Out of India! September 5th
My alarm went off and James and I both shot up and looked at each other. Neither of us had any idea where we were. James thought he was in the hospital and I thought I was still in Delhi. It took us each 20 or 30 seconds to realize we were in a nice hotel in Myanmar. We were in Myanmar! Once I realized our situation and where we were, I was super excited. Except I was still exhausted. The 7 hours of sleep did not make up for my sleepless night in Delhi and my 3 hours of sleep in the Delhi airport the night after. But, we made it into Myanmar and that excitement got me out of bed without any difficulty.
One of the best parts about staying in a nicer hotel, is that they provide continental breakfasts. All we had to do was wake up, roll out of bed, walk down 2 flights of stairs and we could eat all we wanted. I had fried eggs, rice, fruit, two cups of coffee, toast, and fried vegetables. It was delicious. The only downside was Ethan approached us again to discuss the cost of our trip.
Nothing had changed from the night before, he wanted us to either pay extra ($200 each) or cut out two days from our itinerary. We were adamant that we shouldn't do either. Yes, I should have asked specifically if we needed to provide our own visas for Myanmar. However, as a company who provides the legal documents and necessary guide across the country, we feel it is the companies job to provide us with the visa information. So, we were firm in our belief that the costs should stay the same. Despite us showing up 4 days late. We didn't come to a conclusion with Ethan, but we decided we'd discuss it more later that night.
In preparation for the inevitable braking of James's extra long and floppy clutch cable, Kyaw helped us find a replacement. The motorcycle stores in Myanmar were more helpful and much less stressful than anything we experienced in India. It was incredible. Within 20 minutes, Kyaw had found us two replacement clutch cables (never hurts to have two spares), that cost 1,500 Kyat each ($1.25).
Adjusting the chain tension real quick
We got on the road and spent the next couple hours riding across winding roads through small villages. The difference between India and Myanmar is incredible. Where India had piles of trash laying on the sidewalks, Myanmar had garbage cans that were used consistently. Where India had hundreds of people lining the streets, Myanmar had a few elderly women selling fruits along the side of the road. Where India had streams and rivers that were filled with water I would never dare to swim in, Myanmar had clean swimming holes that were alluring. I loved India, and I am not trying to bash on its cleanliness. I just found it amazing how different India and Myanmar are.
We drove through a plain that had recently experienced a devastating flood. In late July and early August of this year, a large portion of western Myanmar was underwater. On the part we drove through, the water levels were 6-7 feet above the road. The entire plane was submerged and 200,000 people were displaced, their homes washed away. The damage was obvious; mud, dirt, and logs were everywhere. The only thing was, there weren't any obviously hurting people. There was the occasional tarp tent set up on the side of the road but for the most part, people were or had already rebuilt their homes and were in seemingly jovial moods. We got more giant smiles, waves and screamed hellos in 1 hour than we got in a week in Manipur. It was incredible to see people smiling while working to bounce back from such a tragedy.
We stopped for lunch in a small village that Kyaw had once lived in as a small child. He said he didn't remember much about it, except that there was a big tree. There certainly were a lot of big trees. Lunch consisted of "all you can eat", chicken, vegetables curries, raw vegetables, pastes, beans, and rice. There were 13 different dishes, at least 10 of them were full of food I'd never had before. Of course, we tried them all. If we finished one dish, another was brought out. I continued eating until I could hardly swallow. It was all delicious. The best part about it, it cost 1,500 Kyat ($1.25). Unbelievable!
All you can eat for $1.25... And it's way better than Old Country Buffet? I'll take it!
Following the van has taken a bit of getting used to. We can't drive as fast because we're limited by the vans ability to weave in between traffic. However, it is incredibly nice not having to worry about directions and where we're going. The only downside to not knowing our direction, is we don't know how far away the destination is. Throughout the trip, I've been able to mentally prepare how long we'll be on the bikes. That wasn't the case for today. After lunch my exhaustion started to kick in and I was having a difficult time staying awake. I asked Kyaw how far we had and it was another 100 km through mountain roads. He estimated it would take ~3 hours.
First sunset in Myanmar
Halfway through the final 100km to Monywa (our destination for the night), I started to wonder if I'd be able to make it. I couldn't keep my eyes open, I had a terrible head ache, and my body was hurting with tiredness. We pulled over for a final break and I chugged a quick bottle of water. I should've grabbed a PepPod but I was feeling too lazy. We started riding again just as the sun disappeared for the night. James's headlight had burned out the night before, but his brights still worked. He turned on his brights and it fizzled out. He was riding in the pitch black streets of Myanmar without a headlight. We still had ~50km to go, so Graham and I both turned on our brights and hoped that it'd help James see.It must've helped at least a little bit because we made it to Monywa without any incidents. It was 9 o'clock by the time we reached our hotel and I was exhausted and grumpy. Walking into the hotel felt like a brief glimpse of heaven. We were greeted with cold towels to wipe our faces, glasses of orange juice and a blast of air conditioning. Our hotel room was just as nice, AC, toilet paper, clean sheets, a large bathroom and a spare bed for the person whose turn it was to sleep on the ground. We showered, had dinner, and went to bed almost immediately. I was exhausted and sleep has rarely ever felt so good.
Good vibes: Sept 6
I woke up stoked to be in Myanmar and also in the nicest hotel I may have ever been to. The AC was cold, that room was clean, there were screens on the windows so it was mosquito free, there was WIFI, and a buffet breakfast was included. We headed to the dining area for breakfast and our excitement grew further. There was a long buffet filled with goodies and delicious coffee, and our table looked over a small pond while a Premier League match was on the TV. I felt like I may have found heaven. We gorged ourselves and then drank as much coffee as our hearts would allow before popping.
As we were finishing up breakfast Ethan approached us at the table. I instantly felt a little annoyed because he might ruin our perfect breakfast, but he came bearing good news. He had talked with some Kawasaki shops in Yangon and they said we could grab the brake pads we desperately needed in Mandalay. We would be in Mandalay in two days so this was incredible news! He then looked a little more serious and wanted to talk about us paying additional money again, but to our surprise he seemed to have a change of heart. He apologized and admitted that it was his fault for the visa mix up, and we were not responsible to cover the extra expenses. It seemed he may have talked to his manager and got a little bit of advice on how to handle the situation. I was relieved because the situation was definitely dampening my mood and making me dislike Ethan. He did slide in a remark about him having to possibly pay for it himself to try and make us feel bad, but we shrugged it off and continued the conversation.
We packed up our stuff, adjusted chain tension, and then headed off to a pagoda. Kyaw (pronounced Joe) informed us that we would be visiting 3 pagodas on our way to Bagan, but we really had no idea what to expect. We have been trying to stay as uninformed about where we are going as possible so that it is a surprise when we get there. Well the Pagoda we went to ended up being a 400 foot tall statue of Buddha surrounded by various other large statues and pagodas. When we saw the statue from a distance it was quite a shock. We first walked through a courtyard filled with 2000 statues of Buddha to a tower that looked out over the whole area. It was incredible to look at all the buildings and structures that they have constructed to honor Buddha. Kyaw pointed out the trees that were planted next to each statue of Buddha and explained that they were Buddha trees. When Buddha achieved enlightenment it was underneath one of these trees, so each Buddha in the courtyard has its own tree planted next to it.
