Welcome to the Learning Curve.

https://www.strava.com/activities/795958970

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Out the door and into the insanity. Its insanely good!

It seems that just putting your Tent anywhere in India is both not the done thing unless you are up in the mountains somewhere and also based on today, not easy to find a space. I can’t imagine anyone would really care though but I reckon on a serious amount of visitors. Rumours include, most will just stare silently ALL night, perhaps a little unnerving?

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Unlike Myanmar its ‘elbows out here’. Its not aggressive just essential if you want to move anywhere.

Last night Calcutta threw up a nice 600 rupee (£7) room. Super basic and just perfect and I’m reasoning that once I get out of this huge City it can only get cheaper. I don’t even need air-con, maybe an extra blanket even.

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More ‘just how I imagined’ and that sun warms up pretty quick.

The ladies & gents running the hotel are starting the day just perfectly with there excellent English and steady supply of milky sweet tea. Life is rosy. Seems sensible to ask where is the place you go for breakfast and what should I have. “End of the road and turn left Jason, you’ll find the Abdulla Cafe and I recommend the Winter special. Order a few Tandoori Roti’s and Beef Nahari.”

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No wonder this fella is so happy, firstly he is Indian and they are really friendly. Secondly I’ve given him a lift and paid for the pleasure. Ha! The balance is just perfect and its a lot easier than I imagined. Cheers fellas, that was fun!

“Oh and if you are wondering, we are Muslims, that’s why we are eating beef and this dish is spicy as well too warm you up in Wintertime, you wont get this in Summer or anywhere else, its a Kolkata/Bengal special”.

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No wonder the food tastes so good, all the ingredients are right here.

I forgot my camera but its a beautiful looking red/brown colour dish with 2 lumps of melt in your mouth beef, more sort of soup consistency and just the right amount of spice, more flavour, less fire. The roti is like our Naan, ive managed 4 and a kind of fried roti or two with dal inside. Ive got a new buddy, in fact 3 new buddies sharing my table and one who speaks great English and we’ve had a great chat but something tells me he has something else too say. For the record the first class breakfast comes in at a ridiculously cheap 40 rupee plus a 10 rupee tip. (about 60 pence).

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What a plonka. Its only when I have left I remembered this City was the Home of Mother Theresa and I have missed all that stuff but not the incredibly stunning Victoria memorial which took 15 years to build from Marble and is breath-taking. If you didn’t know, for a long time Calcutta was the Capital until it was transferred too New Delhi. What it means is the old colonial influence is everywhere.

Its correct, our business is not yet concluded. He asks me if he can give me his business card (Ive already learned he is a trainee clothes designer in the family business). “Follow me Jason, I’ll get you a business card”. It all smells of an opportunity to sell me stuff. Its not an uncomfortable feeling following him into some windy dingy underground passages and its a kind of retail outlet with some nice looking craft sort of stuff for sale.

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Here is the winner of the Chinmoy Batbyal Cup. Its a 7km bicycle race. I don’t know much more because we don’t have a shared language, unless you include the international language of ‘nice bike mate & congratulations’

I’ve never been much into retail therapy and its simple to explain that I just don’t have room for stuff. “Do you like to smoke Jason? You know SMOKE?” which would have benefitted from a nudge nudge wink wink “we have some nice Hashish”. Well, when in Rome and all that.

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Genuinely super nice people. I didn’t even have to ask. He stopped and asked “Hey Mister, would you like a photo” I’m not totally confident with shoving the camera in random peoples faces yet but feeling more confident because of people like this.

So maybe 10inches of licorice stick sized Hashish wrapped in a beautiful red cloth with gold edges is presented and its suggested we retire to the rear office, its haggle time. “So if I get caught with this what’s gonna happen?” I’ve asked “For you Jason, as a tourist, nothing. Its the dealers that get nicked”.

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The Hooghly rivers runs right through the City.

I’m used to being seen as a money opportunity, its kinda fair enough but no amount of haggling is going on here and £80 is just too much and his reasoning that its the same money as the Uk doesn’t cut any slack with me.

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THE Cycle couriers are friendly, hard working and useful to follow as they weave in and out of the traffic almost effortlessly.

I’ve already been invited twice for a sneaky smoke by passers by, but riding through Calcutta stoned ain’t no plan. Anyway the point is I’ve been warned that friendliness is often a mask for more in India but someone’s always selling something wherever you are in the world and we’ve gone for a chai after. Seems to me you can be nice and a salesman.

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Ahhhh, there we have it, the famous lines of people waiting for cash! Apparently by the 15th of December restrictions on amounts withdrawn will be restricted. The locals are less than impressed by what’s happened.

Yep Calcutta is supremely amazing and a big slow stop – start journey to leave. Strange thing is the traffic is definitely bonkers with a large amount of ‘no rules’ but I’ve been in hairier places. Ho Chi Min City & Tehran for example. Its a close run thing though but its so much fun as it always is.

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The Howrah bridge is an impressive Cantilever bridge commissioned in 1943.

So here I am right now with today’s big mystery. Its a kind of dull main road but with huge amounts of food for the eyes ALL the way. And the mystery is this. I’m seeing plenty of suitably cheap looking ‘Hotels’, that’s what the sign says, but when enquiring about rooms I’m told we have no rooms. “do you mean you are full” I’ve asked each time but it seems that ‘Hotel’ means usually food, not beds?

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Colourful India leaves me speechless.

For sure the English is a lot thinner here so I just can’t get too the bottom of where I will find rooms and so when at just before 5pm I’ve been ambushed by darkness and the biggest most beautiful huge sun and sunset I’m left with one very shiny and expensive looking actual Hotel. I get this feeling because underneath the neon ‘Hotel’ sign, also in neon is the proud statement ‘ISO 9000 & 9001 standard.’

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The 3rd Test v England starts tomorrow. Maybe this is the future of India’s all conquering Test side?

