Cycling through Burma, Myanmar by bike
At the beginning small note: Information is based on only my experience and may, and even certainly is different from the experience of others.
Time: February 2014 year, 28 days
Route: I cycled the roads connecting the most popular tourist destinations in Burma that is: Yangon (by plane) - Pyay - Magway - Bagan - Meiktila - Kalaw - Inle lake -NayPyiTaw (capital) - Bago (train - due to lack of time and not very interesting route) - Kyaikto - Thaton - Hpa An - Kawkereik - Myawaddy / Mae Sot (border crossing with Thailand)
MYANMAR (BURMA) 2014
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Entry: A good option is to fly to Bangkok (almost every airline has promotions, You can find a ticket for about 2000 PLN ). From there to Yangon or Mandaley we can fly among others. cheap but reliable lines AirAsia.
Land border crossings: from the end of August 2013 there have been opened 4 land border corssings between Burma and Thailand: Mae Sai / Tachileik, A Sot / Myawaddy, Phunaron / Htee Kee oraz Ranong / Kawthoung. The first is a rather poor choice, because yes, You can cross the border, But then it is porbidden to go by land (only by plane).
The roads to the other border crossings are in a terrible state. Morover, many roads are closed or may be closed at times. Consult once being on the spot and it is better not to risk entry, is prohibited. I heard about the case of the Belgian cylist, who finished in jail .
Visa: in 2013 year, it was not possible to obtain a visa at the border, had to deal with it myself earlier. I applied for a visa at the nearest consulate of Poland, that is Berlin. I applied personally (since I was there anyway in Berlin, But it can also be sent by post), passport with visa was sent back to me in less than 2 weeks. I paid for a visa 20 USD, for shipping in addition 10.
From what I know, in the second half 2014 was introduced e-visa for Burma.
For those traveling in South-East Asia the best place to get visa is Bangkok. From 1 September 2014 there is possibility to apply for an e-visa. Details are located here. In this case, however, it is required to arrive by plane and cross the border at the airport (Yangon, Mandalay, Naypyitaw).
WHEN TO GO: best in the dry season, though still not hot, ie between November and February. From March to May heat is hard to bear, from June to November is the rainy season, You can expect heavy rainfall.
ROADS: Roads on the route I have taken, were paved, often quite poor quality though, ie. well mostly pathholed. The worst by far was the section from Kawkaereik to Myawaddy border - the road leads through a mountain range and it's hard to even call the road. Nightmare and pushing the bike being accomapnied by loeaded trucks is guaranteed. Due to the (lack of) quality the road it is opened alternately on even days in one way, odd in the others.
SAFETY: Due to these police, which focused often on my person, I felt in this country extremely safe.
MONEY AND PAYMENTS:
Throughout the stay I paid only in local currency, ie. kyat - there was no need to pay dollars. Part of the amount mentioned I exchanged at the airport - conversion was the same as in the city ie. 980 kyat za dollars. It is best to exchange currency, ie. dollars (good, new banknotes). I double-fetched cash from an ATM - they are to be found in larger towns and although not all of this can be found such, that support foreign cards. But it was quite expensive "event" - cost me some 10% the taken amount, and that's a lot of.
Prices: The food is cheap, although the choice is quite limited, but not hopeless. In the villages you can eat very cheaply - 1-2 dollars for a meal at local eatery (is always only one dish cooked that is. Burmese curry or pieces of meat in curry seasoned oil, rice, cooked vegetables and a sort of decoction of leaves). In the tourist areas it may be 5-6 USD (or more) and of course there is more choice.
The most expensive is definitely accommodation (more about their logistics below). For foreigners there are separate and distinct hotels prices. I paid from 5 (single case, guesthouse for local) to 30 USD (twice , but I had to because it was the only guesthouse in town and the police was waiting for me to check in, until I check in). On average, 15 – 20 USD.
Standard of room was mostly so-so, sometimes really good, sometimes terrible. Sometimes you could see, that the building is quite new, but in terms of cleaning better forget. Also I kindly asked several times for a change of bed linen and towels, that must have been used obviously. I know, this is Asia, but as I pay a lot of money, ie. 25-30 USD do not agree to such negligence.
Well, Here begins the comedy, so it was at least in my case (but not just mine) case. Most of my adventures and memories are linked with accomodation issues.
What's the matter?
In Burma it is prohibited to pitch the tent and stay overnight in private homes in people - what's more, You can not ask them for this favour, because they may find themselves in trouble for it. A foreigner is obliged to stay in a hotel or guesthousie that is authorized to provide accomodation to foreigners, and these are mostly in the larger towns – often there is only one, no choice. Prices are as for this part of Asia high (ok. 15-25 USD)
It's quite a big challenge for the bicycle traveler, especially if travelling on a budget. While I hit the road I realized, the day I can not get from the town, where there is authosrized guesthouse. Pretty soon I developed a system - in the evening, having reached any village I went to the police booth, I showed, I was travelling by bike, that is too late to go further and therefore I have to spend night just there . From now on, the responsibility laid on the police side, who ususally withing an hour gave me permission to stay in the guesthouse for Burmese only (5-7 USD).
Three times I camped wild hiding in the bush or forest, , However, the police quickly figured it out and this is probably why I became an object of special interest. From morning to night I had to endure the company of the secret police, most commonly as civilians that rode a few yards in front of me or behind me often talking on the phone. People have changed during the day. Every time I chatted to the person asking whether he is following me and why, thanking for the "special care" and saying, I can handle by myself. Not much it helped, frequently came just another one. Often also in the morning he was waiting for me to accompany me in my journey.
I stayed at private houses twice (once with the permission of the police, because they did not have a hotel nearby to send me to), once in a roadside restaurant where no one made any problem.
The most interesting adventure I had prior to arriving to the capital Naypyitaw, when being in the company of two officers, at 20.00 PM and after having cycled 125 km in the last 45km in Egyptian darkness I refused to continue cycling to the nearest ie away 40 or 50 km guesthouse (what was the intention of my unwanted companions) and I wanted to spend the night at a gas station. I did not get permission to do so, but there came like 8 people to the station to solve my problem 6 other representatives of all kinds. Since I was not going to move on 23.00 A polce car came, that took me, bike and luggage to guesthouse in NayPyiTaw. Accommodation was at the expense of the police.
I would add, that at the same time two other male cyclist were in Burma – but did not have such adventures with police, therefore perhaps been more in the spotlight as a woman.
INTERNET ACCESS: is not a simple, but possible and increasingly common. especially in tourist resorts, although the internet is slow. We will not get free wifi zones, but in many places to stay or restaurants we will have access to the network.
OTHER: You have to make and carry many copies of your passport - photo page and page with visa. Happiness it really all officers and saves us time to wait, before they find copy machine and make copies for them.
Route from Yangon - Pyay was nicely shaded, then began to desert-like landscape.
In conclusion, I might add - regardless of all the inconvenience Burma is the highlight of my touring in Asia, I love this country and already think, whether to come back.