It was then time to head to the giant Buddha statue that doubled as a 27 story temple. Each level of the temple represented a level of Buddhism. Unfortunately the first 6 levels were dedicated to the 6 levels of hell, and the paintings were pretty depressing. It seemed foreign from my initial impression of Buddhism being a peaceful and relaxing state of mind. As we climbed up the stairs between the levels I never seemed to notice that any level of hell was particularly worse than any other level. They were all pretty equally awful. We then arrived at a level that was for the wolf beings, animals, and humans. It seemed 6 levels were needed to describe hell, but only one was needed to describe the next three levels of Buddhism. Either way it was nice to see some nice paintings of animals as we tried to ignore the wolf being that was eating children on the opposite wall. The next level was where things became happier as we entered the excelsior kingdom. This is the level above mankind, and resembled heaven. There were people riding chariots through clouds, and feasts. There were also ogres who could apparently be good or bad, but the ones in the excelsior kingdom were good. Above the excelsior kingdom the paintings stopped and they had not yet finished them. We had made it to about level 10 which was about a third of how tall the whole statue was. It was impressive how intricate everything on each level was decorated and it was apparent that they didn’t move on to another floor before each floor was properly covered in murals, statues, and places to pray.
Throughout this experience we learned a lot about Buddhism. There have been 4 Buddhas in this world with the most recent one being 2500 years ago, and the object of all of the current worship. He was a prince that was destined to be king, but instead he became Buddha and taught his followers the ways of Buddhism. When he made the transition he cut off his ponytail and kept a short bun on the top of his head. He had a son who I believe became one of the first monks. He attempted to achieve enlightenment by sitting under a tree and meditating for 6 years and surviving only on what fell within arm’s reach of where he was sitting. This did not work however, and he only reached nirvana after successfully mastering inner meditation later on in life. There are multiple levels to Buddhism in which you can be reincarnated after death. This is known as the life cycle and you are destined to go through the weariness of the life cycle until you live a good life and can successfully achieve nirvana. The specifics on how to actually achieve nirvana are still a little hazy. Each level of the massive Buddha represented a level into which you can be reincarnated. When I asked about the upper most level Kyaw informed us that they only exist in the mind and are not physical places. Hell was also only a temporary place until you did enough good to work your way back up the ladder. Kyaw told us that being another religion would not send you to hell. Everything is based upon the mind, and as long as you had a good mind you would be reincarnated on good terms. We really liked the concept that you could rise from hell by bettering yourself, and that everything in the religion was based solely on your mind and almost nothing else. “Your body is just a vessel for your mind.”
We left the complex and headed on our way to Bagan. The road was finally wide enough for two cars and we weren’t getting run off the road by big trucks. We hauled ass! I think we cruised at around 65 for awhile which was considerably faster than any road we went on in India. We soon stopped for lunch and dined in the local style. You order what kind of meat you want and then endless amounts of rice and various other dishes arrive. The only thing that isn’t bottomless is the meat that you ordered, but it hardly matters because of all the other delicious things to eat. After lunch Rkar gave us one of the Myanmar cigars we had seen everyone smoking and we tried it out. It was a pretty good cigar and cost a whopping 2 cents. It was the best 2 cent cigar I have ever had. Lots of people in Myanmar still chew the pans that we had become accustomed to in India and Michael was curious if they were different. We ordered one up and Michael gave it a go. They weren’t the sweet kind and it didn’t look all that enjoyable. In Myanmar they call it betel nut instead of pan.
We continued on our way, and only stopped for a quick break in some shade and a chance to try some coconut/palm cake. It was delicious and I had to stop myself from eating the whole thing. It didn’t take long before we made it to Bagan and were cooling off with a swim in the pool. The pool was a bit murky, but the water felt great. We tried some Myanmar coffee and it was the best coffee I have had in a long time. I was pretty stoked to be back into a place that uses real coffee instead of just instant.
Feeling refreshed and energized we headed into old Bagan. The area of Bagan is famous for the thousands of pagodas and temples that dot the whole region. The whole area is very flat, so when you climb up one of the pagodas it is easy to see all the other ones that surround you. When we scrambled up one it was absolutely incredible to watch the sun set over the plain of circular spires. They started building them in the 11th century, and nowadays much of the history behind them is unknown. There are various scriptures on the pagodas that give them a name, but why they were built and by whom is a mystery. There are actually hundreds that are simply referred to by a number. There was a massive earthquake in the 1800’s, and then again in the 1990’s that knocked down several thousand of the pagodas, but over 2000 are still standing. They are made entirely of brick, and the most famous/biggest ones have the domes painted gold. The whole area was serene and I felt like I could sit there for quite some time. If I could meditate this is definitely the spot I would try and find nirvana. It was the perfect way to end a great day and we all fell asleep stress free for the first time in a few months.
Michael striking a daring pose in Bagan
Arts and crafts: Sept. 7
The sun was streaming through the window and warming my face. I snuggled into the blankets and fell back asleep, content to wait for the others to make moves. Finally Graham got moving and shortly after we were all up and at it. A quick work out and a delicious breakfast of coffee, tea, rice, noodles, eggs and some fried thing's and we were ready for the day. Our guides soon arrived in the van to pick us up. First up on the agenda was a market place. The market was similar to the ones we had seen in Imphal with a variety of interesting vegetables, meats and goods. Michael and I purchased some "Longshri's" which are a loop of fabric tied around ones waste and used instead of pants. As some of the only tourists in the market we soon became targets and two woman were soon haranguing me and Graham with cosmetics, books and post cards. We soon had brown smudges on our faces which is a traditional Myanmar cosmetic made from ground up tree bark. The ladies became even more insistent after they had gifted us with the make-up and we soon found ourselves with a book and a postcard.
Graham and Michael showing off the traditional make up... its usually worn by young kids and women.
Upon leaving the market we were driven to our first of three temples of the day. The first temple was massive and contained 4 beautiful statues of Buddha. The statues were 9.3 meters tall and were carved from wood and were plated in a thin layer of gold. One of the originals which had been made from metal alloys had been stolen for the precious metals. The walls of the temple were lined with small alcoves housing statues of Buddha. Our guide Kyaw (Jo) informed us that there were something like 2000 of the alcoves. The second temple we visited was the smallest of the day and contained only two statues of Buddha. These statues however completely filled the room leaving only a small hallway in front of his crossed knees to pass into the other room. The third temple was the largest of the 3 although it had the least detail. It was much more authentic feeling and little restoration had been done. Kyaw led us through the temple pointing out the bats on the ceiling and showing us to small hidden rooms that looked out on the surrounding plaza. Michael decided it was worth a dollar and the amusement to eat some bat poop and was soon choking down a gritty piece from the stone floor.
We also had the pleasure of visiting a lacquer workshop where they created beautiful artwork and kitchen ware. Most of the pieces were created from bamboo, although a few more complex shapes, such as elephants, were carved from wood. We got to watch as a very talented craftsman with extremely worn hands cut thin strips of bamboo, formed them into rings and extended them downwards creating a bowl. In a similar process (see the pictures below for a visual) they created anything from small cups or jewelry holders to massive 8 foot tall pointed cauldrons. The bamboo was than coated in a layer of lacquer made from sap mixed with a powder of bone and petrified wood. Each piece would receive a number of layers of the lacquer ranging from 7 to 24 or so. The black lacquer was than sanded and polished before an artist began inscribing small patterns into the lacquer. Upon finishing the engraving they would paint the small grooves with incredible detail. Some of the pieces received a golden coat that was applied using golden foil which was pressed into the engraving and then the excess carefully scrubbed away in a bath of golden water. We got to see each process in progress and were super excited to be seeing the very talented workers going about their everyday tasks. There was no way we could leave the shop without purchasing a souvenir and we all ended up with some beautiful mugs which we proceeded to use at lunch for a delicious "Myanmar" beer.
