3 Day Ride: Pindaya – Mandalay (via Ywengan and the ‘back way’ from Kyaukse) / 224km

Day 1: Pindaya – Ywengan

Distance: 80km (19th March 2016)

Road: up and down all day, paved but bumpy road; had to go 20km south from Pindaya first before you head northwest to Ywengan.

There is a steady climb out of Pindaya and then you get to enjoy some lovely rolling countryside. 8km in, our chain gets really jammed and we have to take an hour to tease it out from inbetween the derailer and kick stand… The cycle otherwise was pretty uneventful although there was a fair amount of climbing involved.

Ywengan is a small town (make your way to the centre) but there is one simple guesthouse (Khansan Guesthouse) for USD 10 – this is pricey for the room you get with a cold water bath and toilet outside although we did re-fill all our water bottles for free from his water dispenser. There are a couple of OK restaurants and a decent cafe half way up the hill – great for breakfast.

Day 2: Ywengan – wild camping 10km NW from Kyaukse (20th March 2016)

Distance: 90k by mostly downhill

Road: Paved – pretty darn good for Myanmar, especially considering how quiet and unused the road is – great ride down with spectacular views!

Mostly Up with a bit of down for the first 10k. You pass some sleepy villages where we stopped for a coffee and cake break and the scenery is great.

We pass a cool temple complex complete with four huge Buddha statues looking out across the valley.

  
The road is lined with white cherry blossom, dusted pink in the centre of each flower.

  Here I am just after we started the long decent! 

The road is narrow but in good nick with very little traffic. It zig-zags down in front of you like a great black snake. The views are AMAZING! This is the best ride we have had so far.

   
For a lot of the time it is completely silent except for the crickets and birds. Giant butterflies flutter past and gold and red dragon flies keep pace with us as we enjoy the downhill.

Every so often we stop to give the breaks a chance to cool off and enjoy the breathtaking views and the big drops into the valley. The landscape is dry but still very beautiful – again, clear signs of mass deforestation.

There is currently 1km of road works near the bottom where the road pretty much disappears, replaced by sand and rocks. It’s amazing how much hotter it’s got as we’ve climbed down. Bye bye cool weather…

We stop at a large restaurant a few km after the road works. A large river runs through the valley and we follow this for a while still on Rd 411 – a lush, green strip of land clings to its banks.

A few km on we then take a right turn onto the white Rd, crossing the river and then skirting around the mountains north. This connects to another yellow rd further North. You can turn left at the T-junction and head to Kyaukse this way, a much nicer ride which avoids the main AH1/AH2 road to the west. 

We had no plans to go to Kyaukse though as we needed to find a camping spot. We turn right again and head up past the huge Chinese cement factory following the road north. The landscape offers very little cover and despite it being a Sundy the road is still fairly busy. At dusk we agree we need to just get off the road as quickly as possible. A few people would likely see us but hopefull they wouldn’t take too much notice. 

We spot what looks like an empty bamboo shelter at the side of a field about 250m from the road. We make a dash for it and it ends up being the perfect hideaway for us. We wait for a while to see if anyone comes but by 7.30 we think it’s safe to pitch the tent. 

We watch a documentary about the English folk revival and then fall fast asleep. 

Day 3: Kyaukse to Mandalay – the scenic, not on the map, back way! (21st March 2016)

Distance: 54

Road: mostly unpaved, sandy and very tricky in places

So as to avoid the main rd into Madalay we cut a new route ourselves through the countryside north east of Kyaukse on our final day of this stretch from Inle.

We followed the road north towards the river, cutting through a valley and skirting the mountains on our right. The road is unpaved, sandy and pot holed but very wide. We need to cross the river to continue on but there is no bridge or official ferry crossing on the map. 

Assuming there will be someone with a boat willing to take us across when we get there we turn off to the left and follow the canal network towards one o the riverside villages (this is not marked on the map). The mountains offer an impressive backdrop as we cycle on this dirt track, banana plantations lining our way on both sides. 

  
It is bumpy and slow – definitely not for those cyclists who like to stick to paved roads but perfect for tourers who like to get away from the beaten track and don’t mind a bit of adventure, we cycled through some really lovely villages, glimpsing the daily lives of those Burmese who live off the land and who have very little.

We reach the village by the river an instantly spot a boat going back and forwards. It is absolutely stunning here and we both look forward to getting across so we can jump in the water for a pre-lunch swim. 

 The boat owner and his mate help us load the bike into the tiny boat and with very little fuss we’re over safely. 

  Only 25k to our Hotel in Mandalay!
After being on a very bumpy track for another 8km we turn onto the canal again and follow it right into centre of Mandalay, avoiding all the busy roads.

The city’s roads are terrible but we find our hotel and get ready to go off to meet mum and dad!

Rooftop cocktails overlooking sunset on the Ayeyarwady river
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Day 2 of Tak to Mae Sot

After our struggles yesterday we enjoyed a lie in and a lazy morning before setting off to complete the mountain pass to Mae Sot.
There was still some climbing to do but we held on to the knowledge that the majority of the 55km we needed to do would be down hill.

