- Distance – 102km
- Elevation – mostly flat
- Terrain – unsurfaced roads and single track paths
- Difficulty – moderate
Great day today, starting with breakfast close to the shop awning I managed to dismantle last night.
Passing, then returning to a busy Indian cafe, a local man jumped to my rescue as the waiter ignored my every attempt to order. He turned out to be the nicest of chaps. We drank coffee and ate samosa, for which he insisted on paying; then visited local sights: the palace, snake temple and his favourite temple-top viewpoint.
Before parting, we visit his place, where I meet his wife, (friendly) dogs and check out a shrine he’d proudly crafted. My host spoke great English and was recently retired from the merchant navy.
After a quick blast on the well-surfaced road from Bago to Thanatpin, I was soon back off the beaten track; where a brief water stop turned into another extended encounter. This time, a lovely family, who generously offered a bowl of rice and sweetcorn. Already stuffed, I accept graciously.
Just 3km down the rutted gravelly track, the distant whirring of a motorbike. As the bike pulled alongside, I turned to find a warm but direct man, with a curious streak. ‘Where are you from’ / ‘where are you going’ / ‘why are you here’.
Moments passed and I’d kept my cool, knowing this wasn’t just a friendly chat. Soon, a second bike joined behind us, road otherwise empty, with not a sole in sight. As we ground to a halt, the first chap explained that his friend was the head of the local police station and asked to see my passport and visa. Checking their ID first, it seemed legit. It’s not uncommon in more rural areas for tourists to be reported by locals. The rationale is complex and includes an ever-changing maze of ‘no go’ areas.
Turning back is a nightmare for any cyclist. However, thankfully, the encounter was pleasant and the police officers accommodating of my intended route. Delighted I could continue, I set off once again through bamboo villages, rice fields and woodlands.
The cycling here (albeit more mountain than road biking) is incredibly enjoyable, with interest and intrigue set to 11.
After some failed attempts to find lunch in one of the more remote villages, I past a primary school where excited children screamed the ubiquitous ‘Ming lah baa’, whilst waving profusely and beaming the most incredible smiles.
Rejoining the main road just before the Sittang Bridge, I stop at a large restaurant, fully staffed, with no other customers to be seen. I go for a traditional Myanmar curry, with plates of chicken, vegetables, salad and dips. Food here in Myanmar appears to follow the principle of pot luck, but thankfully today’s is pleasant.
The old road to Kinpun is paved at first, stretching past the interesting railway town of Thein Za Yat.
Another bike pulls alongside me. This time, 2 children, the driver not older than 12. They stare, I wave, they smile. Normally this would be the end of the interaction, but the process continues for some 5km.
With c.20km to go, the road turns to track, the flat to undulation and then track to thrilling single track.
It’s crunch time for my gears m, which are getting so clogged in dust and dirt they’re barely able to turn. I stop frequently at the sight of streams and rivers, cleaning my bike alongside locals cleaning their motorbikes. This terrain is incredibly unforgiving but incredible fun.
As the trail continues, I cross dubiously constructed bamboo bridges. This is mountain bike territory and I’m glad of my wheel setup – Schwable Mondial 2.0 tyres mounted to WTB’s KOM 27.5 rims.
Grinding into Kinpun, base camp for the Golden Rock, I search for a hotel. Here in Myanmar, kids as young as 10 act as the most confident hotel touts. Here is no exception. The little man insists I follow him and despite my insistence otherwise, he steams ahead on a bicycle twice his size.
On first impression, Kinpun is highly touristic, but there are no signs this being targeted to western folk. Golden Rock is somewhat of a pilgrimage for the Burmese. I can’t wait to find out more tomorrow.