One of the master craftsmen building the bowls by applying
ring after ring of thin bamboo.
Workers sanding and applying lacquer
A worker washes away the excess gold leaf. Doing so left only gold in the small,
ornate channels of the hand carving
Michael looking like a goober in front of some of the larger and more expensive works at the shop. Everything in the picture was hand carved and painted.
We also visited a shop off the side of the road that created things from the palm tree. I use the word "shop" loosely as it consisted of a roof, a few tables of goods, some awesome chairs and the area that was used for manufacturing the various products. Almost everything in the place was created from palm. The roof was thatched with palm fronds and the beams created from the trunk of the palm. The tables and chairs were created from woven palm fronds and beams of the frond stem. The shop sold all of the mats, chairs and all the other furniture that adorned the place. They also sold some delicious sweet treats made from the palm fruit and I purchased a bag of coconut covered in palm syrup. The place also distilled its own liquor which was very similar to the grape vodka from Georgia. We couldn't pass up the opportunity and got a bottle for less than three dollars. Before leaving we took the opportunity to try the ladders that they used to climb the palm trees. The ladders were extremely rickety and were held on only by one or two wires. We also got to get up close and personal with a massive bull that was used as a work animal by the owners. He was a bit wary of us but allowed us to pat his head and jiggle his large flap of skin hanging from his neck.
Michael approaching the very large bull
Enjoying a cup of palm wine under the cover of a palm thatched
roof while sitting in palm frond chairs.
We finished up the day with the Taunt Kyi Taung Pagoda located on the bank of a massive river. As the sun set we decided to spend some extra money to take a sunset cruise on the river. We headed up stream against a very strong current as the sun began to dip below the horizon. We sipped "Myanmar" beers and enjoyed the spectacular view while joking with the guides. It didn't take long for us to decide we wanted to jump in and we were soon launching ourselves into the river. After almost being swept under the boat by the current and struggling a bit to scramble back aboard we air dried in the warm night air as the last rays of sun disappeared. By the time the sun had set the current had carried us to the pagoda where we had set out and we returned to the dock. Our guides dropped us at our hotel and after a quick meal we headed to the room to relax and enjoy a movie before passing out.
Our trusty guides looking even better than the sunset behind them
I woke up this morning with a giant smile on my face. It felt amazing to wake up after a solid nights sleep, in a bed with clean sheets, knowing a great breakfast was just a floor above us. I gave Rebecca a call and was able to have a short conversation before the wifi cut out. Since Rebecca is meeting us in Thailand at the end of the month, we've been ordering spare parts for our motorcycles that she'll bring with her to Thailand. During the short conversation we were able to have, she said, "Wow, with all the parts you guys have ordered, you'd think your bikes were completely falling apart." To that I replied, "They're not falling apart, we just need a couple parts because we don't know if we'll be able to find them anywhere else. They're starting to wear out but the bikes are running fine. We haven't had any problems with them running." I never knocked on wood after saying that…
We got ready to go for the day, James and I adjusted our chain tension and we were all ready to go. I tried pushing the starter and my bike would not turn over. Second try, I revved the throttle and hit the starter. The bike turned over and a giant puff of black smoke spewed out of the exhaust and the bike died. It did not sound or feel good at all. I got off the bike, checked the fuel line, checked the wiring connections, checked the carb idle screw and nothing seemed wrong. For a moment I had a panicked feeling of, "my bike is broken", but that disappeared fairly quickly. We'd been riding through dusty air and hadn't cleaned our air filters since Kazakhstan. I took off my side paneling and instantly noticed my air filter was dry, crusty and full of dirt. That had to be the problem. I took off the air filter, soaked it in gasoline, let it air dry then sprayed it with our obnoxiously large can of air filter oil. The bike started up without any difficulty and we were on the road.
Driving for an hour got us to Mount Popa, a giant cup shaped mountain that had 777 steps to a Pagoda on the top. Supposedly the number 7 doesn't have any significant meaning in Buddhism and the 777 steps was just a coincidence, but according to J.K. Rowling, 7 is the most powerfully magic number, so I was happy about the number of stairs.
Mount Popa, kinda looks like a giant pimple?
Exploring the Pagoda left us hungry and a bit tired, we sat down for some lunch and watched Scooby Doo with a couple kids who were home from school on the their lunch break. I could've watched Scooby Doo all day, for some reason I was exhausted and not feeling motivated. Instead we got back on the bikes and headed toward Mandalay, our destination for the day.
The drive took a couple hours and I was not in the mood to be driving. Sometimes, riding the motorcycles does get monotonous and instead of feeling the freedom of having my own transportation, I feel an obligation to ride it. It's a terrible mindset and has only happened a couple times on the trip, but this was one of those times. We reached a small town and had a treat that immediately snapped me out of that mindset. Kyaw took us to a Myanmar ice cream parlor and we got an Avocado milkshake/juice. It was one of the best drinks I've ever had and was what I needed to finish the days ride to Mandalay.
Mandalay greeted us with bustling streets full of shopping stalls and people. There was a 5 day festival that started the day before to celebrate the 3 holy months of Buddhism (August, September, October). It was interesting though, a street festival in Mandalay was less crowded, less hectic and easier to maneuver than the average town in India. Even though it was easy to navigate through the throngs of people, Kyaw decided that we should park the bikes and walk. We walked across a 2km long teak bridge. Despite the muddy water, we couldn't resist the temptation and decided to go for a swim. James, Graham and I dropped our clothes and cannonballed into the water, trying our best the scrub off the dirt and grime from the days ride. It didn't work. But it still felt fantastic to get a little bit of it off.
Hard to see, but the guys in gold and black are juggling with a ball made of cane palms. We bought a ball and tried to play. They were much better...
Graham getting a high five from some fellow swimmers
At dinner, we ordered Spicy Crab Soup and spent 1.5 hours cracking crab and sweating profusely. It reminded me of being home in Washington at my Grandparents house, cracking and eating crab that we caught that day. The only problem was that the crab soup was incredibly spicy and I think I used more energy trying to combat the spice than I consumed during the meal. After dinner, I was exhausted and ready for bed. We only had 10 km to our hotel and once we reached it, I passed out.
The day of chess: September 9th
The morning began with a buffet breakfast in the sky bar on top of the hotel. I was starting to get way to accustomed to this type of living. Nice rooms, wifi, and buffet breakfasts were pretty spectacular. After filling ourselves and drinking a ton of coffee we headed to the Kawasaki showroom to see if we could get some brake pads that were long overdue. A short drive through the city and we arrived at a large clean building with a few Kawasaki bikes parked in the windows. We headed inside and tried sitting on the various models they had on display. The most prestigious bike there was a 300cc Ninja that looked pretty nice. It was the first bike since Kazakhstan that we had seen that wasn’t air cooled, and the guys there were pretty proud of it. While we waited for the boss to let us know what they could do we got the chance to give the bike a little test ride. It felt pretty strange to be on a crotch rocket, and it was considerably smaller than our bikes. Everyone thought it was funny when such large humans sat on such a tiny bike.
