Sunday 13th March 2016
Due to the limited 28 visa situation in Myanmar we have a stricter schedule here than usual.
Myanmar is a BIG country and we will be spending what promises to be a great week with the two ‘Sheen Seniors’ who we are meeting in Mandalay on the 21st. We were determined to visit Inle Lake before then.
All this meant we needed to get north, fast. We’ve not done too much by public transport yet… Just a couple of cargo trains in Thailand in and out of Bangkok and we had read many times that the trains in Myanmar are slow, unreliable and uncomfortable.
Bus seemed the best option – but how willing would they be in taking a tandem?
There are only two buses from Hpa-An to Mandalay (12 hours) and both are night services leaving 6pm and 6.30pm. There is a decent motorway servicing Bago to Mandalay which makes up the majority of the journey. We wanted to be dropped off near Meiktila so we could head East form there.
Our hotel called a bus company and the request to take the tandem came back negatory. Unperturbed we agreed we’d hitch hike instead and went and had dinner with some other cycle tourers. The only worry was that we needed to hitch over 700km… and Paddy’s stomach hadn’t been feeling too good for the last day either….
Hitch Hiking in Asia is very easy and although we hadn’t tried it yet, we’ve heard many stories of other cycle tourers sticking their thumb out to grab a ride. ‘People always stop’ said one cyclist to us.
Before we left the next morning to start our hitching we stopped at the bus ticket kiosk in town to see if the bus company could be persuaded a second time. Whether the guy was more forceful, or whether he just knew the right people to call, this time the bus company said yes to the tandem, as long as we removed both wheels.
Faced with either a 10 hour bus journey or hitching for 24 hours in trucks we knew which one we’d prefer, the only sticking point was that the tickets were 15,000 kyat each + 10,000 for the bike. Our daily budget here is 35,0000.
In the end we bit the bullet and went for the bus. Despite wanting to experience the hitching, we agreed that maybe covering 700km on our first hitching trip with tandem might be an overstretch.
Maybe we were too carful, maybe not…
Tandem (minus his wheels and handle bars) was well looked after by the loading guys and was placed carefully in the hold next to a collection of huge spikey fruit. We enjoyed our comfortable bus journey, complete with pillows, blankets and reclining chairs. We even slept a lot of the way (despite an over friendly monk waking us up at every stop to check we didn’t need the toilet!)
We arrived at our stop just outside Mektila at 5.30am. We were dropped off on the hard shoulder 12km from Mektila. It’s not as bad as it sounds, this motorway is famously deserted (there are myths that kids even fly their kites on it apparently) and we set up the bike under the friendly eyes of some Motorbike taxi drivers who race each other up and down the tarmac.
Time to get to Kalaw!