Friday March 11th 2016
A 6.30am wake up ensures we get off to a good start the next morning. We pack up the bike and enjoy a great breakfast accompanied by tea (of course!). We paid 75p each!!!
Kawkeireuik is bustling as we cycle out towards the road which will eventually lead to Hpa An (105km). A morning mist hangs in the air making everything look very mysterious and dreamy. It is very humid! Golden pagodas litter the countryside everywhere you look and cattle and goats meander lazily across the road slowing up the traffic. Kayin State is very beautiful.
We get stopped at a check point where we’re asked to handover our passports, this becomes a regular occurrence throughout the day but the guards are very friendly and even offer you energy drinks and replenish your water.
10km in, Paddy notices that one of the front ortlieb panniers is hanging wrongly and so we’re forced to stop and diagnose the problem.
One of reasons to invest in top end gear such as ortlieb is to ensure you minimise the rips, tears and breakages that are inevitably going to happen while touring. Our ortlieb panniers are not supposed to be used on a front rack strictly speaking but we still didn’t expect them to break this early on into our trip… After doing some reading it seems others have found the same thing!
One of the screws attaching the bag to the plastic beam at the top had popped out. (It’s a metal bolt, screwed into plastic theads – cost saving, shoddy design). paddy screwed it back in but the threads are pretty ruined so we decide that it’s time to re-enforce the bags to the bike frame with rope. (I had noticed that a French couple we’d met a few days beforehand had done a similar thing.)
Paddy’s engineering brain and lifelong experience sailing comes in very handy in these situations… I watch him designs a purchase and pulley system with our washing line rope which holds both panniers to the frame and yet allows the handlebars to turn without the rope loosening… I learn a lot from just watching!
We press on and finally make some headway. It’s very flat but the road is very bumpy which gets tiring. It’s amazing how much time Paddy and I currently spend discussing the various virtues of different road surfaces!
The road is pretty narrow and has quite a bit of traffic. Myanmar traffic drives on the right but confusingly ALL the cars and trucks are also right hand drive… We also see local buses stop and passengers getting off into the road…
Myanmar has some HUGE rivers and we cross a large bridge over the Hlaing-bwe river just after the second check point. Cycling over is slightly precarious due to the bike tyre width gaps!
We stop for lunch and are served a huge pile of steaming noodles (helpings in Burma are much bigger than Thailand or Cambodia!). It’s tasty but clearly mixed with a lot of MSG, an agent which is still used a lot here. It’s served with a tasty watery soup containing garlic, cabbage and chilli.
Onwards again, and by 3pm we’re only 15km from Hpa-An but we decide to take the more scenic detour left (after the town of Ein Du) which carves it’s way through the impressive rock formations west of Mount Zwegabin (750m) passing the Lumbini Garden where there are thousands of Buddha statues placed in perfect lines amongst the trees.
It’s a great detour, shade covered and quiet, and the mountain top pagodas are incredible! How do they build them so far up!
We reach Hpa-An a large town which sits on the banks of another large river, the Saluen, at roughly 4.15. We find a hotel and meet another cycle tourer, Jolie a primary school teacher from the Basque Country in northern Spain. She is brilliant and gives us lots of tips for cycling through China and even presents her used map of Chuan State.
We need to get north towards Inle Lake over the next two days. Cycling this isn’t an option as its over 700km so we will need to investigate bus possibilities or perhaps hitch hike up to Meiktila.