started, Ken’s Multistrada got a front puncture, he had the tubeless repair kit and knew how to use it
He has the HF radio connection system from the pressure sensors on the tire valves that communicate with his Garmin Zumo warning of low tire pressure, 1st time ive ridden with someone that actually has utilized this
You can see one of the pressure sensors on the valve below that communicates with the Garmin Zumo GPS
Sweet and sour shrimp and fried vegetables, while ken fixes the flat, as you can see the food in Myanmar is quite good
Pressure wasn’t holding, bubbling when you spat on the repair, now for a bigger piece of wax string to block the hole
Ninja turtle assisting
Its quite horrifying the size of the hole that you make in the tire for the repair, but it does work
This time everything good
Glenn then got a rear flat
Then my exhaust bracket snapped, a day of carnage
I think everyone was relieved to reach the hotel riding
Rooms are typically the same setup. Lots of Chalet style rooms in most bigger towns with an adequate breakfast
Up bright and early and off to Bago
A bit of cultural dancing from the previous night
Watermelon is for sale everywhere
Glenn on his KTM 990 Adventure S (longer suspension)
Eddie on his
Out of nowhere, an Australian chap on a Royal Enfield comes plodding around the corner. he said he was on his own, how the hell did he do that? He said it took 2 years of paperwork and he was associated with an NGO working in Myanmar.
Bago was an older hotel but rooms were clean
The next day, waiting to re-group, Kevin killing some time on his KTM 690 Enduro
Off towards Mawlamyaing we go, approx. 250km, more watermelon
One of the more interesting toilets we’ve seen riding
Not sure i’d be eating the fish from here
One of the few trains we actually saw on the whole trip
This fella was keen to have his photo taken, quite a character
Making good time, we stop at the golden Kambawzathardi Temple
Quite a spectacular temple
Fuel was cheaper than Thailand, 92 Octane is available everywhere, all the bigger pumps had 98 octane too
They were not many quality bikes around we stumbled on this one at a Burmese tea shop
Don’t miss out on the Burmese tea shops, they are fantastic
I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know what this means
A very unusual Pagoda on the way south
Still making good time, a visit to a local school in Mawlamyaing
Across the bridge and into Mawlamyaing
There’s a lot of Colonial history in Mawlamyaing the British “twinned” it with London in around 1826
Mawlamyine was the first capital of British Burma between 1826 and 1852 after theTanintharyi (Tenassarim) coast, along with Arakan, was ceded to Britain under the Treaty of Yandabo at the end of the First Anglo-Burmese War.
It is probably best known to English speakers through the opening lines of Rudyard Kipling‘s poem Mandalay:
“By the old Moulmein pagodaLookin’ lazy at the seaThere’s a Burma girl a-settin’and I know she thinks o’ me”.Mawlamyine is also the setting of George Orwell‘s famous 1936 memoir Shooting an Elephant. The essay opens with the striking words:
“In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people—the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me.”During colonial times, Moulmein had a substantial Anglo-Burmesepopulation; an area of the city was known as ‘Little England’ due to the large Anglo-Burmese community, many of them running rubber plantations; nowadays, this has dwindled to a handful of families as most have left for the UK or Australia.
The Strand Hotel is your best bet here, on the water and in town with safe parking for the bikes
This was the only place we had half decent internet speed, be aware Myanmar internet speed is incredibly slow
There was a different look to the locals here, more Indian. Being one of the ancient trading ports you get the fascinating mish mash of cultures
Glenn’s bike had some starting issues, we think it was a fuel hydro lock / pressure from being left in the sun, after his day didnt happen again
We had some options the next day, the same road back to Mywadaddy or “the dirt” way across some unusual bridges, everyone voted for “the dirt” way.
Petrol tank on a city tuk tuk
We’d been told about the dangerous iron stripped suspension brides, when wet lethal. It really strange sensation riding on them with the gaps so big, a bicycle tire would fit through the gaps. We had been told that the strip design was from the old landing craft bridges but can’t confirm this.
The Thanlwin River, eastwards into Kayin State
The dirt road was incredibly dusty, a few bumpy, rocky sections, but no evelavation
It wanted to eat bikes. I got a flat from a nail and shredded a tube
We managed to get the wheel to a village, we had no idea how far away or how long it would take
In about an hour it was back
Steve testing if he could pick the 1200 GS up
Next victim was Keith, he came off on a dusty hump back bridge and the Versys hit a pole, screen and panniers gone
A bit of lashing and we managed to get it back in place. The poor guy for the Myanmar Ministry of Tourism’s eyes we nearly popping out of his head, he couldnt believe all the carnage!
We could have bought some chickens while we were waiting
Next victim was the Versys 1000
Very low ground engine/ frame clearance on the Versys 1000. Tig’s center stand flapped down and caught on a rock on the dirt road. On the left hand side, the shock load of this, sheared off the left hand retaing bolts flush at the frame. The bigger problem was that these are the same bolts that hold the rear set assembly (footpeg & brake selector pedal) so they were now dangling by 1 bolt, which meant you couldnt change gear.
We managed to cut a huge branch, jam it between the rear set casting and snug with the frame. With some wire we had and wire ties we made a firm sold connection, it looked good and worked, the gear lever was operational again.