After some time we talked with the boss, and he said that they would do their best to find the parts we needed, and if they couldn’t find the parts anywhere then they could resurface the pads we already had. Perfect! This is what we were desperately looking for in India, but couldn’t find anywhere that had the capability to do it. The shop was also spotlessly clean, and there were nice hydraulic lifts and air compressed tools. This was about 10 steps above any shop in India. We felt like our bikes were in good hands.
We left our bikes there and headed off to see a famous Buddha statue. The Buddha and a few other bronze statues have traded hands between different monarchs several times over the last 1000 years before finally ending up in Mandalay. The thing that is special about the Buddha statue is the unbelievable amount of gold that is covering it. There is a tradition of putting gold leaf on Buddha statues that started around 100 years ago, and in that time a thick layer of gold has accumulated on the statue. The only thing that is not coated with gold is his head which is sacred, and probably to tall for anyone to reach it. The hand of the statue has transformed into a massive bulbous blob of gold, and there are bumps of gold all over the statue where more gold leaf accumulates than in other parts. Kyaw informed us it was a tradition and not really a religious place, but he still bowed down and did a prayer when we entered the shrine. The whole area was packed with people who were putting endless layers of gold leaf on the statue. In 10 years time it might just be a massive blob of gold. There was a room with a bunch of paintings that described how the statues were brought there. The paintings depicted monarchs riding white elephants, and travelling on large boats to bring the statues to their resting place. There were some bronze statues of some men, a lion, and a 3 headed elephant that accompanied the now golden Buddha. It is said that if you have a place that needs healing you give the corresponding part on the statue a rub and it helps you heal. I gave the statue’s butt a rub and hoped it would help me while we were riding.
Putting gold leaf on the statue. The bumps are globs of gold that have accumulated over time
Trading the bikes for a horse cart
It was then back to the van and off to the old capital. The drive there took awhile so we played a few games of chess. We had lunch once we arrived and then hired a horse cart to ride around the old city. I was impressed that we all fit into the tiny cart and that the horse seemed to have little trouble pulling us along. The dirt road was a bit bumpy in the cart that lacked suspension, but it was a pretty cool way to ride around the old city. We first checked out a fort that was not much more than a pit surrounded by a wall, but was a relaxing little spot to stretch out for a bit after a cramped ride in the cart.
It was then on to the teak monastery which was incredibly impressive. It was built around 200 years ago and they detail in all of the wood to create the place was astonishing. Massive teak pillars towered up to hold a high ceiling and all of the doorways and intricate carvings surrounding them. There was a monk reading in a corner surrounded by some books that made him look extra wise. James admired the wood working and took some notes for his future plans in carving stuff before we headed off again. The last stop was at a tower that had been knocked sideways in the 1838 earthquake. It still stands, but you are no longer allowed to go to the top do to the possibility of it tumbling over.
Sightseeing from a horse cart was over so it was back into the van for some more driving around Mandalay. It was another hour drive to reach an absolutely massive pagoda that was never finished. Only 1/3 of it was finished and it was still over 100 feet tall. It was basically just a massive square brick with a huge crack down the side from where it splintered in the various earthquakes. There were 2 lion statues that were about 50 feet tall guarding the entrance. The king who built this pagoda was not very well liked because of his fascination with building it. The multiple years and amount of money that went into it ultimately lead him to abandon finishing it in fear of revolt from his subjects.
We headed down the street to the second largest bell in the world that was also built by the same king. It weighed 90 metric tons or 55,555 viss (the unique Burmese weight system). In the devastating 1839 earthquake the teak wood supports snapped and the bell sat on the ground for 50 years before someone could lift it and make a proper structure again. This time they used iron and steel. We had fun smacking it as hard as we could with the teak sticks used to make it ring.
Roaming through the old city
Some impessive teak carvings
The massive unfinishe pagoda cracked by the earthquake
By this time we were a little worn out from the shuttling to the tourist highlights of Mandalay, so it was back to the hotel. We did a quick pit stop at a festival and grabbed some delicious street food. A thing that struck me while we were at the market was the little kids begging for money/food. It is always hard to turn away a hungry kid especially while you are looking at some delicious sweet. I bought two donuts and gave them to two small boys who were begging, and they didn’t seem that enthused. I wondered if they didn’t want the donuts or if they were working for someone else to earn begging money. I have heard of some terrible businesses based off of drug addict beggars and their children and I really hoped that wasn’t the case. We were stuffed on the various things we got from the festival so we headed back to work on the blog and call it a night.
Michael takes a tumble: September 10th
We looked out at the dark skies spread above Mandalay from "Sky Bar" at the top of our hotel and pondered whether we would actually wear our rain gear today. The decision was made for us as we stepped outside and realized how hot and humid it was despite the clouds. The van arrived and ferried us to the Kawasaki showroom to pick up our motorcycles where they were being fitted with new brake pads and getting an oil change. When we arrived they were busy giving the bikes the first bath they'd gotten since the start of the trip. Using a pressure washer they washed away dirt from India, Kazakhstan, Turkey all the way back to Toronto and Colorado. The bikes began to look as good as new... almost. As we waited for them to finish washing the bikes a friendly salesman offered us the keys to the KLX 125 which is basically a miniature version of our bike. Graham and I took our turns ripping up the street on the tiny motorbike which after our massive bikes felt like a bicycle. When all was finished we thanked the mechanics profusely as the bikes felt amazingly better. Having working brakes that you are not afraid to use was an amazing feeling and the bikes were running noticeably better with the new, top quality oil.
Graham trying a street bike on for size.
We left Mandalay on a fast high way and began eating up miles on an open country side. Traveling faster than we had in weeks we made our way south. The country was extremely flat with farms surrounded by sparse bushes and massive trees ranging from Palm to Banyan trees. Cops lined the edge of the highway taking notes and seemingly controlling traffic although half did not have a vehicle. We arrived at a junction that signified the end of our high way riding and pulled off for a quick lunch. The food was delicious as usual and made sure to get a good dose of caffeine to combat the after lunch food coma. After a short delay as the guides made a quick repair to their van we were on our way once again. The clouds had burned off shortly after leaving Mandalay and we were roasting in the mid day sun but up ahead loomed some very menacing clouds.
As we left the highway and wound our way up through townships into some low laying hills the weather began to move in. We decided to stick to our decision of leaving the rain gear off despite the clouds, thinking that it would only feel good in contrast to the heat of the low lands. At first we were correct and the cool rain felt amazing as the slight sting of it hitting bare skin at 40 mph turned to a cooling sensation. As we traveled higher into the hills, however, the temperature continued to drop and we were soon quite chilly. The rain increased making visibility poor and turning the road into a slippery cascade of water. Despite the weather our moods were cheerful as we chatted away through the blue tooth's, complaining about the visibility and discussing other stereotypical boy things. Michael was mid sentence describing a subject that does not need to be disclosed at this time when he let out a small yell. I heard a crash and looked behind to see Michael clinging to his sideways bike as it slid across the pavement. He continued sliding for a good 20 feet before coming to stop at the edge of the road and about 5 feet from a very steep slope that would have spelled a very bad time. The van and I quickly pulled over and rushed back to where Michael was now standing up and checking himself and his bike injuries. Remarkably the only damage was a small tear in his pants and a slightly scratched elbow. The bike was also barely scratched. A bit shaken up but good to go we continued onwards with a bit more caution taken in the corners.
