Yamaha Journey Vol.20
This is the story about Muan Hori's motorcycle travel on a Yamaha XTZ125 around Myanmar.
Seeking Out The Unseen
The 20,000km journey finally sees the end.
Arakan Mountains - Sittwe - Ayeyarwady
Muan Hori explores the breadth of Myanmar, a country still largely unexplored. Six months after departure, the tour reaches its last leg. Despite unexpected trouble, the hearty hospitality of the Myanmar people provides a fitting finale to his exotic journey.
Feeling someone's eyes on me, I look up to find myself under the Buddha's warm gaze from the hilltop.
A mountain path near the city of Ann.
Pagodas loom out of the deep fog, bathing in the early morning sun.
Far away from any town, these kinds of encounters of picturesque pastoral scenes will always give you sheer pleasure.
En route to Sittwe.
Straight out of a painting, I had to take a photo of this magnificent spectacle.
The Ultimate Myanmar Curry
It's been a few weeks since I explored south Myanmar and savored the new year's celebratory mood in Pha An. Finally, I am headed to the west, a particularly mountainous area of the country. Myanmar is located in the subtropical zone, though at this time of year the temperature drops so radically both in the morning and the evening that even Myanmar natives wrap up in leather jackets. To get to the west, you have to cross the Arakan Mountains, found to the west of the bike city of Mandalay. Fortunately, the altitude isn't particularly high. Unlike Japan, however, there aren't tunnels that cut through the mountains, and I end up challenging the bouncing, meandering road before me. It appears like a complex natural fortress as rugged hills swell across the land whose surface is covered by unfamiliar vegetation. By noon, the temperature rises. Every time I steer the handlebars to either side, dazzling reflection from the XTZ125's fuel tank flickers across my sight. Sporadic breaths of wind sweep up my skin, carrying an invigorating aroma of the lush vegetation with them. Intoxicated by the feeling as though I were melting and drifting into nature, my whole body is immersed in the ride. I think to myself about how much of a blissful environment the Arakan Mountains actually are for riders. At this point though I realize that the route is much longer than it seemed on the map, and with no sign of settlement or end in sight, I start feeling a little depleted. Perhaps the cause of this mood change, or in addition to it, hunger pangs start settling in, having not eaten anything since this morning. That makes it such a deep relief when my eyes catch a sight of a rest-station-like building, where I have an unforgettably rewarding Myanmar curry. A comfort after hours of loneliness, a fairly ordinary dish turns into a magnificent feast. The restaurant staff, amazed by a foreign visitor who has come this far, give me an enthusiastic welcome, serving extra fish curry and a special local soup despite my mere order of chicken curry.
Having beaten my fatigue and satisfied my appetite, I continue touring with an energized spirit and arrive at the small city of Ann. In the search for an inn, I find a guest house where I request a night's lodging in rudimentary Burmese only to receive an unexpected response: "Are you Japanese?" asks the young female owner in Japanese. She says she studied the language at the University of Foreign Languages, Yangon. There may be quite a few people speaking Japanese in Myanmar, but it is beyond my expectation to have a chat in Japanese in such a remote area. If I had been traveling by coach, I would never have stopped over in Ann as we would have just plowed on to the next city. This is what bike touring is all about: surprising encounters.
