In the final days of my visit to Myanmar, I did a “motorbike trek” from Namhsan to Hsipaw. It’s route following small, poorly maintained dirt roads up and down mountains, through streams and mountain villages. It’s a popular trekking route for foreign tourists, but I was still smarting from a muscle strain from the Kalaw to Lake Inle trek I’d done a couple weeks earlier, so I opted to drive the route by motorbike instead of by foot.
I was accompanied by two intrepid companions – Noa and Shir – who I met in Hsipaw. We rented 125cc motorbikes for three days, the first of which was spent on the five hour drive from Hsipaw to Kalaw (it would take about four hours for an experienced driver). The road was good most of the way, but the last two hours or so was under construction, so it was hard going.
The second day we hung out in Namhsan, exploring the town and waiting for the rain to stop. By mid-afternoon we were ready to leave, and drove about two hours to Man Nok, where we stayed the night in a villager’s home. It was a lovely town with friendly inhabitants, and a buddhist monastery at the entrance.
The following day we drove all the to Hsipaw, which ended up taking about five and a half hours. The first part was really nice, a small track in fair condition winding along the side of the mountain, and climbing higher. However, shortly after reaching the village of Omtet, the condition of the road declined substantially – there were huge ruts one or two feet deep, and we had to skillfully ride along the narrow raised part in the center or sides and avoid slipping in.
The villages that we passed along the way were lovely, each with a different character, and as we drove in the early morning, we saw many people on their way out to work in the fields, large straw hats on their heads and hoes in their hands.
We stopped and had breakfast, and later lunch, in different villages along the way, and made occasional rest stops to relieve our sore bums. A one point I took a dip in a stream, as I hadn’t showered in awhile – it felt great.
The last part of the ride was grueling. We were tired and grumpy, and parts of the road were dusty, steep, and strewn with rocks, making it very hard to control the motorbike and avoid skidding and sliding down the mountain. But, we went slowly, and managed to complete the ride with just a few minor scratches, but nothing major. And we were very glad to be done with the motorbikes.
Overall, it was a great experience. The bad parts of the roads were some of the worst that I’ve ever ridden on a motorbike, and on a small 125cc bike no-less. It’s fairly easy to do the ride without a guide (as we did) – just keep in mind the name of the village your trying to reach next, and ask people along the way. Food and drinks can be bought at many places along the way, but gasoline is not so common, so top up the tank whenever you can.
We used about seven liters of gasoline for each motorbike, and spent 7000 khat on accommodation for the two nights (the second night included dinner).