Michael slid most of the way up this corner. A very steep slope could
be found just behind the bushes that his bike very nearly plowed through.
Eventually the clouds fell away behind us and a spectacular view of the cloud covered hills spread out below us. We stopped at a small town for a quick coffee and bathroom break near the high point of the road. While we drank our coffees an even more ominous cloud rolled in and just as we were preparing to leave the shelter of the coffee shop it opened up and began dumping. Scrambling onto our bikes we bent our heads against the rain and took off hoping to reach Inle before dark. Unfortunately that was a long shot and we were soon fighting to see the road through the glare of headlights reflecting through the rain droplets on our facemasks in the falling darkness. We arrived at the hotel safely and after cleaning up headed to a restaurant for a beer and some grub. Kyaw met us at the restaurant with some of his "homies" who seemed to materialize at every town we stopped. The food was good and the company even better and the rest of the night passed quickly.
How It's Made: September 11th ~Michael
Today was a day of amazement. Instead of going into much detail on what we did, I'm going to post pictures with captions of everything we saw/did. But first a quick descrition of Inle Lake, as written by Burma Senses: Inle Lake introduction: The shallow waters of Inle Lake stretch for 35 kilometres, ringed by small fishing villages and majestic rolling hills. The Inth, a people live on the lake, building their houses on stilts and travelling across the lake using their bizarre style of leg rowing. The best way to explore is by boat: in a day trip you can visit the various cottage industries such as silk weaving and cheroot rolling, watch blacksmiths and silversmiths at work and see the floating market that moves between the area’s villages on a five-day rota.
The day started with Kyaw renting us a long tail boat that would be our transportation for the day. It was about 20 feet long and easily fit the 7 of us plus the driver.
During our boat ride to the first village, we saw a fisherman working to get his catch for the day. One hand is used to hold the net so he must use a leg to help him row. This picture shows him just finishing a stroke with his paddle; his rght hand is holding the paddle and his left leg just finished helping him paddle. Kyaw told us the first time he ever tried to stand on the edge of one of these longtail boats, he immediately lost balance and fell in.
The villages throughout Inle consist of stilt houses built in the 6-10 foot deep water. These houses were built almost directly in the middle of the lake. Obviously there were no roads so people commuted by longtail boats. We saw one that was full of kids heading to school, it appeared to be a "school boat".
Our first stop of the day was the Phaung Daw U Pagoda, a Pagoda built to house the 5 Buddha images believed to be brought to Inle in the 12th century by the then King of Burma, King Alaungsith. The first image (picture of the phone screen) is what the Buddhas used to look like. The above picture is what they currently look like. Buddha practice consists of purchasing then "sticking" gold leaf onto Buddha images. The Buddhas have had so much gold paper placed on them over the years that they no longer resemble Buddha, at all. However, they are giant balls of pure gold.
We couldn't resist going full tourist and buying a giant coconut.
The next stop was a fabric producing shop. There were at least 30 or 40 of these looms, all weaving intricate patterns made of cotton, silk or lotus thread. The lotus thread was the most coveted. It takes an estimated 120,000 lotus stems (what the thread is made from) to create the robes for a monk. A small scarf made of lotus fabric cost $200.
We saw a man making umbrellas on a foot powered wood lathe. There's a bamboo "pedal" that had string wrapped around the wood he was turning, when he stepped on the bamboo pedal, the wood would spin and he could turn down the wood. This is something I definitely hope to recreate when I return to the states.
The paper for umbrellas was made by hand as well. First, a piece of wood would soak in water for 2-3 days. The wood would then be smashed with a hammer until it turned into a pulp. The pulp would then be placed in the water tank (right of the picture) on top of a screen. Once the pulp was evenly distributed across the screen, the screen would be lifted from the water. The pulp stuck to the screen and was placed in the sun to dry. Once the pulp dried (3-4 hours in sunlight) it was peeled off the screen. The result was paper!
The next stop was a boat making shop. This 30 foot boat takes 4 people 1 month to complete, which is incredibly impressive considering it was all made by hand. The pictures below shows how they cut the wood for the side paneling.
Each plank of wood was cut by a 2 person saw. How they kept their cutting line straight enough to achieve a 1/2" thick plank of wood is beyond me.
The boat shop also had cigar rolling. These women could roll a cigar in 30 seconds. It took James, Graham and I 5-10 minutes to roll our crappy cigarettes in Turkey. They had two types of cigars, strong (normal tobacco) and sweet (tobacco mixed with other spices/herbs). The sweet cigars were so tasty that even Ethan, who has never smoked, finished an entire cigar to himself (picture evidence below).
Ethan enjoying his first cigar
Final stop consisted of a Pagoda garden with 300-400 mini pagodas built in the 12th century. We hiked to the top of a hill and got a birdseye view.
On our way back to the hotel, there was a storm cloud directly above the city. Luckily, the boat driver took his time and didn't ride into the rain. He timed it just right so that once we reached the city, the cloud had passed.
Our day exploring Inle Lake was incredible. Seeing how things were made, almost entirely by hand, was unbelievable. It made me appreciate every power tool I have ever used, but at the same time made me envious of the skills they had with their hands. I won't forget this day.
To the royal capital: September 12th
We started the morning in the typical routine; grab the complimentary breakfast, halfway through be greeted by a massive smile from Ethan and a rough plan for the day, pack up the room, pack up the van, and hit the road. However this morning James bike didn’t start and his extra long clutch cable was dangerously close to snapping so we spent an extra hour finding a clutch cable that would work and fixing the short in the starter. Nothing like a little sweat and grease to start the day off.
Once on the road we got to enjoy the surroundings that we couldn’t see through the heavy rain a few days before. The lush green mountains were a treat to ride through and we were having a great time. During this ride we briefly discussed asking Kyaw about skipping Yangon based on a suggestion we received from some Aussies when we first got into Myanmar, however when we stopped for lunch in Kalaw the chance never quite arose and we continued on with our same plan.
We ended up back on the major highway from Mandalay to Yangon and cruised to Nae Pyi Taw. Some massive storm clouds were building around us, and the light they refracted was unlike anything I have ever seen. There was a strange purple/orange halo of light that fringed some of the clouds that looked something like the entrance to heaven. We kept thinking we were going to head straight into one of these clouds, but at the last second the road would veer and the rain was dodged. It was actually pretty impressive. You could see it raining a few hundred feet away and the sky was black, but we kept dodging around the outside of it. It was like the road was designed to dodge this one storm cloud.
We eventually ended up at the entrance to the city, and after a brief stop with the guards and some paperwork exchanged we headed into town. Nae Pyi Taw might be the strangest city I have ever seen. They started building it in 2005 as the new capital of Myanmar, and in 2008 all government offices were moved there. There seems to be a notion that someday it will be a massive city because there are at least 4 lane roads going through the whole city, but there is no one on the roads. It looks like a massive amount of money was poured into a ghost town. We drove along the road that is designated for hotels and were blown away by the size and extravagance of the dozens of empty hotels. When we pulled into the parking lot of our hotel there was not a single other car in the parking lot, and no one besides staff around the hotel. There were easily over 100 rooms in this place and it appeared we might be the only people staying there. The hotel also happened to employ a multitude of some of the most attractive women we have seen in Myanmar.