The 24hr food is more restaurant than street and at about £3 for a meal is by no means expensive and tonight’s Korma is outstanding and served with super attentive and very friendly Indian hospitality and I’ve probably been introduced to every Local, who are all extremely excited (and quietly confident) about tomorrow’s 3rd Test against England.

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Stop moving for just a moment and the crowd will grow very quickly. We are all speechless but enjoying each others smiles. Did I mention the Indians are very friendly and curious?

Hmm.. £17 is a budget buster (and that’s after some negotiations from the original price of £30 quoted). Gonna have to suss this one out or I could be on the football pitch tomorrow night. After all, “Welcome too India’ has been shouted as I’ve passed many of them today and the grass is a nicely cut length. Nothing wrong with a bit if grass eh?

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Another day is over and its been just incredible again…. This is India, and although I’ve got a banging headache from constant traffic and blowing of horns its like nothing else.

Tonight’s plan. Go and watch the Bollywood film on the TV outside with a load of Indians and tomorrow morning get on the road early, find that Hotel early and sit outside and just people watch. Thanks India, you are incredible!

Getting things done in Kolkata

“COME ON AND GET IT” I will, this is how I feel riding my bicycle. Everyday.
https://www.strava.com/activities/794837729

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How much is a brew in India? Starts from 5 Rupee (its about 5 pence) Its cold, notice the Locals wrapped up. Maybe 10c is the figure I have just been given. Its about 6am here.

This could be a review of Asian transit lounges and a quick one goes like this. Yangon- 12hrs. great food/wifi bright lights and pretty peaceful at night. Bangkok 24hrs ok food/great wifi, super busy and noisy all night. Kuala Lumpur 16hrs Great Food/wifi very modern and comfortable carpets. Kolkata. 6hrs No wifi, very cheap tea and could have slept anywhere at this point because I’m properly knackered and its cold at night.
You can’t stay tired in India for long though. Maybe 25 Indians have made a semi-circle around me and are just watching. Not so easy slipping into your Lycra with a crowd but my sleeping bag helps my modesty.

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Lining up the challenges for the India Cycle touring adventure.

3 tasks today. 2 are critical and one is going to be useful but maybe can wait.

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Its looking and feeling just like in my dreams.

I have to say thank you yet again to Air Asia who have loaded my bike onto 3 separate planes and delivered her perfectly for assembly in Kolkata arrivals yet again (with a huge audience of course). No matter how I pack my bike wether its just shrink wrap (I like this method, in my mind the baggage handlers can see exactly what they are moving and in theory will therefore not stack it under a load of suitcases) or in this case a box from a local bike shop you have to sign a form that says “If we bust your bike it ain’t our responsibility because we consider it to be fragile” I always get a bit jumpy until I see her again.

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Add these too the mix. Beautiful, crazy and everywhere.

She fits together like a dream except for the completely useless running gear(that’s not Air Asia’s fault) . Even on the flat the chain slips and crunches, it really is unrideable. Ive been in touch with the local Kolkata bike clubs who have told me head to Giant Starken retailer who have a very smart website and shops all over India and a “we stock everything” boast.

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Add a large spoonful of these.

To cut a long story short, they very nearly do but the small chain ring in this smart but tiny shop) ring is a no. Even the maybe 20 other ‘old school’ bike shops in this street cannot help and I’m feeling a little worried. If this huge city doesn’t have parts I’m gonna be screwed. BUT a new rear mech does the trick. I knew it had some play but its not until I compare it to one on a rather nice Giant defy I realise mine is completely trashed and suddenly the gear change on my new Long cage rear mech (I can now use a 34t cassette on the rear which is better for climbing) is a near as dammit perfect and Ill worry about the chain ring later.

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And a garnish of these. Ride where you like, when you like and pray and really enjoy it but also feel a little nervous.

Job two is getting to the bottom of getting cash from Indian ATM’s. The recent overnight withdrawal of two Indian bank notes reportedly leaves the Indian banking system in chaos with maybe 60% of ATM’s without cash and ridiculously long queues (as people swap the now defunct notes and withdraw replacement’s) allegedly taking up to a day and even stories of deaths in the heat plus a daily withdrawal of just 2000 rupees (about £23 plus about £7 bank fees).

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Don’t forget to add people absolutely everywhere.

This is all going to be a very expensive pain and initially it proves correct.

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And remember that if you are in a vehicle its customary to blow your horn continuously.

“No Cash” signs are on every ATM and I’m wishing for just 2000 rupees but as the sun goes down a Deutsch Bank appears and although I’m not hopeful it turns out that people with Non Indian accounts can withdraw what they like.

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Keeping clean in downtown Kolkata (Calcutta)

This bank recognises that its gonna be expensive for us tourists getting big charges every time and job two is mission accomplished.

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18 pence for my very first Indian food and they keep on topping it up and its superb if a little low on hygiene. So far my guts feel great and its the way ahead! Happy Days!

I can’t help but feel sorry for the Indians who must be having a nightmare and wandering out with a large wad of cash feels a bit cheeky.

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On the last leg of the flight into India I asked the air hostess “Can I have one of those that lady has over there, it looks delicious” They were out of stock but even though I spoke quietly 3 of the almost 100% Indian passengers overheard and immediately offered (and wouldn’t refuse) me there food. This fella has offered me maybe my 15th cuppa on the way into Kolkata.

Last job is a SIM card. Free wifi looks a bit unlikely so far, so in a kind of as expected ‘Indian bureaucracy’ moment I get a copy of my Visa, A passport photo and a local who agrees to be my ‘reference’ and patiently waits and translates as we fill and sign multiple forms for a pay as you go SIM.

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How many helpers do you need to swap out your rear mech? This many. It took me just 15minutes to complete the task and she is running smoooooooth!

Yep. I’m ready too ride and absolutely loving India. Its possible the insane amount of traffic and sheer number of people may prove a little wearing at some points (this is what I’ve been told by other cyclists)but I’m 100% gonna enjoy every moment because if you come here for peace you are clearly in the wrong country.

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My chief assistants were happy to hold the rear wheel off the ground whilst I adjusted the gears.

