On the Friendship Road to South-East Asia

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Connecting India and South-East Asia, Myanmar should be the next stop on my world trip. Since there have been military activities going on in some of the northern parts of the country, Myanmar has set some regulations that oblige you to book a guided tour when overlanding with a foreign vehicle. It was due to these regulations that by the end of September, it was a multi-national group gathering in Moreh, India, where we should meet our Myanmar guide.

Having traveled most of the time on my own on the bike, it would be truly interesting to meet some other overlanders. What were they like? What bikes were they riding? What was their experience up to here? I was curious to hear their stories.

There were Daryl and Deborah, a couple that I already knew, traveling two-up from Malta since about a year. I had met them in Goa before and they were the ones that were making me aware of this group tour, helping to split the cost for a guide. Daryl is an experienced rider and it is amazing to see him handling their Suzuki V-Strom even with a pillion. Most of the stretches in Myanmar, we would be riding together, which was fun. Since he is a photographer, another upside of keeping up to his pace was to get some great shots here and there. Further, there were two Indians on the group — Candida from Bangalore, the only female solo rider, sponsored by Bajaj and riding a 400-cc bike to Australia, and Abhi from Delhi, who wanted to experience South-East Asia on his Enfield and visit some schools in Laos and Cambodia. There were Rachael and James, a lovely couple from the UK on probably the coolest bike, a KTM 990 Adventure featuring some Indian custom parts and requiring some care most of the evenings. There was Lukas from Germany, the youngest rider I have met on the road far from home with only 21 years, riding an offroad-single-cylinder BMW. Last but not least, there was Guy from Luxemburg (in a small country like this, it seems to be easy to get “GS 1200” as a license plate), the most high-tech rider and a good storyteller.

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The group: From left and next to me, there’s Candida from Bangalore, Lukas from Germany, Deborah and Daryl from Malta, James and Rachael from England, Guy from Luxemburg, and Abhi from Delhi.

On the morning of the start of the tour, we rolled the last couple hundred metres to the bridge that should bring us onto the “India-Myanmar Friendship Road” and into Myanmar. At the last Indian check post, we met Soe, a broadly grinning guy and our first contact to the new culture — people in Myanmar would smile a lot, sometimes out of curiosity or insecurity, whereas the “Indian smile” that I was so used to usually is a much more subtle one. Soe seemed to be excited about seeing so many big motorcycles in one place while taking pictures and videos of us.

The following days were full of riding, since there were only five days scheduled to cross the country. Apart from the humid heat, that could be tiring especially in the hours around mid-day, this still was a good way to experience the country with its lush-green rice fields, tropical forests, empty roads and small villages.

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Stopping by the rice fields in Myanmar’s countryside. The motorcycle is still marked by the muddy and dusty stretches of India’s Nagaland.

In Bagan, we were taking time for some “proper” sightseeing and were visiting the Nan Myint Tower just before sunrise, a watchtower for overlooking Old Bagan. Even if it wasn’t the season yet for all the hot-air balloons, seeing the countless ancient pagodas in the red glow of the morning was impressive.

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Pagodas of Old Bagan.

The further east we got, the more of the last days of the Monsoon and its aftermath we experienced. For the next two days, rain was on and off — at times it just took one hour between blue sky and heaviest rainfalls. Riding into the hills bearing a lot of greenery, fog, views and some landslide remains, was spectacular.

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At the end of the Monsoon season, there’s a constant green scenery throughout Myanmar.
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Locals are playing a ball game in front of a Pagoda, watched by a soldier.
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Riding on a spectacular road, cut along the hills, in dusk.

On the last morning of the tour, everyone was used to getting up early and after a common breakfast, we did some group shots together, not knowing yet which country everybody would be reaching in the evening. Since Thailand is quite strict about entering with an own vehicle, the official schedule by the tour operator was to enter Thailand, obtain a local driver’s license for the ones without the international version Thailand requires, and then move on into Laos — all within one day. Most of the group members were preferring to stay around North Thailand for a couple of days, be it for the need of parts or for experiencing its reputed beautiful landscapes.

It was on this day that we should be truly lucky to have a Thai guide with us that helped with the formalities and seemed to be very solution-oriented. Thailand does have strict regulations for foreign vehicles wanting to enter the country and the Myanmar-Thai border is one of the “harder” ones. Hearing the story about a German biker who got stuck at the same border and not having his bike allowed into the country just two days later, our process was, albeit bureaucratic, quite smooth. Thanks to the help of our guide, who kept laughing a lot while dealing with all the paperwork, we had the import permits for the motorbikes done and valid for at least a couple of days. Like this, it didn’t seem to be necessary that we would continue to Laos right away and so… seven bikes and nine people were in Thailand!

 

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Packing up in the morning in Bagan.
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Some of the pagodas and, in this case, a whole boat, are gold-plated.
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Only in Asia: Coming back to the bike and finding an elephant next to it. The elephant was tame and curiously moved his trunk around me and the bike. Unfortunately, he and his fellows were chained and not free.

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