WE TOOK: very little
WE SOURCED: two motorbikes… eventually!
WE FOLLOWED: a wonderful, windy road up and up and up to 4800 feet above sea level
This hilltop haven in northern Kayin state, Myanmar, was a well-known breezy escape under the British, a warzone under the military, and was closed to foreigners until 2013. It’s now a lovely gentle hill-town with a perfect climate….and the world’s best downhill motorbiking road. We started in Taungoo, a 4-hour drive north of Yangon, in the surprisingly charming Global Grace hotel.
Hiring motorbikes was a bit of a challenge involving lots of sign language and a small amount of terrible Burmese in a road-side shop. The shop assistant took us to her friend, whose husband, Zaw Lin, had a friend on the other side of town who might be able to lend us some bikes. No lights, wing mirrors or functioning breaks, but they had forward motion, so we were off.
The road winds up and up for 42 kilometres through tea plantations and lush tropical forests of teak trees and sweet green oranges. There are no cars at all, just a handful of motorbikes and a few trundling villagers. It wouldn’t take long if you weren’t stopping at every turn to improve on your previous photo as the view gets better and better. It’s a breath-taking journey, but really, you’re doing it in order to come back again. More on that later.
Once you get to the top, you’re in a sleepy Christian community, whose church is right on the top of the mountain (guarded by the ghost of a princess who was eaten by evil spirits having been imprisoned in a rock cavern for being mistaken for a witch). After a nose around the old British tea processing factory, we ate fried rice in the eponymous “Amazing Restaurant” at the bottom of the village, met the local football team half way up, and checked into the iWish B&B at the top (you probably wish you had another option, but it’s better than sleeping outside). When it gets dark at 6pm, it is pitch black. Despite being on the grid, rickety pylons and high winds mean the lines are more often down then up, so most homes are candlelit at night. It’s almost biblical wandering down to find something to eat at night; psalms float out of windows from families gathered around candles in their homes: totally magical. As was the teeny tiny noodle station where we found some supper (the only other place to buy hot food in the village).
But the real reason we were there was for the following morning. We got up with the cockerel, ate the extraordinary breakfast provided by our hosts, and saddled up. With the dew sitting in the valleys, the sun peeking above the horizon, and the birds waking up for their worms, we freewheeled all the way down. There is honestly nothing like it; swaying in and out of dappled sun, the chilly morning rising with the sun into a fresh, warm breeze, and the open road totally to ourselves. Being a Sunday, and a Christian area, even the trundling villagers stayed at home.
It’s an odd thing, visiting a village which really has nothing to visit. Travelling for the sake of travelling. But isn’t that joyful? Going up a hill just to come down it again? Taking in the morning mist on a motorbike? This is really why we live in Burma… for moments like these, in rare pieces of the planet which make you feel more alive than you ever have before.