Already very very in Love. And mystified and dirty and feeling 110% alive. My India dream starts here.

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It might take some time getting out of the City tomorrow . 6 months of India coming up.

Leaving in a box

I can’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment that I won’t make the India border crossing, especially as I have just met a British Cyclist who made the crossing from India just two weeks ago. Maybe he was just lucky but its not to be and you cannot stay without a smile in Yangon, a wide open ear to ear smile for long.

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“I have never ceased to be moved by the sense of the world lying quiescent and vulnerable, just waiting to be awakened by the light of the new day quivering just beyond the horizon.” Aung San Suu Kyi – Letters from Burma. 

Who else would be appropriate to put that very special Myanmar morning feeling into some real words and the view over the city at 6am is on par with Istanbul and Sarajevo. For sure change is coming and a few tall buildings are appearing but this is still very much an authentic City and pretty unspoilt.

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“There is a special charm to Journeys undertaken before daybreak in hot lands: the air is soft and cool and the coming of dawn reveals a landscape fresh from the night dew”.                     Aung San Suu Kyi – Letters from Burma (somewhere she mentions the burning heat when the the Sun has risen)

Catch the ferry to the other side and you are out of the city and almost back into the rural life just like that.

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Its still early and Yangon’s roads are yet to become snarled up with huge volumes of traffic. This is a typical bus with the ‘conductor’ hanging out of the bus, calling out his destinations and gently scooping up passengers with an arm across the back giving that lift needed to make the step onto the sometimes (but always slowly) moving bus.

For me jumping on my bicycle is the way ahead and with almost limitless streets to ride up and down a different experience is guaranteed every time. A bicycle is surprisingly pretty rare here and scooters are banned in the city centre. A number of possible stories why include a General from back in the day feared that he would be an easy target for assassins on scooters or more simply one had been hit by a scooter and decided as a result to ban them from the city centre. The trishaw riders are in decline as car ownership increases ,although a Taxi seems possible the most pointless choice its all so busy and walking just feels quicker. But the trishaw riders are of course interested in my really tired and currently very broken ride which is still by a longshot a very modern machine in comparison and its easy to spend time just enjoying each others company and anyone else in the street who wanders over. I’m looking for a rear mech and small chain ring in the street that specialises in all things bicycle. Neither are available here but time spent with the tiny shops that sell the most basic spares, most of which is recycled is just the happiest time. Even an expat out of the city centre who has the closest thing to a bicycle shop as I imagine can’t help. For now a new chain is the best option and it’ll be a limp to somewhere out of Myanmar with the most gentle pedalling just to keep the chain on the rings.  And the fact is I would have slogged on to the India border regardless but its 700 miles from here and at least a 1000 further to Calcutta from the border. It just would not be happening. Its mountainous at the border so that’s that. Its fate.

 

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Make the most of those empty roads… And say Hi to the Trishaw drivers. 2 passengers will be squeezed onto here, one looking forward and one backwards.

Everyone at my hostel is unanimous in agreeing that the Burmese are THE nicest people on this planet. In fact a recent BBC article put them up there and rightly so.  For sure the Vietnamese have an entirely different culture of education & prosperity and the sales tactics along with the wrong parts of Thailand and Bali for example are pretty wearing and of course totally understandable but here in Myanmar its just not happening. Maybe its the mostly Buddhist population that make for the most gentle AND welcoming people in SE Asia and perhaps the world who seem unfazed by the growing number of visitors and still really pleased to see us and ready with a smile and a chat and if they do ask if you want to buy they will ask politely and just the once. Its busy, in this Myanmar’s largest city and people are everywhere, squeezed in but no-one bowls down the road determined to hold the line, avoid eye contact and barge through.

 

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Independence Monument This 165ft white obelisk inside Mahabandoola Garden is surrounded by two concentric circles of Chinthe (half lion, half dragon deity). It was erected in 1948 replacing a statue of Queen Victoria.  Just like the magical early morning moments, the early evening is almost as special.

The Muslims are here in Little India as of course are the Buddhists and even a few Spires are dotted around town and it all just seems to work beautifully. The most (in my imagination) Indian looking people, the Chinese and Burmese make for the most amazing treat for your eyes. Rubbish piles up sometimes looking like it may never leave, occasionally a few rats scurry about but late at night the streets  get cleaned up all ready for the next day. I wish I was comfortable getting my camera out here.

Outside observers seeking a window into Myanmar’s troubled past should look no further than Yangon’s rich architectural heritage. Visitors may find some buildings stunning, others more ominous—but all are meaningful.

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Yangon became the country’s center of gravity during the reign of the British, who took over in 1852. The country gained independence in 1948 and, following a military coup in 1962, embarked on a path to isolation (and eventual pariah status by the ’80s) until 2011.

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The city still bears the marks of the country’s long isolation: With little economic development for several decades, its streets offer centuries of history told through untouched bricks, mortar, concrete—and a fair bit of gold.

A steady four meals a day and the much more confident and comfortable eating experience this time round has meant a small middle aged belly has appeared. Its great food, maybe not the best Asia has too offer but the different Myanmar states all have different food on offer all here in Yangon.

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Look right and you’ll see this. Formerly known as the Parliament for Justice, this building was constructed in 1914. In 1962 the Government turned it into a High Court Head Office.

All I need to do is decide where to go next. I am a bit fixated with cycling everywhere and flying direct to India with a Local Airline including 20kg extra luggage comes in at £780USD and its just a 1hr 50 minute flight.Flight Options are limited here and most people fly in and out of Myanmar to Bangkok to pick up the low cost airlines who fly everywhere from Bangkok and Kuala Lumpar.  A UK Passport holder pays an eye watering $162 USD for and Indian Visa and the rumours are that the length of time you ask for is often reduced by the embassy. I need to be sure that wherever I head too parts and plenty of them are available. Its a lot of money for a thrifty cyclist.

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And Behind you is this. Yangon City Hall. This building is an excellent example of the syncretic Burmese style and was designed by Burmese architect U-Tin. The building features a traditional tiered roof and has many Burmese details and elements around the pillars.