Ancient Ruins Marking an Eternal Passage of Time
Headed north out of Ann for about 160km, I enter Mrauk-U in Rakhine State. Here, though there aren't quite as many as in Bagan, there remains a fair number of pagodas built back in the day of the Kingdom of Mrauk U, which lasted for about 350 years from the 15th century. Attracting only dedicated sightseers, the old capital is a long way from major cities, and most tourists won't pay a visit. Riding the Yamaha on the scarcely paved roads in this tranquil ruin provides a quaint touch that sets it apart from other popular scenic spots I've been to. Inside some of the wrecked pagodas that have lost their roofs, Buddha statues can be seen left exposed to the weather. In a place engraved with eternal history, I am like a time traveler shredding fast through an ancient period on my modern vehicle. I get to a hilltop, and I stop to admire the sunset. In the misty distance looms the contour of the ruins. The glowing sun stains the surrounding white drift with a faint tinge of sanguine red creating splendid shadows which melt into the blue sky around it. Probably, this glorious scenery has remained as it is now for hundreds of years, fascinating all who see it. The infrastructure development I have witnessed in other parts of Myanmar may not have reached Rakhine State, but if in fact that helps conserve the wild nature and architectural artifacts that contribute to this spectacle, I'd rather embrace the pleasure of an untouched landscape over improved convenience for travelers.
The Sunset Over the West End of the Ocean
I ride out of Mrauk-U to Rakhine State's capital, Sittwe. Here in Myanmar, the information you get from maps is often at variance with the reality. So I have to employ a rather clumsy method for working out the right way to go by cross-checking a navigation app on my mobile with an actual road atlas. With the map open at the roadside, I am pondering which direction to take when moped riders pass by and stop at 200m ahead. Surprisingly, they come all the way back just to help me with my directions, and I'm humbled by their kindness. Thanks to their altruism, I reach the seaside town of Sittwe. In hopes of catching a sunset view, I go down to the beach, which teems with people enjoying the early evening chill. The shimmering sun is now setting the sky ablaze with glorious hues of orange, that sink into the hazy black and blue horizon. These kinds of natural spectacles actually happen every day, but when touring and you get to the coast, in a way marking a kind of finishing line, there are no words to describe the feeling of witnessing such a sight.
The Warmth of Myanmar
I'm finally approaching the finale of the western Myanmar leg of my tour. I track back the way I've come from Sittwe before starting to plunge southwards by the coastline. By way of the south tip of the Arakan Mountains, I enter the Ayeyarwady Region, which dominates the southwest of the country. Looking at my map on arrival at the regional capital of Pathein I notice that there is a temple by the sea even further south. "A temple at the southernmost point of land...." I think to myself, fascinated by such an intriguing wonder, the kind that no rider can afford not to explore. Along the whole way are continuous small turns, so it takes me longer than expected. To make matters worse, I suddenly get a flat in the rear tire. It is actually the first ever puncture after the lengthy period of this rough road riding. The sun has already begun going down and far off the main track there is no sign of any vehicles passing by. Far from the early excitement, I'm starting to lose my hope when a miracle occurs: I see two bikes appear over the horizon. Desperate for help, I stop them to frantically explain the situation, using as much body language as I can. It seems that the young rider gestures to follow him and he volunteers to lead the way. 15 minutes after trailing behind, a small village appears where he guides me to an auto repair shop. Apparently, a huge nail has spiked the tube and made it rip. I wonder who sells a spare tube in a remote place like here, before the garage owner says something that sounds to me like "wait a minute”. With that, he rides off somewhere. 30 minutes later, he is back. In his hand is a much-needed new tube. By the time the tire gets fixed and I am prepared for a return to Pathein darkness has long descended. Once close to a nightmare scenario with no idea what was going to happen, I now have even more of an appreciation for the generosity and support that I have got from the Myanmarese people. Had it not been for them all the way through my adventure, I'd never have been able to continue my touring this far. There is spontaneous humanity in their souls expecting nothing in return. Their genuineness permeates every corner of this country just like the unspoiled natural treasures they live amongst. Over the course of about 20,000km, the sturdy XTZ125 hasn't once broken down, always being my reliable partner with whom together I have discovered such amazing sights that will forever be lodged in my memory with warm feelings of nostalgia.
Muan Hori is a photographer who has been shooting in Asia for more than three decades. His motorcycle touring history dates back to his university days when the young undergraduate traveled around Japan. Recent years saw him lay out a joyful plan to extend this tradition to other Asian countries. Picking Myanmar as the first target, he tore across all the states and regions in seven months.