Our bikes in the empty parking lot
We headed up to our room, and to our surprise the wifi was lightning fast. I think every 2 rooms had their own specific router, and any subsequent room in the hotel also had a router so anywhere we went in the building we had super fast wifi. The first thing we did was check if it was fast enough to work on the blog and were pretty excited when our pictures started uploading incredibly fast.
We left the computers to upload pictures and headed down to the “gym” which consisted of a situp bench, two differently weighted dumbbells, a stationary bike, and a circuit machine designed for people a foot taller than us. Either way it felt good to have a proper work out for the first time on the trip. We didn’t figure out how to get the AC to work until the very end, so we were completely drenched by the time we finished.
We cleaned up and headed to dinner in our longyi’s. A couple of the girls at the desk giggled at us and Kyaw looked at me with a grin “told you it was a sexy longyi.” We drove to pick up Koni, and along the way Kyaw pointed out the congress buildings. There were storm clouds everywhere and lightenening flashes would light up various parts of the landscape. Kyaw pointed to where the congress buildings were and then a flash of light ominously lit up the outline of several pointy pagoda type buildings. Kyaw seemed to have some contempt for the congress, and the flash of the outline of the buildings gave the feeling that it was a bad place.
We arrived at a restaurant that was completely packed with people. We had barely seen anyone since we got to the city, but this restaurant had a few hundred people packed into every table. We snagged the only opening on a bench we could find and then went up to check out the food options. Koni gets really excited to show us the foods of Myanmar, and so we went with some various suggestions from him. I think he was also excited to show us his home. He said he came to this restaurant 4-5 times a week because it is really affordable and has good food. I believed him when our bill came to 3000 Kyat each for a big bottle of Myanmar beer, and a tray heaped with different meats, veggies, and bottomless rice to mix into it.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped by the “hyper” market. It was the biggest, newest, and most modern looking grocery store we had seen since Kazakhstan. I wouldn’t say it was any different from a standard “super” market, but in comparison to its surroundings I guess it was pretty “hyper.” We got back to the hotel and did some work on the blog until we couldn’t keep our eyes open and passed out.
Elephants and empty lanes: Sep. 13
We were all excited for the breakfast that lay in store for us downstairs in the lobby of the massive hotel we were staying at and it didn't take long for us to get out of bed. We weren't disappointed and ate our fill of rice, fried noodles, fruit, cereal and omelets made to order. First up on the agenda for the day was to go see the new parliament buildings. The closest location to see the buildings from was on the edge of a massive, and very empty, 20 lane high way. We saw a single car comically perform a u-turn across all 20 lanes of traffic at a crawl. The high way was so baren that we ended doing handstands in the middle with not a car in sight. The parliment buildings were equally impressive looking more like a massive oriental style palace than a government building. After snapping some pictures of the buildings we moved on to the Uppatasanti Pagoda. This pagoda was modeled after the Shwedagon pagoda located in Yangon.
Michael getting dwarfed by the Uppatasanti Pagoda
The pagoda was strikingly beautiful and had a massive interior. The lower walls of the pagoda were covered with images of the Buddha and stories of the Buddha while the higher walls held large script describing some of the primary teachings of Buddhism. The teachings were especially interesting as they were written in English and sparked a number of questions for Kyaw. As usual he killed it on the answers and we left feeling significantly more enlightened on the teachings of Buddhism.
Marble carving on the inside of the pagoda
Opposite the pagoda were the white elephants which are kept as a symbol of power and good fortune for the Myanmar government. We were informed that attempting to ride one would result in prosecution as a usurper trying to take power from the government. Next to the elephants we found a dish that Kyaw had been describing to us earlier but had said it was rare. It was rice cooked inside a bamboo stem and came out looking a bit like a sushi roll. A bit of salt and sesame seeds was sprinkled on top creating a very tasty snack. We returned along the 20 lane highway to our massive hotel and prepared to leave for Yangon. A number of tourist police had been eyeing our bikes all morning and as we packed up they approached us and told us they would escort us out of the city. They also allowed Graham to sit on their much smaller motorcycle and give it a rev or two.
Graham getting excited with the white elephants
The ride to Yangon was fast along the national highway and we somehow managed to avoid some massive rain clouds as the road turned at exactly the right places to avoid the rain shadow. We arrived at the outskirts of Yangon and parked our bikes at a police station. Even with them being at a police station we were encouraged to remove all belongings that could be removed easily. Motorcycles are illegal in Yangon but even if they had not been driving there would have been a nightmare with all the traffic. We were warned to be ready for a 2 hour drive into the city center but somehow managed to avoid a majority of the traffic and arrived at our hotel just after dark.
We cleaned up a bit and put on our Longshri's (traditional fabric wrapped around the waste and worn by both men and women) for the Shwedagon Pagoda. The pagoda was strikingly beautiful and extremely busy with the large courtyard surrounding it full of tourists. Upon entering the pagoda complex, Kyaw pointed out a massive Bodhi tree also known as the Buddha tree. This tree had been brought as a sapling from the original Buddha tree found in Nepal and had grown to its current massive size in only 100 years. Moving farther into the complex we wound our way through hundreds of cold painted pagodas with Buddha statues peering out. Rising above them all was the extremely impressive Shwedagon pagoda. This pagoda is covered completely in gold plates and at the top features an ornate "umbrella" that is covered in gold and gems donated during the construction by Myanmar citizens. At the tippy top of the pagoda a large 72 carat diamond rests. We wandered the complex taking in the ornate splendor of the place. Along the edge of the pagoda lay stations labeled for each day of the week. Michael and Graham who were both born on Wednesday, stopped at the Wednesday station and washed the Buddha with 24 cups of water for each year of their lives. This act of washing the Buddha is thought to bring good luck.
A terrible picture of the Shwedagon Pagoda
Washing the buddha for luck
A picture of the Shwedagon pagoda's umbrella
Upon leaving the pagoda we headed towards China town where we were to eat our last dinner with Ethan, our Vietnamese trip coordinator. We stopped at a small booth on the street full of a number of skewers full of a variety of meats. We picked a few and headed down the street to what felt like a random table but was actually seating for the restaurant which was the small booth. We ordered beers and some plates of rice to accompany the barbeque. We enjoyed the food and the intriguing vibe of the street which was full of a large variety of people. Ethan in particular enjoyed watching the pretty ladies pass by and would give a giant smile and throw his head back whenever he was called out. Ethan refused any drinks that we wanted to buy him for our last night with him and we soon returned to the hotel. Saying goodbye was a sad day as we had grown fond of Ethan. We would greatly miss his giant smile, loud Vietnamese accent and his lady boy jokes.
What Else can go Wrong?: September 14th ~Michael I spent the majority of my night trying to get the Seahawks game on the radio. Once I found one, I listened until 1:30 (end of 3rd quarter and we were down13 to 24). I went to bed thinking it was a lost cause. I woke up in the morning and found that it was a lost cause, the Seahawks lost in overtime. It was the start to a day of mishaps. The morning was standard, got breakfast, exchanged some Dollars for Myanmese Kyat and got in the van to get out of Yangon and pick up our motorcycles from the police station. We got on our bikes and were ready to go, the only problem was Graham's bike wouldn't start and mine sounded awful. Graham went to work trying to find the problem with his bike not starting and I tried to figure out why my bike sounded so terrible. I quickly realized my muffler had disconnected and was loose, exhaust was escaping and bypassing my muffler, causing the loud obnoxious noise. I went to work with Kyaw and fixed it. James and Graham were working to find Graham's problem. The symptoms pointed towards a short (his bike was acting similar to how it did in Kyrgyzstan when it wouldn't start) however no short could be found. Eventually we gave up and decided to roll start it. It took us ~1 hour to get my muffler back together and Graham's bike started.
