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Myanmar: unveiling new roads (3MY1601)

Wednesday, February, 24nd, 2016 | Manuel Marabese | Asia

Day 10 and 11: Hpa-An - Sukhothai - Chiang Mai

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!

Day 9 - Bago to Hpa-An

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!

The daily superstar moment, posing with the hotel staff.
This old lady literally forced Glenn to pose for a portrait...
The entrance of Kaw Goon cave
The impressive Kyauk Ka Lat
Our last sunset in Myanmar.... good bye amazing country! Thank you for your warm hospitality.

Day 8 - Pyay to Bago

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. 

A classic - yet totally not touristic - gold-loaded sight: Paungde pagoda

Day 7 - Bagan to Pyay

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!

In Magway we stop by at the air force base to take a photo with a Mig-21 and one of their friendly Myanmar pilots. Our Canadian jet fighter pilot Gordon is very happy!
Listening to the interesting stories of our Myanmar guide Mo Mo.
Dinner with a nice ambience just outside of Pyay.

Day 6 - Mandalay to Bagan

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.

Tom finding a good deal for some souvenirs at the long teak bridge U-Bein
Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan: a giant gold-leafed stupa
One of the four standing Buddhas in the Ananda temple
The exterior decoration of Ananda, an architectonical masterpiece
The view over Bagan plain from the sunset temple
Gopro-Selfie time!
Good evening inspiring Bagan...

Day 5 - Inle Lake to Mandalay

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.

Old wooden monastery: young monks learning Buddha's principles
An astonishing temple constructed very recently: our Myanmar guide Mo Mo tells us that 15 years ago there was nothing here, just rocks
Alex posing with two cute local kids at a roadside fruit stall
End of the mountain part for a while, the plain of central Myanmar will mark our next four days
Frank taking a snapshot at Mandalay's Royal Palace

Day 4 - Resting and floating on Inle Lake

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.

Ready to sail!
Indein is every year busier... today we have to queue to get a spot on the pier!
Isn't this the perfect serenity?

Day 3 - Mine Pine to 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!

Sunrise start today
How to transform a passenger minivan...
Into a maxi cargo van!
Giant red cotton silk tree
Amazing karst background over a tranquil river bay
Whenever we stop at a gas station we are welcomed as superstars!

Day 2 - Tachileik to Mine Pine

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...).

Not much electricity... but a rusty satellite antenna!
Coffee time!
Keng tung market
Yep, some dusty parts...

Day 1 - Chiang Mai to Tachileik

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.

Wat Rong Khun, also known as The White Temple, just before Chiang Rai, is absolutely stunning.
Ooops... what have we done to have the police car with us?
Ah! It's the tourist police, they are gonna escort us through Tachileik to bring us safe to the hotel. Not that is really needed, but they are so happy to have us there that we easily become the event of the month.
And after a tedious border crossing, finally we enjoy a Myanmar sunset from the terrace of our hotel.
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