Waking early to a truly amazing breakfast of bacon, eggs, fruit, croissants and coffee, I couldn’t resist hanging out in the pool and making the most of the amazing Popa Garden Resort.
Leaving at 11.30am is never the brightest idea in the full force of 35 degree midday heat, however, who was I to resist the charm of Mt Popa?!
Thankfully, it was a smooth and easy start to the day. Gone were the sand filled tracks of yesterday, replaced instead with the luxury of lumpy Tarmac and a long shallow descent.
Reaching the main Bagan / Meikitila highway (route 2) at Kyaukpadaung, I started to regret the decision not to take the longer, hillyer back route. Although route 2 is not drastically bad, neither is it wonderful, with beauty of back and beyond exchanged for the constant of trucks and filling stations, albeit amongst pleasant backdrop.
In Myanmar, few restaurants are evident at first sight to an untrained western eye. They require further investigation, often cafes / tea houses rather than food stops. Whilst I’m sure this was the case at my chosen break for the day, the owner kindly prepared me a meal. There was one option only. Chicken foot broth, with rice, a generous helping of veggies and the customary bucketload of soup.
The price? Just 1000 kyat (around £0.60) – officially my cheapest food out ever! Sadly not the tastiest! The owner was however delightful and took time to chat, show me their small holding and issue me with a vast bunch of bananas not well suited to a man on a bicycle.
A few kms later, I stopped to issue a random lady with said bananas and turned back off the beaten track, joining one of the best roads so far in Myanmar – well Tarmac’d, rolling hills, one lane wide and beautiful scenery.
20kms to go, things had gotten a little rougher, as roads moved from well-constructed to ‘under construction’. Stopping at a right hand turn off, I chatted to the local cafe owner, as a small group of village folk gathered and pointed. Turns out tourism is yet to reach this particular part of Myanmar and the sight of a white face was quite the shock to some.
The remaining 20kms were back off the roads and onto bumpy rock-riddled trails. Loads of fun, but slow and battering on the bike and thighs. Passing through village after village, kids waved and others looked puzzled. The track led all the way into Mekitila city, with no let up, but a great ride nonetheless.
Arriving just as darkness began to settle, I saw the first and last white face of the day, as I began the search for budget accommodation. Finding none, I resorted to the poorest value hotel so far. At $35 per night, the Lakeside Hotel sounded nice, but was amongst the worst I’ve ever stayed at, coupling stark decor, with hard beds and a cold welcome.
Heading out for dinner under torchlight, I walked into the city, some 2km, across a large bridge with temples and sparkling lights either side. Opposite a vast, grand but gauche boat come pagoda, the best Burmese food to date sat in waiting. With no menu, I was first ignored, then more warmly invited into the kitchen to examine the dishes on offer. Not recognising any of them, they opted to provide a little of everything, with enough to feed the most eager of appetites, accompanied by an ice cold Myanmar beer.
Several botched attempts at chatty exchange later, I walked back to my hotel room to discover an army of ants as bed fellows.