We wouldn't have been worried about the time, except we had to be in Kyaike Hto (our destination for the day) by 5:40. Our hotel for the night was at the top of a road that could only be accessed by certified trucks. Motorcycles and other non-commercial vehicles aren't allowed to ride on the road and the last truck leaves at 5:40. If we didn't make it to Kyaike Hto by that time, we wouldn't be able to reach our hotel. Kyaw said the drive should take 4-5 hours and it was 12 by the time we left the police station. We had plenty of time to reach Kyaike Hto.
We hopped on the now properly working bikes and rode about 5 km before we saw a bolt drop off of James's bike. A bolt falling off a motorcycle is always slightly worrisome, however normally it takes a couple seconds or even a couple minutes to figure out where it came from. This one took less than a second to realize that one of James's upper luggage rack bolts had popped out and his rack was leaning dangerously low. We pulled over to check the damage.
The initial thought was that the bolt simply wiggled loose and fell out. If that were the case it wouldn't have been a big deal, we had spare bolts and could put in a new one in less than 5 minutes. However, the bolt snapped inside the frame and we couldn't extract the broken bit. We were all doubtful that the luggage rack would hold James's luggage without that bolt. Luckily, we had Burma Senses's giant van to help us out. We popped off all of James's boxes and put them in the van. I had forgotten how good our bikes looked without all the boxes on them. James was feeling nimble and quick without the boxes on and we were back on the road.
About 5 km later we stopped for gas. Graham had to roll start his bike again but it started without any issues. Despite the small problems of the morning, the bikes appeared to be fixed and we were confident there wouldn't be any more problems for the rest of the day. Only problem was, my bike wouldn't start. I hit the starter and the engine would flood. My first thought was maybe the air filter was clogged again. I checked it and found the it was still wet with oil and clean. It wasn't the air filter. By this time, everyone had gotten out of the van and off the bikes and were helping me diagnose the problem.
The engine was flooded so I opened the float chamber on the carburetor to drain the gas and tried it again. Nothing. Except Kyaw noticed that gas was spewing from the gas overflow valve. James pulled out our Clymer book (service manual for our KLR's) and looked up the symptoms of what was happening. Everything was pointing to a faulty float chamber in the carburetor. I refused to believe it, not because I didn't think it was the carburetor, but because I really did not want the problem to be in the carburetor. James and I spent the next 10 or 15 minutes trying our hardest to find something that may be causing the problem. Out of pure desperation I tried repositioning the muffler to see if that would help. Of course it didn't. In the end, there was nothing else that could be causing my bike to not start. It had to be the carburetor.
By this time it was raining. Hard. Luckily we were at the gas station and they had a covered area. I watched the rain coming down and was thinking how much worse the situation would be if we were in the rain. Just then a gas station attendant came over. He told Kyaw that because we were working on the carburetor (and gas was involved) we had to move out from under the covered area. He was afraid it would blow up the gas station. I thought he was kidding, but he wasn't and he forced me out into the rain with my bike that would not start.
Crappy picture from the GoPro of my bike under the van in the pouring rain
Luckily Rkar and Kyaw were thinking clearly (my mind was fogged due to my disbelief of being kicked out into the rain) and they pulled the van over to use the trunk door as a rain cover.
While James and I worked to fix my carb, Graham started checking his electrical system to try and figure out why his bike wouldn't start. Luckily, because he wasn't working with gas, he was allowed to stay in the covered area.
Amazingly, James and had the carb off in less than 10 minutes (it took me at least 1 hour the first time I did it). I faced a daunting moment before opening the carburetor. Carbs are notoriously finicky and if something goes wrong with them, they can be highly difficult to fix. I was terrified that we would make the situation worse by opening the carb. However, it had to be done. We opened the float chamber and found that the float was seated properly. We took off the float and inspected the float needle. The needle is supposed to have a spring loaded pin that moves freely with very slight pressure. We couldn't get the pin to move for the life of us. It was stuck. It was a giant relief to find the actual problem. The carb was flooding because the needle was stuck.
The tiny piece of metal in my hand is the float needle. It's wild that something so small (about the size of my thumbnail) can keep a bike from running.
The Clymer book said to replace the float needle if the pin was seized. Obviously, that wasn't an option so we whipped out our trusty Engineering Flow Chart that we learned while studying at CU.
Most important thing we learned!
The float needle pin wouldn't move, so we used WD-40 to try and lube it. The WD didn't work on its own so we got a small wrench and tried tapping on the pin. It worked! CU engineering to the rescue. The spring loaded pin now moved freely and appeared to work correctly. We put the carburetor back together, very carefully, and put the carb and gas tank back on the bike. It was time to test it. The bike started up without any problems. We had diagnosed, taken apart and fixed a faulty carburetor in less than 2 hours while stuck in a rain storm. I was absolutely blown away that we had fixed the bike. It was a huge boost for my mechanical confidence and our ability to fix the bikes while on the road (knock on wood).
Graham conducted around 10 different tests on his electrical system and none of them produced an answer as to why his bike wouldn't start. All the symptoms of Graham's bike not starting were pointing towards a dead battery. Something that could be fixed once we found a new battery, however Graham wanted to ensure it wasn't anything else. He conducted around 10 different tests on his electrical system and they all showed his bike was working properly. It had to be a dead battery.
The most important thing was, the bikes were running and we could continue on our trip. The only problem was it was now 3:30 and there was no way we could make it to Kyaike Hto before 5:40. We ate lunch, shared a celebratory "fixed carb" cigar and got back on the road.
After 2 hours of riding, the sun sat and it started to get dark. It was still drizzling and we spent the next 2 hours cursing the passing cars for leaving their brights on seemingly trying to ride us off the road. Finally, around 8, we made it to Kyaike Hto. Kyaw had to cancel our hotel reservation and the only other sleeping option (that didn't require us to take a certified truck) was a hotel that was closed for low season maintenance. Luckily, Kyaw was able to sweet talk them into allowing us to stay there. While our beds were being made up, we got a police escort to the closest restaurant. We were exhausted from the stress of broken motorcycles and night time driving, consequently we got beer and enjoyed our meal.
Something on my bike just exploded: Sept 15
We woke up early and headed to breakfast at 730. Our Irish friend, Hannah, we met the night before accompanied us to breakfast and then for the trip up to Golden Rock. Golden rock is quite literally a large rock that is painted gold and delicately positioned on the edge of a cliff at the top of a mountain. The legend is that it was placed there by a king from the excelsior kingdom for a monk who wanted to build a special shrine for a piece of Buddha’s hair that he had been safeguarding for several years. He had been looking for the perfect place to enshrine it and the golden rock became that place. You can still do the trek to the top, but it takes a significant part of a day to do. Since we are on a bit of a time crunch we piled into the back of an open air truck for an incredibly hair raising ride to the top. The only vehicles allowed on the road to the top are these specially geared trucks that they pack with people so you don’t get flung out. Each bench is packed 6 wide so that all your butts squeezed together lock you into place. The wooden bench wasn’t incredibly comfortable especially as we rolled over bumps and realized the suspension of these trucks is nearly non-existent. The ride to the top was like a roller coaster as we rolled up and down steep hills and through the sharpest, steepest turns I have ever seen. The scenery was incredibly lush and at the tops of the mountains you could see various other pagodas poking through the gaps in the clouds.
