Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Myanmar Motorcycle Epic 2 - Meiktila to Bagan

I wasn't expecting much from Meiktile.
I was pleasantly surprised.

I write this at the end of my sixth day of riding the motorbike through unexplored Myanmar. There’s all kinds of things fresh in my mind about what’s happening right now that I’d like to recount, but for the sake of the narrative, I’ll go back a few days and talk about going to Bagan and thereafter. 

The performance of my motorcycle was a big concern of mine as I left Meiktila for Bagan. On the previous day, interestingly occurring immediately after I’d had the oil changed, my bike war running extremely sluggishly. No matter what gear I was in, the bike was struggling to accelerate; the problem was more marked in the higher gears. Something was slipping. It felt like I was trying to go up a hill in too high of a gear all of the time. Now, as the day progressed, the problem lessened, so I decided to give it another day, and if the problem continued, I’d get it checked out in Bagan. 

As you’ll note on the map of my route, I seemed to have chosen to go the long way to Bagan, and I did. See, about a third of the southern, more direct route includes a road I was on when I went from Popa to Naypyitaw last November. Travelling down routes you’re already taken is just that, travelling; it’s not exploring, as I so love to do. 

On the road from Myingyan to Nyaung Oo, there was a narrow bridge that also doubled for the railroad line. It was only wide enough to allow 4-wheeled vehicles to pass in one direction, although two-wheeled vehicles could putt along the side facing opposing traffic. Well, once the cars and trucks had
gone by, I decided to skip over to the lane between the railroad tracks, as that looked much smoother. Unfortunately, I slid over too casually, allowing my front tire to get caught in the groove for the railroad track. I immediately crashed. Laid the bike down in the middle of a bridge. I seemed to be okay; at the time, I could only hope the same for the bike. It turned out none too worse for wear either.
Picked up the bike, and carried on. That’s what you do. Turns out we both had minor damage: one broken side view mirror and a patch of road rash on my hip. Crashing a motorbike at 5 mph is rarely dangerous. 

Once I had composed myself and got my payload rebalanced, I was actually somewhat excited. I knew the camera had been rolling  and that I’d likely just captured some pretty neat video. 

Rolling into Bagan, I found a hotel that had been given excellent reviews, and I assumed it was my Myanmar language skills that allowed me to secure a room at only 45K Kyats per night, which was less than the 47K Kyats I’d seen as an ‘insider deal’ at Booking.com.

The assistant mechanic looked to be about 11 years old
First order of business was to get the bike checked out. I needed to replace the side mirror at  the very least, but with the help of the telephone and a colleague translating back in Yangon (I don’t have the language skills to express what I wanted), the mechanic knew as I was heading up to the hills of Chin State, and my bike needed a thorough performance and safety inspection. A couple hours later, they’d replaced the chain and the chain sprocket. What was happening was that the chain was slipping inside the crankcase; the faster I went, the more likely it was to slip. Cost for the whole tune up: less than $20. 

After a bit of exploring along the river, it was time to experience one of the aspects of Bagan that it’s most famous for: its sunset. But Bagan is huge. Thousands of temples spread out over dozens of square miles. Where to go? Look on the internet for that. I found a place that was described as being off-the-beaten-path, having few tourists and underappreciated for what you could see from climbing the temple. Of course, thousands of others had also read this description, and when I got there, it was packed with tourists.

Moreover, the temple that had been described in the blog was closed. About a year ago, a big earthquake struck Bagan, damaging a lot of the 1000 year-old monuments. There was a barrier around the temple in question, and a sign that said essentially “sorry, please do not enter”, written as if it were a suggestion, not a prohibition. Well, there was a temple just next to it, quickly filling up with tourists,
Here's the temple you're not supposed to get up on. You can see why.
that was pretty much the same size and all that. Still, I was tempted to go around the gate and ignore the ‘suggestion’, That’s the thing, out there in this vast countryside filled with ancient pagodas, stupas and temples, there’s no one ‘in charge’. There’s no authorities overseeing anything.  Despite this, I did the right thing and clamored up the stairs of the pagoda behind the one that faced the sunset. Later, I noticed half a dozen E-bikes parked in front of the do-not-enter gate. Call them either braver or more culturally insensitive, in either case, some other tourists saw the sign as merely a suggestion.

Zooming by German tourists on their E-bikes, that was one thing that I smugly enjoyed about Bagan. An e-bike is an electronic bicycle. They look like little motorized scooters, but are capable of 15 to 20 mph, tops. They’re also completely silent and very ecologically friendly; I wouldn’t mind having one in Yangon. The authorities do not permit motorcycle rentals in the Bagan area, so all the tourists have to get around on these 2-wheeled golf carts. Me on my little Kenbo 125, speaking the local language, I’m better than you.

At one point during the second day, I actually made a girl swoon when I pulled up to a restaurant to have lunch. Seriously, me, a late 40’s fat guy, made a 20-something American girl swoon when I drove in on my loud, gas powered, motor cycle. Honestly, I saw it in her face, she was swooning! Maybe it was my square-jawed good looks or my rakish hair. More likely it was that I was the only tourist in the whole city on a good old-fashioned iron horse. Albeit a Chinese scooter, it was at least an iron pony. 

Enjoy the video...


  1. LOVE the music on this one. Great video, Joko.

  2. Do you have video of the girl "swooning"? In my 72 years, I can't recall seeing anyone do that!

    1. She stared at me as if I were the only thing in the world. Mouth open. A slight flush to her cheeks...

  3. I must admit, I feel badly that you fell off the bike. However, I praise God you weren't injured! Hallelujah! Thank you for your entry and videos. Blessings, Lynn


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