 

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This is where man and beast comes to relax. In my case to read Letters from Burma which will surely make any reader hop onto the very next plane to Myanmar. Add Burmese Days and you may not even bother wasting time packing a bag. “Straight to the airport please taxi driver”. These books paint beautiful pictures of why you should. And you should.

 

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Its not a place to take too many photos. Some countries love the camera, not Myanmar though.

If its not India its going to be time to say goodbye to Asia and head too the Americas and whichever end I choose to start its going to be cold if not impossible too ride. I am still also harbouring a longing to settle down somewhere for a while, either Indonesia or Burma. I am not ready to leave Asia yet AND I have met a few expats here who have experience in setting up in business here… Maybe just Maybe.

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Unless you are testing out your new smartphone and getting some memories for each other.

 

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And then checking out your handy work and why not. This park is a great place to be. Its a not so quiet as the traffic crawls around it but like any city park its a great place to escape.

 

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So Mahabandoola  Garden is a really special place to be in Yangon and the centre of everything but if you want to be in the places that really make Yangon so special head into the surrounding streets. Its a grid system and just wandering up and down the decaying streets is where the life is. Little India buts up nicely with China Town. I love the fact this Barber even has his opening hours painted on the wall. He does a great job as well. £2 is a bargain although I am sure the locals pay less.

 

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Chinlone, also known as caneball, is the traditional, national sport of Myanmar. It is non-competitive, with typically six people playing together as one team. The ball used is normally made from handwoven rattan, which sounds like a basket when hit. Similar to the game of hacky-sack, chinlone is played by individuals passing the ball between each other within a circle, without using their hands. However, in chinlone, the players are walking while passing the ball, with one player in the center of the circle. The point of the game is to keep the ball from hitting the ground, all the while passing it back and forth as creatively as possible.

 

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Sule Pagoda is located in the center of Yangon. at the junction of Sule Pagoda Road and Mahabandoola Road. Kyauktada Township. Yangon. Myanmar. This 48 meter (152 feet) high golden dome was used by the British as the nucleus of their grid pattern for the city when it was rebuilt in the 1880s. The pagoda’s peculiarity is its octagonal- shaped pagoda. which retains its shape as it tapers to the spire.

Its an easy decision really. I could write a whole story about the fun and games of visiting the Indian embassy (and it really is fun) and the staff are great and its as bureaucratic as you might expect but everyone is working hard to make it work and as always stories of woe on the internet just don’t happen and I have a 6 month Multiple entry India Visa.

Its just a case of a cheaper round the houses trip to Calcutta via Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur at almost half the direct flight cost….

And thanks Myanmar, you are my most favourite place on the whole planet!!! EVER!! Maybe.

 

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Not my most illustrious bike packing but just getting a box is good enough! Its only just big enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s half way through Myanmar and some bad but not unexpected news.

https://www.strava.com/activities/781595328

Seems like a very long time ago, in fact 11 days ago when I made the crossing from Thailand to Myanmar. Would I like to go back and do it again…. Yes please! £2 for an stunning 25 minute ride. Well worth it, even if you just go there and back from Thailand. And you can!

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Early morning in Myanmar is the most beautiful time of day, the world is still pretty quiet and people are just starting to wake up… And the Dogs. They are everywhere and although most of them seem a bit mangy and flea bitten they mostly look in good shape and apart from a young Monk who gave one a kick the other day they seem to have an alright life. Its less often now as its getting busier but snoozing anywhere including the middle of the road is just fine it seems. People just drive around them. They are super friendly as well. Only had one cyclist chaser.

That’s just for you Tivvy. Very very peaceful down here and just after this was about 5 miles of super smooth surface and the river just to my left. Beautiful. It was just a cruel trick though. Day four I think.

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To be fair this ‘cyclists’ are not doing my sort of mileage or hills but in terms of weight I reckon they see me off. No DI2 or discussions about Carbon seat posts to shave of some weight. In fact its a miracle they even move and the parts even work. Mind you, 1 gear keeps things simple.

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Getting ready to keep everyone fuelled up for the day. Its just after 6am and I am telling you its a little bit chilly this morning… See the Jumper? Not Northern Hempisphere chilly for sure but a definite nip and a really gusty wind. Its not been windy since the Thailand/Malaysia border. I am a little nervous of the direction.

I would have loved to wander inside and got a really good video idea of this ‘village store’ but even this was a bit cheeky! Day 2 I think.

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Aaaahh the peace. Every morning with out fail a few tears trickle down my face. Not gushing, not blubbing, not sad… But overwhelmed by despite what must be a super tough life and full of the usual ups and downs the simplicity is to be envied. Always with a smile though.

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So we have a fan, not enough room to swing a cat and a hard bed BUT sleeping like a baby!

If I understood correctly this lot are off to the Pagoda to pray. Last day before Yangon. The roads are much much busier.

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I am going to put these pagoda’s at maybe 20ft high and about 15 here.

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This is from a few days back down the road when things were a lot quieter.

 

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You’ll often see this small fires in the early morning or early evening. I’m certain its just rubbish and doesn’t always smell so good!

 

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This one is definitely just here for nostalgia. Even in the tiniest Townships down south amongst the most basic living you will occasionally see a shiny brand new modern version.

 

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The ‘high street’ Kyaikto 6am. This will be heaving with traffic shortly. It wasn’t last time. “We have so much more freedom to Travel now” I am told.

 

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Green and white is the School uniform colour. Yet again I can’t quite get my head around how they are so white and pressed! Amazing work Mum. Washing Machine…. I don’t think so?

 

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Its hard to believe that for now the hills have gone, this is the view in all directions. Nothing much to stop the howling wind. Its a side/front but the road takes a sharp right after about 45miles and i’ll be blown into Yangon.

 

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Even at the ‘tourist’ price of twice as much £1.50 isn’t so bad for lunch and there are miles and miles of sellers to choose from.