We made it to the top and headed through the complex of pagodas, temples, monasteries, and various hotels on our way to the golden rock. There was a stall selling mountain goat heads and bear feet for medicine, and when James snapped a pick a guy came rushing out to say no pictures. Kyaw informed us that these things were illegal, and after some research on the issue it seems to be a pretty large problem. The sun and moon bears of Myanmar are incredible creatures that are almost certainly doomed to extinction unless the rapid deforestation and traditional medicinal practices are strictly regulated. I hope that they can be saved, but the problems with deforestation don’t seem to be going anywhere positive and people are comfortable enough selling bear feet in very public places.
We continued on to the temples and asked Kyaw about the various people carrying sack of bricks from straps on their foreheads. He asked a guy who was carrying about 30 bricks and he said he would be paid 50 Kyat per brick and he could carry 300-400 bricks a day. Kyaw shook his head and said this was good money. Compared to the cost of living this most definitely was a decent wage, but compared to comparable pay in the US this was nothing. The guy would spend all day shuttling bricks for less than 20 bucks.
Carrying bricks at the entrance
We finally made it to golden rock as the clouds rolled in. The rock is pretty impressively stuck on the edge of the cliff. It has survived all the disastrous earthquakes throughout Myanmar’s history, and is one of the oldest pagodas in the country. They claim that the forces keeping the rock from falling are not completely understood. Hannah was annoyed that she couldn’t come down to the rock, and Kyaw was a bit uncomfortable telling her to not go certain places. He said he did not really like this rule, but nonetheless it was a rule. We put 7 pieces of gold leaf on the rock as is the tradition and then headed back to the trucks. On the way we grabbed some sugarcane and enjoyed chewing the delicious juice out of it.
The precarious Golden Rock
When we got back to the trucks Kyaw groaned a bit and said we are going to wait for awhile. The trucks don’t leave until they are full and unfortunately there were about 3 people in the truck. We ended up watching some dudes play volleyball with a cane ball like professionals. They would spike by doing a karate kick up so their foot was above the stick, and then swing it down to hit the ball with the bottom of their foot. They could get their feet incredibly high and it was quite entertaining. While we were waiting Hannah realized she was probably going to miss her train that left in a little over an hour from a town that was still a bit of a drive from the bottom of the mountain.
Some cane ball headers
When the truck finally came we had quite the view on the way down, and the ride was every bit as exciting. We grabbed a quick bite at the bottom and Hannah ran off to try and catch her train. When we got back to the hotel it wasn’t surprising that she ended up missing the train, so she ended up catching a ride in the van with us. Sheree, her Australian travel friend, also tagged along and we had a crew to head to Mawlamyine. We did a quick roll start on my bike and were on our way.
It wasn’t long before it started to rain, and we stopped to put on some rain gear. After we were prepared for the rain I tried starting my bike which still didn’t work, and then it was really difficult to roll start. It would sputter and run for a second then die and do it all over again. This happened a dozen times before I stopped my bike in fear of breaking something. We gave it another push and finally got it going, but I was pretty scared to stop my bike now because having a dead bike several miles from the Thai border could be a very unfortunate experience.
Picking up some monks on the way down
We continued on and about 5 minutes later I heard some dreadful words from Michael through the headset, “something on my bike just exploded.” Then silence as he tried to figure out what was going on. His first fear was that the carburetor exploded since we had messed around with that the day before; fortunately though his chain had snapped. It broke with such force though that it flung into the jungle never to be seen again. Michael still had his crappy chain from before and we went to work putting that back on. I kept my bike idling in case it wouldn’t ever start again, but then grew nervous that it would overheat or the radiator would use up the battery so I hopped on and drove up and down the street while Michael fixed the chain with everyone else.
With the chain back on the bike we made it to Mawlamyine without incident. The hotel we arrived at was way out of the girl’s price range, but Kyaw promised to show them another spot that was cheaper. We showered off and grabbed a beer on the deck overlooking the river. The sunset was incredible and we felt pretty relaxed drinking beers and enjoying our last few days in Myanmar even though we had some troubles with the bikes. Kyaw and the crew picked us up from the hotel and we drove to a restaurant that served kyay oo, a delicious pork soup we saw Kyaw eating for lunch. It was fun to chat with Sheree and Hannah about their travels and swap some stories. Kyaw looked a little perplexed by the new addition of women and was curious to know how long it took to go on a date with a girl in America. I answered it wasn’t abnormal to go grab coffee with someone you just met, and they seemed a little intrigued. He said “In Myanmar guys chase and girls run. When you stop chasing they run like hell.” Kyaw seemed a little lonely and I felt bad that his endeavors with women seemed to be such a struggle. After dinner we passed out in our fancy room and enjoyed the AC.
Rainy day at the beach: Sept. 16
I awoke with my motorcycle on my mind and hopped out bed ready to get some work done on it and get all of them working again. The continental breakfast at the hotel was closed for the day but they made us some mediocre fried rice with a barely cooked egg on top and some coffee regardless. The van showed up and we followed them to a few shops eventually finding the welding shop where they could help remove the luggage rack bolt that had sheared off on my bike. While removing the rack we found that the other bolt holding the luggage rack on was seized. Bringing out a large hammer and some breaker bars we set to work pounding on the bolt and nut in an attempt to brake it loose. A bit of team work and a lot of banging and we successfully removed the bolt and the luggage rack. We then set to work braking off the other weld nut which had half of the sheared bolt still wedged inside. A few taps with a large hammer and a chisel made short work of it and we were soon putting the luggage rack back on with completely new bolts and nuts. While I was working on this Graham had set off with Kyaw to look for a battery and just as we finished he returned empty handed. With no other option but to keep push starting his bike and hope that we could find a battery in Chiang Mai we returned to the hotel, finished with the bikes for the day.
The mechanic and me with a fixed up bike! The guy had a lathe and an injection molder in this tiny shop which was a family business
We then piled into the van and headed for the beach which was an hour ride south west of the city. We arrived hungry but excited and after a quick lunch and some sunscreen we were running towards the water whooping. The water felt amazing after having been inland for so long and Michael and Graham were especially happy to be back near the ocean. The waves were much bigger than we had expected and it wasn't long before we were out past our guides comfort zones trying to body surf the bigger waves. The guides seemed to be a bit less confident in the water but joined in the fun regardless. When we grew tired of the waves we returned to the beach to play with our new cane ball and drink a coconut. We were not the best group of jugglers but it was fun nonetheless. An afternoon thunderstorm rolled dropping sheets of rain on us. The rain felt amazing and kept us nice and cool while we continued our game. Round two of body surfing was even more successful as we purchased a tube for a dollar. We wrestled the tube out past the brake only to ride it right back in and repeat. We were soon exhausted and ready to head to the hotel.
Arkar (our driver) and Graham looking excited for a day at the beach.