Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Taungdwingyi Loop

I've been hooked on motorcycle touring ever since I was in Thailand. Riding a motorbike through the roads of a developing country can be tiring at times. Perhaps even a little dangerous. It's worth it. Getting away from where the foreigners usually are allows me to see the country more as it really is, as opposed to how it's presented.

As I've said before, having the motorbike has been the best part of moving to Naypyitaw; motorcycles are banned from the city streets of Yangon. My travel companion Chris and I were planning our first multi-day journey. The goal was to visit Taungdwingyi, a small city about 100 miles west of Naypyitaw, visit the ruins of 2000 year-old city called Beikthano, get a hotel there and then drive back via a different route the next day.

I was interested in the ruins, but the real thrill was going to be the drive itself. You can see the route we'd planned on the map above, but let me expand on it by explaining a bit about the geography of Myanmar. As you can see on the topographic map, the country is bounded on either side by tall mountain ranges.

 The center of
the country is a big valley, but the lowlands themselves are split down the middle by a range of hills. They're not that tall, but we were expecting them to be scenic. Naypyitaw sits in the eastern half of the valley. Taungdwingyi is just on the other side of the hills in the western half, the Ayerwaddy River valley. The cool thing about this trip was that we had a boundary to cross; an obstacle to overcome.

We left early in the morning and as soon as we got out of the sprawling metro Naypyitaw area, the beauty, the intense greenness all around, and eventually, the rolling contours of the Bago Hills just had us smiling ear to ear. This is why we're here: to explore a new country.

The people we passed, sat with in tea shops and interacted with were very curious about us. Full of smiles and often dumbstruck when we appeared, this was obviously just as new for them as it was for us. If you think about it, Myanmar has been closed to outsiders for 45 years before opening up in 2010. Up here in the capital, most of the foreigners here are older than Chris and even I, so on the whole, they're not the kind who go out and adventure. Our Taungdwingyi Loop certainly isn't on any tourist guidebook or website. Despite being close to a
Was that a caucasian driving by?
UNESCO World Heritage Site (the Beikthona ruins), Taungdwingyi doesn't have a page on, isn't mentioned at all on TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet. Even ignores it. It's certainly within the realm of possibility that we were the first westerners the hill-dwelling locals had ever seen in their entire lives.

Myanmar is a nation of lots of different ethnic groups. One of the largest is the Karen people who mostly live in the mountains on the east side of the country as well across the border in Thailand. I found it interesting that I noticed lots of Karen-style costumes on the people of these hills. After looking at a map of the ethnic groups of Myanmar, I saw that these hills west of Naypyitaw are inhabited by Burmo-Karen people, i.e., a mixed ethnicity. The woman in the picture above has very Karen-like facial features, but her grandson is wearing thannaka, a wood-based facial sunscreen that is traditionaly Burmese.  

My friend Chris had recently purchased a new toy: a GoPro video camera. These miniature cameras record in HD, are rugged and durable and come with a variety of accessories that allow you to do things like attach it to the top of a motorcycle helmet. I so want one. 

The video I made uses clips from my camera as well as new perspectives made possible by the GoPro.  I'll share some screen grabs before the video. Please watch and comment on YouTube!

The Bago Hills had a big sky.

Getting to ride on the top of a truck and seeing foreign tourists in your area for the first time makes for a happy occurrence. 

We filled up three times on our journey. Up in the hills, this is a gas station. 

Funny framing on this one. Toddlers now available in convenient plastic containers!  

Rush Hour on Myanmar's Highway 2.

The gas pumping committee.

A lovely young lady whose job was to collect the toll for the road to Taungdwingyi. Mind you, the toll was 100 Kyats, i.e., 8 cents. 

I was worried about the roads, this being the tail end of the rainy season. We've been foiled by ruds-turned-to-mud before. There was only one small stretch of that on the journey to Taungdwingyi. 

And here's the video:

PART TWO yet to come...


  1. Is everybody driving that fast on those country roads? Amazing video!

  2. As I've said in the past, I adore your videos. Thank you. Blessings...


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