Thanaka, or Thanakha, a mix-up with a creamy white gold, is made from finely ground bark. This is a typical practice of the people of Myanmar from more than 2000 years. In this country, women and girls thanaka applied to the face and hands. Some men also use thanaka, but not very common.img_3512

Thanaka, or Thanakha, a mix-up with a creamy white gold, is made from finely ground bark. This is a typical practice of the people of Myanmar from more than 2000 years. In this country, women and girls thanaka applied to the face and hands. Some men also use thanaka, but not very common.

 

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How many Ducks!!!

 

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There is some scale. These Pagodas are everywhere and like this one on the way to Yangon they are huge!!

So it turns out that its true, you cannot cross the Myanmar/India border by land now.

Special permits can be got if you go on a tour. I’ll check the price but for now it looks like India is off. The only way out is Thailand by Land.

 

For now the time pressure is off. All I have to do is recover in Yangon and its a really great city. One of the best. In fact its on par with Istanbul.

Love you Myanmar!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ready for some time off.

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https://www.strava.com/activities/780654105

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One more day will be enough for me.

The roads are almost flat now with some occasionally excellent surfaces and the hills of the last week are dropping away.

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See the well just to the left of these two. Youll see them everywhere and it seems to be the alternative to Rural Rivers.

Its still unseasonably hot but the first wind since Malaysia is not a big one but its a cooling headwind.

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This is a huge project and it looks like it will cut journey times to Yangon.

And everything really is changing fast.

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Smart Hotels are popping up and Banks and ATM’s as well but there is much work to be done here.

Moulmein is a bit like a tired old English Seaside town in many ways, its well worth a visit and if you have a budget to stick to then the Breeze Guesthouse is beautiful and cheap.

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Its not the Men making collections in the morning.

Its also had big facelift but still retains its beautiful Colonial Feeling.

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Its not great on the eyes in some parts but the character of this city is special.

A huge bridge is under construction across the river and traffic levels are high and the most striking thing, a big luxury goods shopping centre sticks out like a sore thumb in this well worth a visit city.

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This Pagoda is absolutely huge.

The roads are much busier than the last few days and compared to the last time I was here and Petrol Stations are popping up everywhere.

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Teenagers have there heads stuck in Smartphones.

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It must be very exciting for Young Burmese and maybe a bit confusing for the older folk.
Like the rest of Myanmar 6am and the sun is up and its the very best part of the day.
I can’t wait to get too Yangon tomorrow, I’m shattered and two cyclists I met are convinced that the India/Myanmar permit is not an option after two tourists decided to make the  crossing without the right paperwork. By all accounts it caused a bit of  minor International incident.

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These two are dressed up for a wedding. It seems Sunday is the day as they are everywhere.

115 miles and then at least 3 days off.

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What I do know is its 115 miles to Yangon and almost flat the whole way. For the first time in weeks we have wind tonight and its very strong.

Ive earned that and its very needed.

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Its more very typical transport.

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And with the Flat road and urban sprawl its the first view of these taxi drivers.

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And thanks to the Melon Sellers for keeping an eye on me as I snoozed.

“Yes, but surely you miss everything riding such long distances in one day”

Thinking of riding Myanmar? You can upload these rides to your GPS device… Apparently my Garmin 200 tends to lose about 30% of the elevation.. Add this too your planning.

Day 3 101 miles https://www.strava.com/activities/779595180

Day 2 100.5 miles https://www.strava.com/activities/778779821

Day 1 97.7 miles https://www.strava.com/activities/778013410

Its not an infrequent question that’s fired my way by a backpacker with a lonely planet guide and a gripe about how tough there last bus journey was.

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6am on the first morning of my dash.. Its still cool and gorgeous.

The sarcastic part of me wants to tell them “I haven’t mastered the dark art of riding with my eyes shut” but there ain’t no right or wrong way to travel and guide books, well, if you wanna learn some patter off by heart about the latest not so Lonely location, feel free and to be honest I just don’t have the cash for that sort of stuff and anyway my journey is gonna be more painful but so much rewarding.

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Its the time of day when everyone is just stirring and I am on the hunt for Coffee and Cake. If I don’t fuel up within 10 miles I can expect an early bonk. Look closely at her cheeks, she has a light dusting of Myanmar Gold!

And right now the actual answer would include the fact that if I want to follow the rules clearly stated on my Visa “You must stay in a registered Guesthouse” and its not a good idea to annoy immigration again plus a 28 day visa which is non-extendable although at certain exit points you can pay extra days penalties, I don’t think my planned crossing into India is included and I planned on 10 days to ride to Yangon and I am slightly behind plus its likely to be at least 3 days to arrange my India visa. Times tight and I want/need to behave because I will be asking for a visa back into Myanmar after India. Oh yes and its 100miles between each guesthouse between here and Yangon so a good time to play catch up.

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The Pearl Princess is typical of what you’ll see architecture wise in Dewai or Tavoy (this city has a few different names/spellings) Its less of a princess and more of a Queen Mother these days, very run down but still elegant but at 7USD the tired and facility less building conjures up wonderful images of George Orwell wandering up and asking you to proof read his latest Novel ‘Burmese Days’. Yes you can find value here, you can also find fancy! A bucket to wash in and a fan for the night is perfect and VERY friendly attentive staff. Its the Burmese way.

 

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Its the time of day when the legs which are already screaming are asking can we get on a scooter. “No” is the answer, “give it 15miles and you will be ready to spin” Maybe. This is day 3 and you’ll notice the ‘new’ scooters.

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This fella showed me something I haven’t seen before in Myanmar. An electric bike.great personality. Its a tempting offer to swap.

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Time waits for no-one though and this is the time to ride. See the long shadows? You have until about 10.00am and if I can make 35 miles by then it will be a good chunk of the day dealt with before the heat cranks up. I have never seen people work like this, the women grade the piles of stones, no gloves, no safety boots, in fact no boots and fill the baskets and fill the holes.

