Best bikes for this trip – Mountain bikes with slick tires.
Route Description (miles and kilometers)
Yangoon (Rangoon) to Bago, 95 Ks
From the city center to the airport 18 Ks. The road is wide, 6 lanes, busy with low rolling hills. At 30 Ks there is a fork in the road. Go right toward Bago (left is to Pyay), much less traffic now. Slowly climb to the Holy Banyan Tree. Make an offering for a safe journey. You are half way to Bago. Less than 1 K from here is the WWII cemetery. Road is wide, usually smooth. Toll road (bikes free) at 50 mile marker. The scenery is mostly flat and dull.
Bago to Payagyi, (Junction) 11 miles or 17 Ks
** If you do not plan on going south, see below: Payagyi to Nyaunglebin.
Payagyi to Kyaikto, 47 miles or 76 Ks
Turn right or east at the junction in Payagyi. This road is flat and quiet, half is bumpy and so-so scenery. After the bridge over the river there are rolling hills to Kyaikto.
Kyaikto to Culpin,(Golden Rock) 15 Ks
Rolling hills and farm scenery with glimpses of the Golden Rock. We stayed here. There are trucks to take you up the road 10 Ks to where you follow a footpath 3 Ks to the Golden Rock. This road has 15% grades, would be a serious challenge, and may be impossible. We took the truck.
Culpin, Kyaikto to Thaton, 85 Ks
Return the 15 Ks to Kyaikto and turn left or south toward Mawlamyaing. Rough road of poorly patched blacktop. Rolling hills through Rubber Plantations, then flat through sugar cane about midway around Bilin. Then rolling hill with Rubber Plantations again.
Thaton to Mawlamyaing, via Mottama, 65 Ks
Traffic is light because there is a new bridge at Hpa-an. The road is bumpy, poorly patched blacktop and mostly flat. The scenery is lush farmland. There are few restaurants but water and soft drinks are available. Nice views from the ferry to Mawlamyaing of mountains and Pagodas. This is an attractive tropical town with a ridge of hills on one side and the sea on the other.
Day ride from Mawlamyaing to the South (80 miles round trip , 140 Ks)
Because this area was “off-limits” for a long time there are no places to stay.
It is 18 miles to Mudon, for the first 9 miles the road is wide and rough then the road narrows with interesting things to see such as Buddha images, pagodas and some rock outcroppings. It is another 22 miles to Thanbyuzayat. This is a good narrow road with tropical scenery.
Mawlamyaing to Hpa-an, 40 Miles 65 Ks
It’s 10 Ks to the bridge over the river (walk – large spaces between metal). Then 5 Ks to turn and here the road is smooth and flat with OK scenery. Then go another 13 Ks to a 2nd suspension bridge (walk). After the bridge bear left to Hpa-an, a total of 60 Ks to the intersection with the last 15 Ks rough road, good scenery and no traffic. From this intersection it is 5 Ks to Hpa-an.
Hoa-an to Thaton, 45 Ks
Follow the signs to Thaton, quiet road, beautiful scenery with some rolling hills. The road is busier and bumpier toward Thaton and scenery less interesting.
Thaton, Kyaikto Payagyi Junction
Payagyi Junction to Nyanglebin, 65 Ks
Mile marker at Payagyi is 61. The road is flat, rough black top, no mountain views but interesting village life.
Nyanglebin to Tangoo, 37 Miles
Road still rough but gets better toward Tangoo. Hills start to come into view in the west and there are interesting villages with moderate traffic. Good roadhouse eateries 2 Ks north of Pyu.
Tangoo to Pyinmana, 72 Miles, 115 Ks
The road is slightly better but still bumpy and after 50 Ks there are modest hills. Better scenery and interesting villages. Winds a mystery, strong tail wind all day.
***Excellent lunch place with no name. It is 10 miles or 16 Ks north of a new sugar mill that is on a hill. This restaurant is in the middle of nowhere. It is one story wood frame and open-air. There are always trucks here. It’s on the west side of the road. Chickens roam out back and the specialty and only thing they serve is fresh chicken soup (all you can eat).
Pyinmana to Yamethin, 56 Miles, 90 Ks
Beautiful old road lined with big shade trees. The road surface switches back and forth from bad to good. Strong south winds again. Nice mountain views to the east. Mostly flat and some rolling hills.
Yamethin to Kalaw, 77 miles
Flat dry, barren cane road for 12 miles to Pyawbwe Junction, stay right toward Thazi and right again for a short cut of 15 miles on single lane road. You must carry water on this stretch. This short cut gradually climbs to meet the Thazi-Taunggyi road. Then right 50 miles to Kalaw, this is a scenic narrow road starting with a steep 3 mile climb, 10 miles flat and then down a river, gradually up another 10 miles and the last 20 miles climb from 1000 to 4000 feet.
Kalaw to Inle Lake, 52 Ks
This is a beautiful ride starting with a short climb out of Kalaw to Heho 16 miles. Then a short climb and snakey down hill to a plain. Turn right at the sign Inle Lake and go on a scenic single lane for 13 Ks ride into Inle Lake. This unique lake is a highlight.
Kalaw to Pindaya, 31 Miles
From Kalaw toward Inle Lake, 7 miles to Aungban then north (right) 24 scenic miles (off the Kalaw-Inle Lake road) to Pindaya. There is a hill-top Pagoda in Pindaya and interesting villages along the route. Nice stop on the way to Inle Lake.
Inle Lake to Kalaw (Backtrack above description)
Kalaw to Thazi (Backtrack above description)
Thazi to Meiktila, 20 Miles
Flat. Meiktila is a great small town with an excellent restaurant.
** Our second trip we skipped Mandalay and rode from Meiktila to Bagan noted later.
Meiktila to Mandalay, 100 Miles
Flat, sometimes interesting. Foreigners were not allowed to stay in Kyaukse which is 30 Miles from Mandalay. Much busier road toward Mandalay.
Mandalay to Monywa, 86 Miles
Follow 84th Street toward Sagaing and cross the bridge. It is 27 miles to the Ondaw junction then 59 miles to Monywa. Mostly flat with poor tarmac.
Monywa to Pakokku, 70 Miles
Ferry across the river. The road is dirt and at the first junction go south (left). Follow the beaten path next to the road used by local bikers. This is a tough trip with rough roads but there are 8 miles of excellent road into Salingyi, then rough dirt and rough black top to Yesagyo It is 47 miles from Yesagyo to Pakokku. The road is roughly paved and almost flat.
Pakokku to Nyaung-U Bagan (Pagan) The Ancient Capitol
Two hour ferry ride to Nyaung-U then a short ride to Bagan one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in Southeast Asia.
**Meiktika to Kyaukpadaang, 60 Miles
Rolling hills, with more up than down on a quiet road with nice scenery. Last 4 Ks are a gradual up.
Kyaukpadaang to Mt.Popa, 10 Miles (side trip)
This is a curvy and steep climb with great views of Mt. Popa. There is a fancy tourist near the top with great views.
Kyaukpadaang to Bagan in the direction of Nyaung-U, 34 miles
Gradual long rolling hills, dry, looks like the Sarrengetti. No villages or drinks. Quiet with tourist traffic in clumps. Go through sugar palms, interesting to watch people climb the palms and huts where they make and sell candy on the route.
Bagan to Yehan-gyong via Kyaukpadaang (backtrack above route) 69 miles
From Kyaukpadaang to Chauk Junction 8 miles, then 27 miles to Yehan-gyoung.
(Option) Bagan to Yehan-gyoung via Chauk
Leave Bagan and follow the river for 24 miles. There is a gradual 3% climb for 8 miles after Chauk then another 9 miles from Chauk to the junction. Then 27 miles to Yenan-gyoug this road is gradually down.
Yehan-gyong to Taungdwingyi, 84 miles
Yenah-gyoung is short choppy hills with barren country side for 32 miles to Magway. Then it is a boring but easy flat ride for 52 miles to Taungdwingyi.
Taugdwigwi to Myayde (AKA Allanmyo) 56 Miles
The poor road starts out flat and of little interest and hills start and a better road toward Allanmyo.
Myayde (Allanmyo) to Pyay, 45 miles
The road starts flat along the river, some small hills with curvy road and beautiful river views then through sugar cane fields into town. The road is 80% good and 20% bad. More traffic into Pyay but there is a bike path into Pyay.
Pyay to Letpadam, 90 Miles
Out of Pyay, along the river to Shwedauug there are good views. The road is excellent, smooth, two lanes with a shoulder. After Shwedauug the road traverses an endless dull plain. Fast ride down wind, it would be a drag going north in January.
Letpadam to Yangoon, 89 miles
The road is fast, flat and featureless. This is an excellent road. After 67 miles the road joins the main road into Yangoon, and passes the airport.
A TRUE TIME WARP
We’ve been to Burma 3 times, twice on bikes. The first time we went was in 1979. At that time tourists were limited to a 7-day visa and had to fly into Rangoon from Bangkok. Everyone on the plane carried a bottle of Johnny Walker Red Scotch and a carton of 555 Cigarettes, purchased from the duty free store at the Bangkok airport. The sale of these two items to the cab driver in Yangon netted us enough Burmese cash to live on for our entire 7-day stay. Our hotel was the historic but threadbare Strand (now remodeled to the historic and elegant Strand costing over $200 a night). It was a whirlwind week. We flew to Mandalay and took the train back to Rangoon. Mandalay was a big village with dirt roads. The trip was a time warp; we experienced a journey back into the 1920’s. We were mesmerized.
In 1990, we read that we could take our bikes to Burma. I called the Burmese Embassy in Washington D. C. to verify. I asked, “Can we take our bicycles into Burma?” “Yes. Then, I asked, “Can we ride our bikes in Burma?” “No.”
We returned in 1999 when it was possible to bring and ride our bikes for 30 days and returned 3 years later for another 30 days on bikes. We love this weird, xenophobic, military controlled place.
For What It’s Worth
This is a fascinating country. Visit it now before it changes.