Our final leg of the tour crosses the imposing Dawna range, the mountain separating Myanmar from Thailand. On this main connection between the two countries we used to need about 4 hours for the 50km over the mountains. Now, with the newly opened highway AH1 that cruises along the valley we need only half an hour! What an improvement! After reaching Thailand we wander around the last temples of the tour (also last temples for the year, as someone said after having enough of them!) in the old capital Sukhothai. The last ride towards Chiang Mai is a leisurely highway partly on gentle hills with a bunch of good sweepers. Time to get your last Thai massage before flying out of this amazing Southeast Asia!
It's time to head east and going towards the border region with Thailand, which we are gonna cross tomorrow. Today we still have an entire day in Myanmar. Easy route, just half day mostly on good roads - it's impressive how quickly Myanmar is repaving its main connections, what a change from the first scouting tour in 2013! The destination is Hpa-An a less known town not on the usual tourist routes but full of interesting sights, just have a look at the photos!
Our compass is set to south for a while, until we leave the busy NH2 and we cruise through some backcountry fun roads directly into Bago, avoiding most of the suburban traffic around the metropolis Yangon - which we are not gonna visit because there the motorcycles are completely forbidden!
Bago has some very peculiar sights, like the two mastodontic reclining Buddhas. Both of them are apparently a thousand years old, but renovations make them look a bit more contemporary.
Quite a long ride ahead of us, 360km along the Ayeyarwaddy valley to reach Pyay, or Prome - as it was called until 1989. We try to keep a good pace and the stops short because if we arrive before sunset we can still spend some time visitig the impressive old stupas in Sri Ksetra, one of the only three - and it was the first - UNESCO site of Myanmar. Not even Bagan is listed under the World Heritage!
The main cultural highlight of the tour is about to come: Bagan and its 2.230 temples (there used to be more than the double in the past) built between the 8th and 11th century are by far the most famous sight in Myanmar. A 250km ride on good roads through Burmese countryside life brings us for an early check in in Bagan, leaving most fo the afternoon at our disposal for temple exploring.
Finally it's time to hit the Road to Mandalay! A name that is as mythical as it can get, for a town that has been for centuries an important hub between India, China, Myanmar and Thailand. We are avoiding most of the busy main road AH1 chosing istead a more interesting way across the mountains south of the city. Before arriving at the well earned hotel pool we stop for a photo along the mastodontic 10km old walls of the fortified last capital of the Burmese Kingdom.
What a day we had yesterday! A small delay during the morning did not let us get on time before sunset to the hotel in Inle Lake, so we had to ride through some crazy night traffic for the last half an hour. Uh, quite an experience! But today we can enjoy a relaxing day on a longtail boat exploring the beauty of Inle Lake.
The remote road NH4 (also known as AH2) unfolds in front of our eyes like a mytical carousel. Today is a very big ride: alarm at 5:30am, quick breakfast and at 6:30am go! We have 400km of challenging roads ahead of us, and we need to keep every break very short to get to Inle before dark.
Every corner is an adventure, as someone in the group said: you never know if there will be a sudden road work, or a patch or nasty sand over the asphalt, or a mad driver passing in a blind curve, a lazy cow taking a nap in the middle of the path or a scooter cutting lanes... Truly terrific!
What we have in front of us for the next two days is an immense excitement: the entire Shan state to be traversed. Remote mountain tribe villages that haven't got yet electricity and water, lush vegetation alternated with arid slopes, twisted roads that have been paved only very recently (and still lots of work in progress...).
The beginning of every tour in South East Asia is always full of excitement. The atmosphere of a place like Chiang Mai, up in northern Thailand, a true gateway to the remote mountain areas, is simply fabulous. Ray and Janet, Mac with his friend Tom, John and Alex, Gordon, Glenn, Frank and Manuel as tour guide are about to start a new adventure! This time the Myanmar tour is even more special, thanks to the very recent opening of the roads in Shat state, in the eastern part of the country. Until last year the heart of the Golden Triangle was forbidden to foreigners for safety reasons. However, we were granted some special permits in order to access it and ride our motorcycles through an area that only a few privileged travellers have had the chance to explore.