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And when the heat comes, it comes with vengeance, but always there is a boost available. The road workers who will be taking cover by now will nearly always invite you over for food. As always its the people with nothing. And the road workers have less than nothing.

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The bridges keep coming, always at the bottom of a sharp dip and covered in planks that are not rideable and followed by instant short sharp climbs. In most cases I am pushing. My rear mech has a huge wobble and any sort of instant pressure to climb and the chains off.

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Look at that water…. its crystal clear and so needs camping next to, countless choices as well. Its not doable but later in the day the sun gets lower these will be filled with locals washing…. Getting pictures just doesn’t feel right. Some countries love it.. South Myanmar… Its only recently opened to the world.

 

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Its not an easy place to get a photo here and there is so much to see. They really are not comfortable. You can probably see it in this photo. The girl on the right spoke a little English and agreed I could dive in with her and her sister. its 10am break time. We are in the most basic living accommodation imaginable. Mud floor on the front, up on stilts hanging off the edge of the road at the back but like many people she sells cake, water and a sort of red bull, its essential fuel, but I am leaving a terrible trail of plastic. 10litres of water plus a day. “We are very friendly in Myanmar” she tells me. She’s is not wrong.  I am very grateful to be here. Tread carefully though, friendly yes but often a little unsure. How on earth do you always look clean as a pin??? Always??

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See the teeth? Bright red and stained by betel nut. Chew and spit is the way they do it. The smell which is neither pleasant or unpleasant hangs in the air, its the Myanmar signature. My eyes tell me the more Rural the more likely they are to be using and that includes some of the most beautiful women you have ever seen and then they open there mouths. Its a destroyer of teeth. Did Mick Jagger ever tour in Myanmar.. I wonder??

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This train track has crossed the road as we climb and first thoughts are ‘that’s not been used for years, its totally fucked’ and then this rolls and jolts by. Its possible its part of the ‘Death Railway’. It looks like a lovely dreamy journey.. Doors and windows wide open and people laid out on the floor….

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You will never ever get bored of waving and shouting too people passing by… Its a huge boost when the energy levels drop.

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If its got space for people then they will be squeezed in!

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This is the most common public transport I reckon. And maybe the very best part of the day! Arm high, fingers pointing to the sky ! And smile… this is why I ride.

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This is why I don’t have a guidebook because when it appears out the Blue you can only be totally stunned. Check the car out if you need an idea of the scale. Oh yes, and if you miss it, you ain’t disappointed because you didn’t know it was there.

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And if things need to get any crazier, chuck this in the mix… Its fair to say most of this stuff is not so good in the Flesh, you need Dave Attenborough or whoever to get his Helicopter out and take some great shots but not this. The last time I felt like this was in Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia and just like then every hair stood up on my body…..

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Four floors of incredible statues fill this epic structure!

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Always with a smile…….. how, why, what, where, when, hundreds of miles of road repairs created by hand..

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And there is the Commonwealth Graves Commission that marks the end of the Death Railway. Maybe 50/50 between British and Dutch here? I wonder what marks the deaths of the locals which dwarfed the already horrific numbers of Europeans?

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Its a huge tester and its crossed my mind on a couple of occasions to chuck my bike on the back of the bus. Mostly rotten road services and constant up and down is a big ask. A few gorgeous passes have appeared. Cross this and you are into Mon State. I am so glad I have made it. It was never going to be easy but always going to be very very special.

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Forget the physical side of things for a moment and its really so easy to travel here. Its welcoming, mystifying and a lack of anything other than huts. No 7-11, no fancy coffee shop, no Macdonalds. But boy, this is living at it most basic…. Consumerism is coming and idiots with cameras like me… Strange thing is for now, no-one has much but it seems no-one is left out. Does that make sense? I haven’t seen ‘starving’ yet. I hope that’s the case.

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It gets thin out here on the roads but no-one has an attitude. Everyone makes space for each other and not once has anyone lent out the window and said “Get of the road, you don’t pay car tax”.

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This is the end of the daylight moment when you realise you have no lights and there are plenty of big holes and hazards including trucks and cars and animals. But then you realise that many others don’t and it all slows down a bit and just works. Its that great feeling, ‘it could go wrong but probably it won’t’

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See that, that’s a road that’s wide enough for everyone, has a pretty good surface and the rollercoaster hills have gone…. I am gonna miss you South Myanmar…. But I might give it a few days before I head back! hahah! What an experience!

And that is a fraction of what I get on a bicycle and easily the most basic part of the world I have seen…. Maybe

Just 200 miles to Yangon and at least 3 days off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“You do not have to say anything but anything you do say……”

https://www.strava.com/activities/777117583

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This lot and more were getting of this bus both inside and on the roof, how do they all stay perched on top so easily?

The truth is I don’t really know what it all means here, I spend I lot of time pondering and its not really even my business but I can’t help but think and even if I don’t like the rules I have definitely given them a good bend and really I guess I have been lucky because rules are the rules.

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The monks and there faithful hound, maybe he knew they have been collecting food?

It really felt that after an enforced day off and a really nice one (spent just lazing with a really nice Spanish Couple and there Son who report there is absolutely nothing to see for tourists down this way unless you have a 100usd per person for a boat trip around some allegedly stunning Islands, but to be fair you can do that in Thailand for a fraction of the price) in the City of Myeik because of puking and diarrhoea that everything really had changed.

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These Burmese Girls are elegant and very upright, maybe its all the balancing of stuff on there heads.

It felt so changed that when a big school football field appeared as the Sun went down I reckoned I could get away with asking the Village Chief if it would be a ok to pitch my tent in the corner out of the way in the Field providing of course it would not cause any problems.

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No manufacturer support here, just hands on can do attitude. its impressive.

First Job is a quick pitch of the tent then hop straight onto the back of a scooter down to the local river for a wash then before I can even think, straight to the local monastery with is heaving with locals who feed me and give me a big tour of the place, mostly misunderstood but very enjoyable and we just relax with the Monks.

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I reckon he or she might be a Sun or a Moon Bear?, if it is, it’s endangered.

