Today is my birthday, wow 60 years old, how did I get here, where did the time go? The answer is having an amazing journey with Anne over the last 40 years. My day starts with a kiss and bag of goodies from Anne, great. I have a card and pages and pages of messages from family and friends. Sixty in all, somebody up there keeps count, a big thank you to all of you who sent me a message via Anne.
This is a calendar milestone for me as I have conveniently divided my life into three sections, up to 30, 30 to 60, and the next third third which is about to commence. I did try quarters but 120 is probably pushing it a bit. So while I feel no different from the day before, both Anne and I have contemplated the future as our full time careers have likely drawn to a close and we will need to decide at the end of this trip, what path or paths out future may hold. We are very lucky to be able to take such a trip. Anyway enough of the philosophy for now and back to the road for our ride to Golden Rock.
We depart early to collect a couple of the riders’ motorcycles from the police station, again a somewhat disorganised event – we will be glad to leave our guide behind after tomorrow. Then we are off, only 140km to cover today, to the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda (also known as Golden Rock).
We arrive at our accommodation at lunchtime and we decide a shower is in order after the ride. With all the protective gear that we wear, hot and humid weather requires a change of clothes after the ride. While Anne is in the shower, a knock on the door. The hotel staff have been given a cake by Anne to put some icing and candles on, but unfortunately the length of time this has been in Anne’s panniers, it has grown its own icing coating! In the bin, such a pity for a great surprise. Anne always has a second plan, so strips of melted Kit-Kat with six candles greet me at dinner, and yes I was able to blow them all out in one blow.
The rest of the group has clubbed together to get me a birthday present and have had a zippo lighter engraved with ‘strength and courage’ in Burmese. A very nice and thoughtful gift that I will cherish as a reminder of the group we have travelled with. A great birthday lunch.
Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is the third most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in Myanmar situated in Mon State to the east of Yangon. This pagoda was constructed on the top of a granite boulder, which Buddhists have, and continue to, paste on gold leaves. According to legend, and Wikipedia who provided this information, the Golden Rock itself is precariously perched on a strand of the Buddha’s hair. The balancing rock seems to defy gravity, as it perpetually appears to be on the verge of rolling down the hill. The rock and the pagoda are at the top of Mt. Kyaiktiyo.
Travel to the top is by truck only, no personnel vehicles allowed, although a few of our group would love to have a go at the road on their motorbikes. We are not among them. The level of development at the peak surprises me, however while some is related to foreign tourists, the majority of shops, stalls and guest houses are for the Buddhist pilgrims who come to pray and make offerings. Whole families, groups of friends and individuals have all made the journey and spend time at this scenic high point of over 1,100 meters, considering that we probably started only a couple of hundred meters above sea level the climb was impressive . Clouds swirl around and below us and after a few photographs the cloud envelops the Golden Rock changing the feel of this site.
On our return, Floris bypassed the primary fuel filter to see if that was the problem on Anne’s motorbike but to no avail. The problem appears to be either the fuel pump or the flow controller. We will see if we can limp to Chiang Mai and get the BMW Motorrad dealer to solve what what appears to be a warranty issue.
My 60th birthday has been a memorable day in many respects.
Our journey will end on the Thai border at Mae Sot on the other side of the river from Myawaddy. Traffic is only allowed in one direction on alternate days on the last section, due to the terrain and narrowness of the road. We are also expecting rain which would make the road more interesting. Anne is looking at the last day with trepidation, a view of Google Maps has shown that the last section over the mountains will be a series of switchbacks and the road is in poor condition. Anne has had an issue with hairpins to the right of late, remembers the photos a German couple we met showed us of the road and a recent intermittent power loss when changing gears has heightened her concern.
The road is as challenging as we expected, with poor surfaces, wet rocks and very slow trucks with few possibilities to overtake. When a large truck blocks a hairpin bend doing multiple manoeuvres to get itself around and forcing traffic to the inside of the steep rocky slippery bend, it pushes Anne almost to breaking point, with the appealing thought of putting the bike on that truck foremost in her mind as she struggled on that bend. But NO!, the unbreakable bamboo in Anne springs back and she soldiers on, slowly at first, but later cutting inside a truck on a bend and passing… Great riding. Dave is bringing up the rear and has said to Anne, “no pressure, take your time” – words of reassurance that help. There has been great support from the Dave on the rougher sections.
We descend behind trucks, slowly and then we are down! Smooth sweeping roads greet us, what a change and confirms that this is my favourite surface. So much for being an adventure rider! With our guide vehicle ahead we sweep to the border, quickly complete the Myanmar exit formalities, say goodbye to our guide, we wish him well for the future, but it would be hypocritical to thank him as he did not function as a guide, leaving us frustrated from time to time. He needs to be provided significant training or find another career.
Our last day in Myanmar and time for reflection on the country and the journey. We have enjoyed the people and country immensely, even at the pace we had to travel through the country. We would like to have spent time in remote places, but the schedule did not allow for that. We had checked with the tour organiser in Yangon to see if we could stay longer, but because of the paperwork lodged with the government this was not possible. We have this on the list of places we would want to visit again.
Thailand border crossing details will be documented in Visas and Crossings, needless to say it takes a couple of hours to complete all the appropriate paperwork and we are on our way to a quiet guest house following GPS coordinates that turn out to be incorrect. GPS is a fantastic tool, but only as good as the information placed in it. Still, arrived an hour or so later to a cold beer and good night’s sleep. We are in Thailand.