|When we rode into town for some food, early in the morning, we found it rather empty. Very few places were open for business. We finally settled on a place that served a variety of food. It was ok. We watched a couple of kids in pajamas play badminton across the street, as well as a number of people heading some place on their single-speeds. It was really quiet. We wondered about Myanmar, and what changes would take place in the mindsets of it's people if there was a sudden change in government. Would there be a sufficient number of trained individuals to tackle the challenges of a modern world? Is the education up-to date and relevant, given the time-warp this country seems to be stuck in at the moment? No doubt, there would be some serious growing pains.
It took us longer than we expected to leave town. It appeared to stretch out for a long ways. We also missed some more interesting breakfast options. We were late to leave. It was nearly 8am. We had no idea how far we had to go. We were half hoping that we wouldn't have to go all the way to Kyakume, but that depended on whether we would be able to find a place to crash for the night in Naung Hkio, a half-way point.
We carried on for a ways, when I realized my right shifter was shot. We pulled over to check it out. There was a couple of kids, a boy and a girl, hanging around. We gave them some pencils and booklets to write in, and they really appreciated both. Eventually, Myles realized that the cable somehow got stuck behind a deflector shield, and the problem was fixed. We were shortly on our way. My shifter no longer springed back, but the shifting didn't seem to be affected.
The first part of the ride was a series of undulating hills, with some nice downhill sections. There was a rather long downhill section to start. It was quite pretty, with long stretches of farmland, and several nice switchbacks in the road. It became hot in no time, and we had to share the road with a number of stinky trucks. Later on, we were accompanied by two guys on a scooter. They first passed me slowly, and then rode beside Myles, looking at him the entire time. They said nothing as they rode beside him at his speed. They rode beside us all the way into town, about 5 kms or so. One of the guys invited us in for a coffee, right next door to the "may I help you" compound. The coffee tasted funny. Outside there were piles of coffee beans drying in the sun, I wondered if our coffee came from the same beans. The conversation was limited as they spoke a few words in English, about as many as we spoke in Burmese. They kept saying Kyakume, and pointing in the direction out of town, almost as though they wanted to make sure we continued on our way. We tried asking about a guesthouse in Naung Hkio, but they didn't give us an answer we could comprehend. Kyakume was where they wanted us to head. One of the guys pulled out a huge wad of Kyat, and ended up paying for our coffees. We took that as our cue to leave. We carried on for a ways before stopping at a small roadside food stall for some noodles. There were four smiling women working at the food stand. We felt as though they appreciated us stopping by, but nothing was spoken. As we sat there enjoying our meal, one of the guys from our last stop went by on his scooter. He must have seen our bicycles parked on the side, as he looked in on his way past. Once we started riding again it became extremely hot. We stopped a couple of times in the shade just to cool down. Then there were a few downhill stretches, and before we knew it we were on the outskirts of Naung Hkio. We passed a few homes with piles of rice drying in the front. An older woman was smoking her cheroot fatty outside a small café full of locals. We decided to stop and try to find out whether there was anywhere for us to stay. We enjoyed some tea, sitting at a little table inside. Everyone was checking us out, as well as our bikes. We gave out a few pencils and notebooks. One little girl in particular really liked the gift. She sat at our table and proceeded to draw rows and rows of small circles. The letters in the Burmese alphabet are based on circles, and she was just practicing. She was really into it. Her parents spoke a few English words and phrases, and wrote out a couple of them in her booklet. There was also a town drunk in the café. He showed up looking disheveled, and with his glasses crooked on his nose. With his jeans and a t-shirt, he looked Western. At one point he grabbed the pencil out of the little girl's hand and scribbled his name in the notebook, after which he turned around and left.
At some point we realized that there was a lot of people in the single-table café. They congregated around us, mostly to have a look. We enquired about a guesthouse that accepted foreigners in the area. They all agreed that there was none nearby, and urged us to continue on to Kyakume. They seemed worried about the possibility of us wanting to spend the night. Before we left, we were treated to some hard guava fruit, which Myles didn't like but ate anyways. They also asked us to take a photo of all of them, and we got them to write out their address so we could send them some photos. We have a lot of mailing to do when we get back to Bangkok.
We continued on to Naung Hkio town centre. The town boasted a prominent Mosque and a Stupa. The streets were narrow, and lined with countless shops/places to eat. There was a central market, but we didn't go inside to check it out. Instead we rode up and down every street trying to feel things out. We didn't think at that point that there was a place in town that took in foreigners. For one there was no sign of foreigners anywhere, although that alone wasn't enough for us to conclude the situation hopeless. We resigned ourselves to continue riding towards Kyaukme, and the sooner we got on the way the better.
After getting some treats for the road, we started to head out of town. We stopped on the way out to ask about a guesthouse, one more time. The guy told us that there is one, and instead of pointing us to it, he send out a friend on a scooter to show us the way. He took us to a restaurant, which we found odd. We sat at a table, and decided to order some food, as we were both getting a bit hungry. After asking the waitress about the guesthouse in question, she wrote out the name of it, Shwe Pye Oo, and pointed in it's direction. The food was very good, and so was the tea. While we sat there enjoying our meal, 3 different police officers walked into the restaurant, and later left. None of them as much as looked in our direction, but given our previous experience with the 'may I help you' guys, we had our reservations about their business at the restaurant.
The resthouse appeared rather rough. There was only men around, but they all seemed quite nice. They were only going to charge us 1800Kyat for the night. It was a Spartan double room with a bug net and padlock door, and a no running water toilet outside. There was a free condoms box in the hallway. We decided to mosey on. The first part was all downhill, then a few hours of steady incline followed with many switchbacks. We passed the famous viaduct, but there was no train on it at the time. The terrain was quite beautiful with large trees. Once it got dark we turned our lights on and continued on our way. We kept our lights off during the uphill sections as there was a enough light from the almost full moon. We stopped a one point at a little roadside restaurant. The two women that owned it seemed friendly, as well as the patrons that were enjoying their evening drinks. One of the men got on his scooter to fetch his father that spoke slightly better English. They were genuinely concerned about us, asking about our lights and making sure we knew how far we had to go. Once we neared Kyaukme, it was very difficult to ask directions. Many people refused to help us, probably from not being able to speak English. Eventually, once we reached town we followed someone on his scooter all the way to our guesthouse. We were staying in a beautiful, sixty year old house. They promised us hot showers but they were very cold. The owner, Nelson, chatted with us for a while. We headed to bed shortly after as we were both really tired. It was a long day full of surprises, miles of switchbacks, and some fun night riding lit by the light of the moon. We were grateful to have a bed under us for the night.