Its a great evening. My ‘guide’ who has assured me its no problem to stay and has even got me a Buddhist bracelet and its all just a top 10 moment and a win win. Then out of the Blue he hops me on his scooter because ‘Immigration want to see you at the village’.

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Betel nut is wrapped in leaves with a few other bits thrown in and chewed. Its a bit like smoking which of course is addictive but also leaves the mouth red and absolutely destroys teeth and is a bit of a drug. 

Again he assures me its no problem, we drink coffee and I chat with the Headmaster of the school and it all sounds like just a formality but its not that simple. Turns out he’s a copper and he’s just been holding me until I can be driven back down the road in the direction I came from at a rip off price and no-one can explain why I’m paying coppers for a ride home.

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Suddenly bicycles are everywhere. I haven’t seen one since I arrived. Mind you only an idiot would ride these hills.

I’m pretty pissed off at this point but I’ve quickly decided its just not worth it.
But as an assumer its just a bit sad after what felt like a very different country when I was last here just 18 months ago. It all seems like things are changing since the very south as well. . Electricity, people driving smart new scooters, bicycles being seen for the first time and a super super friendly welcome from everyone and even people wearing glasses (strange the things you have noticed that you haven’t noticed).

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Maybe its just not as unexplored as I thought down here. They are happy to pose. Apart from the Spanish and a German couple and a European Business man its just been us I have seen.

It all seemed like people were less nervous and perhaps were doing a little better for themselves. Perhaps it was the very light cloud that meant that the temperature was just delicious and very rideable that made be feel soooo good. I just hoped or felt the country had broken the shackles of its military dictatorship and people were just a bit more free.
‘We are worried for your safety’ I’m told when I ask why I cant stay ‘You could be in Danger here’ he replies. ‘Can you tell me what from, surely not these incredibly friendly people?’ He can’t answer and I cant help but think ‘control’ is still very much part of the way things are here.

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Happily ambushed by this little girl with some biscuits. Much bolder and more relaxed reception for sure!

Who knows, I just don’t know. Its an extra 12 miles tomorrow until Dawei which makes it a hundred miler but if it stays cool and less lumpy on the road it could be doable and very useful in getting my mileage target back up to where it should be, I’m running a bit behind.

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No stress for the ladies but its all a bit much for the lad.

Plenty of time to probably make some more pointless assumption and wave and smile hard and stop and dive into some more great food. Love you Myanmar. Not sure about the military/police arseholes though.

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These power line poles (I don’t think its phone lines?) look almost brand new and its the first I have seen. Progress perhaps?

If there is a problem next time Inspector Gadget’ just tell me straight and I’ll promise to follow your rules about sleeping in Guesthouses. Maybe.
Or perhaps I stop assuming cos my words change nothing.

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When I say ‘progress’ its a long way to go yet to whatever the standard is.

Running past my limits

https://www.strava.com/activities/775142681

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The best first view of the Morning. These four were chattering away outside my tent, I guess waiting for me too appear. The pots they are carrying are full of beautiful white flowers. Very happy to giggle and stare but when I get the camera out they go all shy and you’ll see the little fella making a run for it. When I show them the photo they love it and hang around longer.

In the world of ‘This weather just ain’t normal’ Myanmar is showing no signs of the rains that could appear and I reckon that’s a good thing. Already plenty of water lies around and it could make things impassable. Its just a guess though.

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The perfect Myanmar Free camp. just a few feet from the road. There is very light traffic until late in the night but apart from that its so still you can hear every sound, phone call, conversation or song being sung and its great to be in the middle of it all. REALLY great.

What we have got is unseasonably high temperatures and even the locals are talking about it. Its no lie to say I’m struggling even though its got a little flatter but I need to keep pushing to earn days off in the day of account for India Visa & Permit applications in Yangon.

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Right next to us is the new house that my friends for the night are building. Its food for thought just how many people live just like this in South Myanmar.

Tonight is a night in a B&B in the first city in the South of Myanmar.
What a different world from the last 4 days, its enough to fry this brain and the tired brain is slightly annoyed at the typical SE Asia ramp up the prices for the foreigner.

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Perfect shade of Blue sky and a looong bridge and beautiful river almost seem to mark the end of the emptiness.

I get it and normally it doesn’t faze me. £25 for a very tired B&B. In Myanmar’s case its double and the contrast is not hidden.

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This is how they are slowly upgrading the countless old bridges.

The price list shows citizen & Foreigner rates. What it does mean is a bed and aircon a shower in decidedly average accommodation (but with THE nicest staff). Thats more my budget talking though.

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It was a cool misty start though. Every time I pass a military checkpoint I wonder if I will be made to get on a bus but so far so good. No-one seems bothered by me. Except a couple of Police who buzzed me for 30 minutes today and asked where I was from.

3 dinners tonight should reset the body and a poor diet at the start of Myanmar should now be rectified and good food is ridiculously cheap and I have emergency supplies in my bags.

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More early morning visitors. Very Friendly. All I have to do is ride my Bike in these conditions, they have to work in them. They don’t have to go far, only about 50 meters to the bridge.

It almost feels like the super remote Myanmar is behind me. A most gorgeous and very big River marked the end, for now anyway.

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More very physical work.

Some excellent concrete roads for maybe 20 miles and almost unbroken rows of roadside huts, many of them perched on stilts above the new treat for the eyes, Rice Fields.

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Rice is now starting to replace the Palm Oil as the crop of choice and the Jungle retreats.

Local transport has been streaming towards the city all day rammed with Locals. Its full moon and that means party. Not your Thailand lets go crazy waheey but a local traditional celebration which I’m going to miss because my stomach is not in good shape.

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In the heat of the midday sun. 35c is a figure that’s been mentioned.

Yes I am having a tough time and just keeping my head down but this is travelling, its not all gentle gentle and stopping for Ice Cream and Tea & Cake and the moments of treats for the eyes make it just about worth it.

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That’s how to have fun, take note Jason!

This is trying to ride around the world…..

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More flat appearing and some great concrete surfaces.

