Myanmar travel diary, part one: The scooter journey is a slow one
Thomas Heaton travelled around Myanmar for six days in April . Here, he shares his diary entries of the 750km journey by scooter.
"Si?" the man replies, ambling across patches of dry grass towards us.
It turns out he doesn't speak Burmese, we've crossed the border into Shan state, they've got their own.
He smiles as he speaks, revealing a broken set of teeth. A dusty singlet hangs over his leathery, weather-beaten skin, it's tucked into his dress-like longhi. Thirty-eight degrees, we're thirsty and so are our scooters.
Pointing at the scooter's seat seems to be enough: we're lost and one of the bikes is out of petrol. Another man approaches, a typical cheroot cigar dangling from his lip. He turns his head, waves his hand, and one of the younger boys runs into the village.
The boy returns, pours a one-litre water bottle full of petrol into the thirstier bike. 1000 Kyat, about $1, is handed to them. We thank them in Burmese, they laugh and so does the rest of the village. They probably know about as much as we do about the Burmese language.
We're somewhere between Kalaw and Inle Lake, a favoured spot for tourists in central Myanmar. Where we are, exactly, we don't know. The farmland is like a crocheted blanket with shades of brown and green; the so-called roads taper into the landscape.
So far on our day trip, we've crossed a river, driven through villages and scaled what seemed like a mountain only to turn around again. They point us on our way, literally.
That day, the third of six, was massive. Very different to the days preceding, and as fate would have it, the ones following. On paper, the journey didn't seem to be that daunting. We were doing a loop of just about 750 kilometres: leaving from Taungoo, just north of Yangon; towards Mandalay, and then east to Kalaw and Inle Lake; and back around to where we started.
Day one: Taungoo to Napidyaw, 120km
Our trip from to Naypyidaw from Taungoo was mostly easy. We hit speeds of up to 70km on the 110km stretch. It was easily achievable on our 110cc scooters rented from Taungoo locals.
The road took us from the more than 500-year-old Bago district town to the capital city. The road was dry and hot, sweat evaporates as soon as it leaves each pore.
People and livestock popped up out of nowhere, occasionally. Where they came from, I'm not sure; where they were going, I'm still not sure. But they all lifted their eyebrows at the sight of two large foreign males chugging along on wee scoots. Either that or they'd exclaim the few English words they know as loudly as possible.
My travel buddy, my brother James, picked a confident marroon-clad hitchhiker.
Maybe 10, he was an aspiring Buddhist monk. We took him for a bit of a ride then dropped him at a dusty crossroads with a couple of star fruit and some water. It was a sign of the adventures that would come, and if anything it was good for our karma.
By the time we reached Naypyidaw, the country's capital and newest city, the sun was setting. A bizarre place, created to be the home for the Government, its several arms and just about nothing else, we had to visit. We went for the 20 lane boulevard, a road in front of the country's parliament - there's even a purpose built stage for parades and politicking.
This place is the capital of one of the poorest countries in that part of the world, so the grandiose buildings and super-wide boulevards seem out of place, a waste. We do giant loops on the boulevard in the figure of eight. We see one, maybe three at most, cars drive by. With tender saddles and sun-kissed skin, we decide to find a hotel.
We retire to one of the designated 'zones' - the hotel zone - for a $25 USD one-night stay. The hotels are huge, with all the amenities you might expect from a good hotel, however the lifelessness they have is hard to disregard. The hotel is like the capital city: a nice facade, but what's on inside isn't as flash.
Napydaw's most redeemable feature is likely the comic value of the place and that ridiculous boulevard.