It was tough going initially but the road is MUCH better on this side of the mountain with a decent hard shoulder (although the other side going the other way didn’t seem to have one) and wider roads. The traffic was still busy. We are very glad we made the decision to do this stretch over two days. (A lot of cyclists try to do it in one)

We finally reached the highest peak marked by a temple complex (all the trucks and cars beep as they go past) and some impressive rock formations.

  
We have a short stop at the top. This sign gave us a sense of what was to come.

  
We reach the bustling town of Mae Sot at around 5pm and take some time to find a suitable guesthouse near the bus station (Green Guesthouse 240 baht). This will be our last night in Thailand. 

There seems to be a large Muslim community here and on the map we notice that there is a significant UNHCR centre. Yesterday Paddy also noticed that there was a refugee camp some miles south too. Both perhaps a stark reminder of what is still going on over the border in Myanmar.

The town is a good place to stock up on everything you might need. 

After washing clothes we head to the night market where we have an excellent dinner and finally get round to ‘celebrating’ being together for 3 years! 

Thai Stats

Total Days: 26

Total km cycling: 843

Trains: 2

Wild Camping Nights: 4

Warm Showers Stays: 5

The tale of the campsite wild goose chase

Tuesday 8th March saw us ascend the hills towards the Mae Sot border with Myanmar. It’s time to say goodbye to Thailand and start a new adventure in colourful Burma.

In the previous two days we had covered the 150km from Phitsanulok to Sukathai (where there is a pleasant collection of 13th century temples) and onwards to Tak.

The day was a challenge in many more ways than one.
The week of rest days in Bangkok had softened my bum and by the end of the second day I had angry saddle sore which we had to soothe with Bikers Balm and Savlon.  

 We had had a frustrating evening the night before the climb, having had difficulty finding a suitable wild camping spot. We were forced to take cover on some bumpy, sandy farm land, where we were forced to duck down for passing traffic on the road. Our stove was very temperamental and it took an age to cook up our stew.

The evening was suitably rounded off when we woke at midnight to a perculiar crackling under our heads. We had pitched out tent under an ant/termite highway… We were forced to get up and move the tent, significantly interrupting our nights sleep.

Tired and grumpy, we set off in the morning aware that it would be a tough day of climbing. We were heading for a campsite marked on our map 80km away and 800m up. The prospect of this climb did not improve our mood.

It was unusually hot but we managed the first 50k without too much problem. The gradient was constant but very manageable and we pedalled on as the landscape around us became more and more mountainous.

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Our mood was significantly cheered when we stopped to chat to another touring couple from France going the other way and guess what THEY WERE ON A TANDEM. They had been on the road for long while (and looked suitably travelled) having cycled from France. We swapped stories and tips for the roads ahead before carrying on.

8th March 2016 happens to be International Women’s Day and so as we climbed we celebrated by exhausting our full list of women artists on both my iPod and Paddy’s phone.

Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Florence and the Machine, Ani DiFranco, The Albama Shakes and many more kept us company as we pushed on.

At 2.30 we had reached the beginning of the last 20k with still 600m to climb. I knew that this trip would really test my endurance and today confirmed it. By this time it had reached the hottest part of the day and we were sweltering as the sun beat down from above and the tarmac radiated from below.

Stretches such as these have a timeless quality about them. All you can really concentrate is the climb, staring at your sweat drenched forearms, griping onto your handlebars and willing your legs to just keep spinning. 

It was a tough climb, no let up the whole way, and it was a very busy road with extensive road works taking place on either side. Huge trucks passed us going both ways and there were more than a few scary moments. Paddy did a sterling job as pilot though and finally at 5.00 we reached the turning off which led to the campsite. There was still a way to climb but we were spurred on by the thought of a cold shower and pitching our tent in a picturesque camping spot. 

The road gets narrower and narrower and steeper and steeper. This campsite better be good.. but we can’t help noticing that the lane we’re cycling up seems horribly overgrown… 

The slope gets so steep that we have to get off (a first for us) and push the last 200m up the hill. No joke!

We pass an abandoned building which is crumbling into the jungle…

When we finally reach the top we’re faced with this glorious view…

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Yes. That is broken glass on the road!

There is nothing quite like the crushing feeling of despair you experience having cycled up a (very) long mountain and are faced with nothing but a dead end!

To top it off we were nearly out of water and it was approaching dark fast.

Alls well that ends well – as usual, we are saved by the generosity and kindness of local people who replenish our water bottles and take us to a lovely home stay where we are given our own wooden chalet.

When our stove finally packs in (Paddy thinks he can fix it!) they let us use their kitchen so we can finish cooking our noodles – nothing can burst the bubble of relief, not even when Paddy accidentally drowns our dinner in fish sauce thinking it is oil…

More climbing tomorrow towards Mae Sot! 

Nos Da!