“The Only thing we have to Fear is Fear itself”

https://www.strava.com/activities/774198873

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First step to happiness, eat something other than biscuits. Happy Breakfast and great to have the cooker out for the first time in Months.

Gave myself a proper talking to last night, stop being such a lightweight, get amongst it and I just did. I mean for F’s sake nothing bad has happened to me before and I’m worrying about what if’s!

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Early Morning View

No-one came and attacked my last night! Why would they?
So as dusk was falling and no sign of a handy Cell Site and with the knowledge that the thick Jungle just ain’t free camp friendly, its too thick, just over a rickety bridge is a typical rural Myanmar property.

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Big road improvements going on here.

Just under a knackered canopy but off the ground on a small platform is a tent, right and I mean right on the road…. Yes a tent and I tell you this, you don’t see tents in Myanmar, not a modern free stander!

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Miles of widening I think. The ladies here are grading, by hand. Tough tough work.

Its perfect, if I can slip my tent in next to it I’m surely gonna blend in and no-one is gonna move me! Don’t forget that the if police catch you are gonna get moved on and its 75miles to a ‘proper’ town and the lights don’t work and the legs and body won’t do it plus it worries me the locals might get in trouble. They have to live here, I don’t.

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Probably the best thing to be doing on a red hot Myanmar Afternoon.

Its an immediate yes from the two lads and once we’ve got some nails to get pitched its straight down to the river, bouncing on thin boards to keep us out of the quagmire, past the cow that’s just given birth and is giving her calf a good clean up and straight into the river for a wash. Lycra and everything and boy its refreshing.

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Bus or Scooter are the transport choices. Or walking.

Its almost dark but I can just make out maybe 5 or 6 women having a wash, laughing and chatterin away and I am in travellers heaven. As dusk approaches every night as you pass through Villages you will always see what seems to be mostly ladies bathing or heading back home dripping wet in there clean and freshly washed dresses.

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You Idiot Jason, the food is delicious! A nice bit of beef here.

Its not the sort of thing to take a picture off not all Burmese love the camera.. but its… Magical, its Myanmar life and here I am right now bang in the middle of it.
They have offered food and its rice and Chicken and its absolutely delicious and not crazy spicy (although I love it) just flavoursome and tender. Sure Mum and Dad (52yrs) and both Sons (26yrs) are watching every mouthful with interest.

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An old tyre is a common Toy here.

Dad is or maybe was in the Army. The Sons both work on the roads I think because they have jumped into a typical ‘seen better days tipper truck and roared and whined and smoked (these are well used vehicle’s) off up the road in it and Mum? No idea apart making a mighty fine dinner and probably taking part in construction of the new home.

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The Umbrella is an essential accessory for the ladies.

I’ve done my tricks, shown them how my cooker works, demonstrated my Aussie mozzie ner and made coffee, my Lycra is hanging out to dry and its a stunning full moon…. And this is just 5% of another tough, bonky, hot Aaaamazing Myanmar day. I love you sooooo much. Go on, get a bike and say goodbye to mundane and come and see people who really do have less than feck all ‘stuff’. They will steal your heart, treat your eyes and much much more!!!! Myanmaaaaaaaaaaar…… So worth the effort!

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Its going to be a big task replacing the countless old bridges.

And I think after 2 near vertical climbs and some early rollercoaster action it might be gently rolling from here…..(I nearly accepted the offer of a tow up but firstly where to tie the rope and secondly I don’t think his scooter had the oooph, its was backfiring and struggling as it approached).

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It almost felt vertical at points and winds up to 800ft through this thick Jungle.

I have to say it feels mighty strange that as the generator bangs away for power for my host ‘house’, that I am sat in Myanmar on my laptop getting this stuff done. If you could see the contrast between life and my technology you would be….. I have no idea what the word is.

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I’m guessing these two have just been to the river for a wash?

Cheers for the wise words Mr (ex) President.

Getting my knickers In a twist

https://www.strava.com/activities/772977108

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The pain, the Gloty… maybe and a big bonk!

At about 5-00am this morning I’ve woken and noticed a light occasionally and weakly flicking on a small part of my tent.

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But the people are really captivating!

A quick peep outside and on the other side of the little valley I can see what must be a torch making pretty smooth sweeps.

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This pretty much most of the traffic.

On the corner of my tents are small reflectors and although the pattern of the arc doesn’t appear to be directed at me, I’m immediately alert. I’m gonna say the lights about 1/2 mile away and if it is after me then it’ll be tricky for whoever it is to get close because the ‘path’ is steep, very thin and impossible (I think) to be stealthy on.

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Its the ultimate step into another world.

I reckon they are hunting and haven’t spotted me but in the dark I sure am a bit jumpy. Its a gorgeous clear sky and the stars are so clear and shooting stars are everywhere. What a mixture of emotions!

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And hard to believe its the main route through Myanmar!

The light started heading back to the little village close to me and as it gets closer I can hear 2 beats of maybe a drum and a chant in-between. Needless to say I didn’t go back to sleep. And waited for sunrise with no drama!

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And the most basic of living conditions.

What a day though. My route planner shows elevation but for this part of the trip it clearly doesn’t know the answer and I wondering what I’ll be getting! The answer, a route that cannot be followed as it continuously disappears into the Jungle. Luckily there is only one road here.

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Heading back from school! I quick hi-5 and learning which football teams they like. Big Barcelona Fans.

But the constant sharp climb and descents on now 50% shabby roads make for an early Bonk. Ive been stopped twice and asked for my ‘permit’. I’m not sure I needed one but my printed and officially stamped looking E-Visa document does the trick. Ive heard there are few mines around here, maybe this is why plotting routes was not so easy?

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Love you Golden Country even though you are less than straightforward!

I knew it wouldn’t be straightforward and today was the proof. Ive been spotted by an Indian maintenance crew under yet another Cell site tonight. They’ve Okayed my stay but I’ll be surprised if the Police don’t turn up at some point. Tricky free camping here for sure!