(Had a zero day today, sent out a bunch of emails, worked on a secret plan, and spoke to someone in Washington state to see if I am crazy or not (well, the secret plan), he said not mostly. Phew!)
A couple of snaps of great things on my bike that are 5 years old. The Rok Straps are the best aren’t they? These 2 attach my duffle to the bike and get yarded on every riding day and show no wear. Awesome
My titanium system from HPN Racing was so cool with the heat colours for the first month or so. Now, in the last year, the colour has come back and they look gorgeous
Maybe not enough content, so here’s a good movie from that Myanmar post with the family making cigars by the road. I’ve trimmed it to the point she starts making one and finishes the second, time for both 40 seconds
Tomorrow, since I’ll be still here, we’ll post 2 cool things on the bike that aren’t 5 years old, and a movie of another Myanmar lady making something with local materials, for 40 seconds too, and a bit really scary. All this time on my hands, now we have a theme I can keep going for 3 days!
(Was able to upload an image by screengrabbling it, reducing it to 4.5MB. Below all just my opinion)
1) I was there for 25 days, not a lot, but because of the mileage we had exposure to a lot of people. They’re kind and generous. They’re not always quick to smile first, similar to the very shy Laos, but if you smile, they smile beamingly back. The less shy Indonesians smile regardless of your expression. With the exception of a couple of countries in SE Asia, it’s all smiles. Very nice.
2) It’s really easy. Like Laos. And like Laos, the majority of tourists you meet are French. However there are no intense tourist hot-spots like (awesome) Luang Prabang or (horrible) Vang Vieng. Bagan would be the closest thing. So there’s a sense of unavoidable cultural immersion that’s it’s possible to miss in Laos fly in/fly out.
3) Yangon has 5 million people, Mandalay 1, the Capital 1, yet the country a whopping 53 million. It’s a country of agricultural villages: 63,000 according to wiki. Agriculture is 70% of the economy. It’s a land of plenty. Despite the death penalty still being available for drug trafficking, Myanmar is the world’s second biggest producer of opium (after Afghanistan) because thousands of families depend on it agriculturally. So the cities are not what it’s about. It’s about getting out into the country.
4) It’s in a two year economic slump and the outlook is entirely political.
5) The food is simple. They consider cows their friends, so beef is rare. They like pork and chicken most, fish second, and countless vegetables. But virtually no potatoes or dairy products. Oddly, the only time I’ve seen this, nearly all street food is prepared while you wait, even in the smallest of villages. It takes about 15 minutes. You point at stuff in the glass case up front, if they have one, and they make your lunch. They make too much of it and it’s discouraging leaving food behind.
6) Facebook is ubiquitous. It’s even brought reading skills to millions who were illiterate before its arrival. Soe’s mother learned to read over a two year period because of it.
7) The political thing.
As we know, this is a less developed country with only recent intensive western exposure. The beliefs and values are domestic and traditional. So when something happens it’s viewed as if it was happening to a large extended family. In fact they refer to Aung San Suu Kyi as ‘mother’ and to each other as either brother and sister, or aunt and uncle, depending on age. So the impression I got was that any challenge from inside or outside was taken as an affront or attack on not only direct family but also on traditional (family) values which include their religious beliefs. These are easily defined things without a lot of nuance or diversity of opinion. Accordingly they get outraged quickly. I saw it in response to events on the daily news.
Soe insisted that a society with no traditional values has no values. MKK and Mr Prince nod their heads. This basic idea is as far from a western liberal position as you can get. To me this clarified the political positions I heard from these surprisingly close new friends.
But that’s just chat.
Here’s a great piece that ran yesterday in The Sunday Times, NYT and Singapore Times
8) It’s impossible to travel in SE Asia without the Chinese being part of the changes around them, and conversation, and Myanmar is no exception. For a serious mess, read something about the pipeline that crosses Myanmar.
9) Here’s my name in Burmese. I think. Soe could be jerking me around, he’s a funny guy.
*** I’m fully aware that I’ve managed to blog all of the Myanmar ride without any observations, stories or anything else of significance. This is because of weak-or-no wifi, making posting the route, when wifi was available, like now, the priority. Now that I’m almost caught up there’ll be a Myanmar post covering the important stuff in about 3 or 4 days ***
Anyway here’s one lunch time story.
This is a ‘toddy bar’. Toddy is a drink they extract from the female flowers of the local palms. They offer it in 3 forms: sweetened or unsweetened, at about 4-5% alcohol, and hi-test, distilled at about 40 proof. Toddy bars are open and roadside. They also offer food
There are 4 meats
And wild cat, a kind of small jaguar and not endangered
I have the wild cat
The kitchen. They fry in peanut oil
A young couple is seated in the other room
I stop by to say hi and ask for a photograph. She’s the most westernized girl I’ve seen in the countryside yet. He’s a hipster
Villages, a few interesting bridges and lots of construction
Talcy sand sections, for that thrill of wandering bike
After more hills we entered tiger country, we’re far north. There are only 150 tigers left in Myanmar. The Chinese pay $10,000 each for parts. New laws get you 70 years in prison (queue the Hillary joke) which sounds about right, short of a firing squad
Dragonfruit, from the top of these cacti. Very valuable and behind barbed wire fences
More rice harvesting, but this time they have a machine
The workers camp
Later we take a detour off to a pagoda down a road lined with coloured urns
At the end there’s a crowd of kids (Soe tells me wealthy private school girls.) One insists on a pic
Then all of them. Every girl’s phone has to be used for a pic, so it took about 5 minutes. Very embarrassing
Every road we’ve travelled has had short sections of construction. Sometimes for an hour, sometimes for most of the day. The crews are from the local villages. You’ll always see women, sometimes they make up the whole team.
A scooter ferry. They’re stacked up close, sideways, would be difficult for us
Nice fun little exit for this lady
A beautiful ride across plains before the hills. Sunflower fields, new blooms
Gas stop at this town, billiard table in the left hand opening
There are tables in every town. The kids are good. They’d clean up on a pool table with the bigger balls.
Into the hills
A crop of the above. They’re harvesting the rice as they seem to be doing everywhere right now
Finished back on plains
This valley was stunning
Later that night we went out an outside restaurant In Gangaw, a very small village. It was remarkable because I had the best fish I’ve ever had in my life. No exaggeration, I almost gasped after my first mouthful. In fact it was a bittersweet experience as I knew I wouldn’t be here, a quite famous restaurant, again.
Around the back. Comfortable, relaxed, great service.
The BBQ cook. Most food is prepared in an inside kitchen
Our table. Top is the Myanmar made Crown Royal. It’s the staple drink of men here. Every table has bottles of it. I stuck to beer. The Myanmar food story in an upcoming post
Here’s the place to go, the Premier 2 restaurant, coordinates 22.171278, 94.133005. Stay at the Gangaw Hotel. It’s a small, modern, family-run business. A room is $35 to $50.
This temple is the most impressive structure we’ve seen yet in Myanmar, and that we’ve seen in SE Asia so far. It was built in 1105 by King Kyanzittha.
The temple layout is in a cruciform with several terraces leading to a small pagoda at the top covered by an umbrella known as hti, which is the name of the umbrella or top ornament found in almost all pagodas in Myanmar. The Buddhist temple houses four standing Buddhas, each one facing the cardinal direction of East, North, West and South. The temple is said to be an architectural wonder in a fusion of Mon and adopted Indian style of architecture. The impressive temple has also been titled the “Westminster Abbey of Burma”.