9th November. 100-odd km via a southerly sightseeing diversion.
Bit hard getting up this morning at 06:20am as our bed was so comfortable and we’re both a bit weary from moving on every day after weeks on the go, but nevertheless we got up and got sorted, meeting Aad & Mike for a lacklustre breakfast at 07:00am in the restaurant – the one saving grace for me was the percolated coffee. Karen spoke to a lady who said she was Yangoon and that whilst the official result of the general election was going to be announced at 3:00pm today, social media reports suggested that the opposition had secured the win. Let’s see what happens this afternoon.
Aad and Mike said that today’s itinerary called for local sightseeing on foot so after breakfast Karen and I changed out of our riding gear into casual clothes as we were already sweltering, but when we saw Win at 8:00am he said that first we had a 30km ride south to the sightseeing place, so it was back into our sticky gear and a quick pack of the bikes before we were all ready to leave at 8:20am, twenty minutes later than planned but no one had told us that the plan had changed so you get that on big jobs.
The 3 x four wheel drives departed about 10 minutes before the 3 x bikes and the tour bus, but somehow we managed to pass them and arrive at the sighting destination first, 30 minutes before the fourbies arrived.
An archway over the entrance road leading off the main road gave way to a long line of tall statues of monks – perhaps a hundred or more statues of monks – walking down the side of the road, before the statues walked over a footbridge that cross the road, and disappeared down a long gravel track. It was an amazing display that heralded our arrival at a hilly area festooned with gigantic statues of Buddha – standing statues, a huge reclining statue, another huge statue still under construction – the head completed and the core of the body assembled – perhaps three or four stories high of poured concrete floors and pillars. We rode around this Disneyland of statues for a while, before stopping at a small stall and sitting down to a cold Coke and stale potato crisps – surrounded by a dozen or more playful kittens that had been rescued by the shop owner, some as young as just four days old.
We back-tracked north in the direction of Maylamyine, then turned NE to bypass the town and head in a bit of a curve towards Hpaan, 73km or so north of the sighting place (name to be discovered when I can check with Win).
The road crossed two large bridges spanning the rivers below – the road surface was made from metal slats running lengthways with a 2-inch gap between each slat – wide enough to catch your front tyre and spit you off the bike. A narrow track on either side of the bridge was fully-surfaced with the metal slats – the track wide enough for the small scooters that pedal these roads, but it took all of my concentration to ride carefully over the bridge without clipping the bridge railings or weaving into the gap at the edge of the track.
The road veered NW and the countryside was beautiful to ride through – jagged limestone karsts on our right rose up vertically from the green fields under cultivation. Once again the roadway was shielded in most places from the sun by an avenue of trees on either side of us – this is a common feature of the country roads here in Myanmar and is always welcome as the shade from the trees helps keep us cool from the harsh sun overhead.
Aad had been having big troubles with his Garmin 62 GPS last night, and the route he’d imported into our GPS wasn’t working properly either – just 5km out of Hpaan it wanted us to turn around and return to Hpaan via Mawlamyine – a detour of about 99km – but we ignored the GPS and followed Mike to the Hotel Angels Land – our last hotel on our tour through Myanmar. The concierge pointed to the concrete apron out the front of the hotel as the ‘secure bike parking’ location but Aad and Karen pounced on him and he instead arranged for us to park the bikes at his house nearby where they will safer inside a secure compound, so we unloaded the bikes at the hotel and then moved them to his house.
After a cooling shower – I was melting inside my riding gear – the tour bus picked us up and drove us into town to a lacklustre restaurant for lunch. Karen & I and Aad & Mike sat down to dubious chicken curry, with an assortment of accompanying dishes of indeterminable origin. Lunch finished with, and after collecting cameras from our hotel rooms, we again boarded the tour bus – this time for a short trip to the number #1 sightseeing venue in this area – the Kaw Goon Cave.
The Kaw Goon Cave dates back to the seventh century and is a above-ground cave nestled in the side of a limestone karst that has been decorated with over 10,000 images of Buddha, ranging in size from minute to massive. Our guide explained that many of the images had been carved into the rock wall – but to Aad and myself it looked more like they had applied a plaster to the rock wall and then carved or moulded the plaster. Either way the cave – both the high rock wall approaching the cave mouth and the cave itself was covered in images of Buddha. The cave mouth faced east so our visit was made cooler in the afternoon shade, and the whole place had a very tranquil and serene feeling to it.
We returned to the hotel – Karen went for a shower and Aad & I went in search for some cold Coke and crisps. I took the opportunity to recover the 1/2 bottle of red wine from my pannier that Karen hadn’t finished off last night at dinner – she deserves a celebratory drink this evening to mark our last night in Myanmar.
Whilst our first two days in Myanmar were quite frenetic with long distances and night-time riding that was both dangerous and fraying upon nerves, our remaining journey through this beautiful country has been very enjoyable and insightful. The people are very shy and reserved, but also hardworking and always keen to render assistance to travellers. The countryside is picturesque – though we would have liked to have explored the north-west where we entered Myanmar from India even more as that mountainous area was especially breathtaking.
Myanmar is a country undergoing change – a quick check of the ABC news website this afternoon suggests that the opposition party has indeed secured a historical win in the general election. Hopefully future change won’t be achieved at the cost of the balanced and gentle way of life we’ve come to observe and appreciate over the past two weeks.