80km west of Mywadaddy there was a huge town a good place to re-group. We waited and waited for keith and the support car they didnt come something was up.
This was at the end of the dirt road I dont think many big bikes had been through here by there reactions
Sticky rice with coconut cooked in bamboo
The Nuns seem to where pink in Myanmar as opposed to white in Thailand
Horse and carts are still used everywhere
A couple of the guys went back to see what had happened. A car had pulled out on keith while he was overtaking, clipped his bike and we went down. With the state of the bike after the accident he wasn’t going slowly, the car didnt stop. The agent managed to arrange a truck and the truck would take the bike to the Mywadaddy international border crossing with Thailand (Mae Sot).
Som flattened the battery on the 990 Adv stalling the bike (piston ring issue, needs some rpm to keep the compression up at low speeds), we tried bump starting it but not enough traction on the gravel, ended up towing it behind the support car for a bump start and that worked, highly dangerous as the tow rope was too short (tied to the crash bar) & the driver couldnt hear me shouting stop, all fixed in the end and I rode the bike out.
We pushed onwards over the nasty Dawna Mountain Range. This again is the single lane broken road that runs in alternate directions one way on different days, its quite horrific, broken poweder, rocks and gravel with huge trucks for about 40km.
Finally back in Mywdaddy waiting for Keiths truck
About an hour and a half later the truck arrived with Keith’s bike
Now we had to figure out all the logistics of getting it into Thailand and to Chiang Mai
It was actually quite simple, permission was given for the truck to pass across the border into Mae Sot an unload the bike before the border closed. We then found a truck that would take the bike to Chiang mai for 6,000 bht (420km each way)
We made it! Every bike back In Mae Sot, Thailand!!
What was amusing EVERY bike had issues:
Kevin – KTM 690 Enduro : Broken radiator bracket, fixed with a wood wedge, wire ties and monel seizing wire
Eddie – KTM 990 Adv : Pannier box broke off on the way to Mae Sot before the trip, lashed on.
Steve – BMW 1200 gs : engine warning lights on, could not turn off, bike did ok though
Phil – Suzuki DRZ 400 SM : Battery too small had to be bump started every morning, once warm would start. Leak on fuel tank fuel cock. exhaust bracket snapped. Bike would cut out when standing, maybe side stand switch related or gear sensor position. Rear puncture.
Tig – Kawasaki Versys 1000 : Center stand sheared the bolts holding left rear set. Huge branch wedged in place with wire ties to hold rear set in place so he could change gear
Ken – Ducati Multistrada 1200 : Front puncture sealed on the second attempt for the rest of the trip
Som – KTM 990 Adv : Flat battery through the Dawna Mountain Range, needed bump start with a car.
Keith – Kawasaki Versys 650 : O ring drive chain, O rings fell off. Crashed and ripped off screen and panniers. Crashed again and did lots more damage, bike in truck.
Anjun – BMW 1200 gs : Front brake pads wore out. Knocked a cyclist off, no damage to his bike.
Glenn – KTM 990 Adv : Leaky front sprocket seal. Leaky oil sensor. Leaky head gasket (all minor manageable leaks). Fuel hydro lock starting issue one day
What can you say about riding in Myanmar?
You currently will only get your itineraries approved for the “middle” western section of Myanmar & the “corridor” from the Mae Sai, Thailand / Tachileik, Myanmar border north to Kengtung and the Chinese border. The second area is so small that for all the cost and paperwork it would not be worth it.
In Shan State you are currently forbidden to go east of Inle Lake and the city of Taunggyi. You can head south from Taunggyi to get to Loikaw.
Transiting Myanmar is now possible, although paperwork/ permissions in Sagaing province is still highly complicated (to exit Myanmar at Tamu into India). It would be possible to transit Myanmar in 4 days. From the Mywadday (Myanmar) / Mae Sot (Thailand) transit your evening stops would be:
2. Nay Pyi Taw
4.Tamu (Indian International Border)
Riding in Myanmar is dangerous, only 10-15 motorcycle tour groups have ever ridden in there so far (Som might be the first Thai lady to ever ride a big bike in Myanmar, Cheri for Singapore might have been the first female). They are not used to your speed or size, the most dangerous time is around 4-5pm, students on bicycles, people off to buy food and generally running around, it is one of the most dangerous countries ive ever ridden in.
Big, metal pannier boxes are a liability. They are wider than you and will catch on anything that is too close, with their sharp corners they are like fish hooks, you have far more chance of a deflection without them which might save you from crashing. Over the Dawna Mountain Range, judging gaps is much harder and splitting traffic often impossible. For most of the developing countries, I think they are a hindrance and so did the riders with them. The argument that they will protect you when you lay the bike down, I dont think holds merit. The Giant Loop “n” shaped bikes arrangement works excellently here.
Laws are that the bigger vehicle has to look out for the smaller vehicle in ALL circumstances, ALL. A bicycle doing a last second U-turn in front of you without looking, you kill him, it’s your fault. RIDE SLOW through villages and towns, 40km/h especially 4-5pm, it will save you having the reaction time to deal with events.
Myanmar motorcycle tours are one hell of a special cultural experience!
If you are interested in joining one of our Myanmar motorcycle tours then click on the link below: