Overview | Route Descriptions & Maps | Road Stories | For What It’s Worth | How We Rate This Trip
For some reason, the Burmese drivers are non aggressive, slow and respectful. This adds immeasurably to the touring experience especially on the main highways. The people, themselves are kind and gentle and crime is at a very low level. Bagan, an archeological wonder, is the highlight of any tour of Myanmar and your bike gives you the best way to explore the sprawling temple complex. The military junta closely controls Burma, for example, there is no Internet available. Due to it’s transition position between India and Thailand, its food, customs and culture reflect a little of each. Weather is good from November to April. This is the dry season and the temperature is warm and the landscape become brown and the air gets hazy. Most important, the traffic level is low everywhere except in Yangoon and Mandalay. Twice, we’ve biked in Myanmar for 30 days (the length of a standard tourist visa). The first time we hit the highlights: Yangoon, Inle Lake, Mandalay and Bagan. The second time (3 years later 2001) we changed our route to go southeast to Mawlamyine (Moulmein), then back to Inle Lake, and skipped Mandalay going to Bagan and back to Yangoon. There’s a lot more areas in Burma to the north of Mandalay and to the east of Mandalay to explore, but until now (2002), the government doesn’t control these areas. Hopefully these areas will become safer and we can explore them.
Myanmar (Burma) 2001 Route Descriptions & Maps
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.
How We Rate This Trip
On our second trip in 2001 the roads, especially Highway 1, deteriorated considerably. The roads are of variable quality and frequently filled with potholes or otherwise patched in a substandard way. Some roads are good and ultimately you can dance around the rough spots. We rode a few dirt roads, which required us to follow the well-beaten bicycle tracks.
Outside of the two major cities, the traffic level is a major attraction for pleasant bike touring. Even on Highway 1, the traffic is light. Also, the speed at which the traffic moves is extremely slow. One drawback is the disgusting black exhaust emanating from their trucks and buses.
Everyday from December thru March the sun is out. Only around Kalaw, due to the altitude does it get cold. There are two very distinct seasons: dry and wet. The dry season issues are the haze in the air and the parched brown countryside.
These vary in strength and direction but generally they are light and from the Southeast in the dry season. We have experienced short spurts of stronger winds at times out of the north or northwest. During these strange weather times, the winds picku up about 9:30AM, sometimes switch around about 2:20PM and then die after 4PM.
Through the valleys running north and south the scenery can become tedious. It’s flat, brown and featureless. But occasionally, irrigated fields lend the countryside color, mountain ranges are visible through the haze and along the rivers, there are often good views. Around Kalaw and toward Inle Lake, the mountain scenery is good. If we categorize the temples of Bagan as scenery, it is spectacular.
Getting information about the minor routes we took was always problematical. Where you are allowed to stay is hard to determine. More than once, we arrived in a town of size to learn that we were not welcome at the local guesthouse. Once we were permitted illegally. Unless it’s listed in a guidebook, you will probably have a problem. The major routes (e.g. Hwy 1) are easy to follow with reasonably good signage in English. There are even distance markers, usually, the distance from Yangoon, shown in miles. Occasionally they are marked in western numbers but usually in Burmese numbers, which you easily learn to read. All major intersections have signposts in English. On the minor roads and in the smaller towns information gathering is very difficult and open to interpretation. Asking multiple people will get multiple answers regarding distance, road condition, availability of inns and even the direction to go. It’s a challenge.
Road Safety: 9
This is one of the big appeals of biking in Burma. For reasons that I don’t totally understand, there is a respect for cyclist that I’ve seldom encountered in other parts of the world. It’s my theory that you can see into a people’s collective heart by how they treat you as a mere bicyclist on their highways. The Burmese are a gentle and kind civilization (This may be the explanation of their acceptance of their xenophobic and draconian leadership group). In Yangoon and Mandalay there is traffic and like any large city you must take care, but on the highways it is quiet and safe. On single lane roads, a truck will get off the tarmac and let you stay on! Trucks and busses drive slowly. One problem is that most cars are right-hand steering wheel on right hand roads, so cars and small trucks come too close to the cyclist when passing. The roads are noisy since the Burmese drive with their horns. They all use them to warn you of their approach or to salute your efforts.
General Safety: 8
A Military Junta runs Burma, and the control of the population is pervasive. There’s no internet and little outside news. With this overwhelming control comes an environment in which violet crime is unheard of and even sneaky crime is seldom. Even in Yangoon it is safe to wander day or night.
It is a very good value. Only in Yangoon and Mandalay are prices a little bit higher. The best values are around Bagan since there appears to be a surplus of hotels and restaurants. So you get a good room and restaurant meal for a reasonable price. In the smaller towns you eat and sleep for very cheap but basically you’re getting what you pay for. The standard can be very low in the smaller towns.
Purified water in liter plastic bottles is available almost everywhere. It’s cheap and sometimes cold. Soda pop, coffee, tea and juices are occasionally found. The beer is good. Myanmar Beer is readily available but not always served cold in smaller towns.
Like the culture itself, the food is a curious combination of Indian and Thai. In the cities and the tourist centers very good Indian food is found. The Myanmar Health Department doesn’t seem to be terribly diligent so you make your own judgment as far as cleanliness is concerned. In the smaller towns the food is basic and cheap.
No problem in big cities like Yangoon and Mandalay. In Bagan there is a plethora of very good simple guesthouses. In the boondocks it’s hard to find even basic inns. There may be a guesthouse but they can’t accept foreigners. You have to check whether accommodations are open to foreigners.
The people are generally kind and gentle. This is obvious from the way they treat you as a cyclist on their roads. You are respected in a way I’ve seldom experienced elsewhere. Even the military, which is portrayed in the international press as draconian, is soft and gentle to tourists. They will not hassle you if you’re within the rules and probably not even if you bend the rules. They will always help you.
It’s a mixture of India and Thailand. Sometimes the Indian influence is stronger and sometimes the Thai influence predominates. There are areas in the lowlands where you swear you are in Bengal. In the highlands around Inle Lake you will encounter hill tribes and their unique customs and dress. Around the lake, their way of life is unique and interesting. Bagan is one of the most important archeological centers in the world. This sprawling temple complex is best visited on a bike. The grand Buddhist temples and shrines are well maintained and remain the focus of Burmese life.
First, there is Bagan. This is the remnant of an ancient and great civilization. In Yangoon, you’ll find a lot of dilapidated colonial grandeur and the famous Swedagon Pagoda with it’s golden stupa. All the temples are meticulously maintained. You experience a way of life that has disappeared in the rest of the world.