|We woke up at 6am, and quickly packed our things to leave. It was light out, and many people were making noise outside. I washed my face, and brushed my teeth, and put on some stinky clothes - least favourite part about cycling. We headed to the restaurant part of the 'guesthouse' to retrieve our passports, which they held hostage for the night even though we already paid for our stay. They claimed it was to keep them safe, but in actual fact they probably spent half the night copying out our information onto a million different forms.
The old guesthouse owner urged us to eat at his restaurant, even though we were planning on going elsewhere for breakfast, to spread the wealth a bit. We ended up eating a rice porridge each, straight out of a little packet. He ended up charging us 2000Kyat for it, which is roughly 10 times the actual price. Before we ate, he handed out his business card, asking me to recommend his guesthouse to other travelers - I was baffled, but accepted the card. After he overcharged us for breakfast, we left feeling taken advantage of. Needless to say, I would not recommend this place to anyone, unless they're completely stranded like we were. We started to head out of town down a dirt road, but stopped to get a more substantial meal at another restaurant. This one looked expensive, but it was on the edge of town, and we were intent on asking for the price before ordering. When we asked the price of a noodle dish, the waitress came back with 2000Kyat. We both gave her a puzzled look. She asked the boss in Burmese, and it turns out it was 1000Kyat afterall. They were quite nice to us. They understood when we explained to them how the other restaurant overcharged us for our meal, and overnight stay. For all we know the owner of this restaurant was the wife of the official from last night - we didn't care.
We passed a monastery to our left, and thought that had we known it was there we would have headed there first, and perhaps avoid all the unpleasantness. We passed a couple of the officials from last night, riding their scooters up the road. We were thinking that perhaps they were making sure we were truly on our way out of town.
We left Ywa Ngan, hoping to have a more pleasant stay in Kyaukse. This time we decided to make sure we do not show up in the dark. Knowing that we had far to go on rough and hilly terrain, we refrained from taking photos, or stopping too much. The first bit took us past a village. Kids in little green longyis were playing soccer in front of the school, barefoot. Other kids were cheering them on. Many folks were heading up the road to the fields. There were virtually no cars or trucks on the road, just the occasional scooter. We had a very steep climb ahead of us, and we followed a number of switchbacks. The road took us to the top of a pass, and we gained views of beautiful distant valleys below. The road was paved, but full of potholes and loose gravel. Some stretches of no pavement showed up unexpectedly. It was consistently inconsistent, and therefore we had to pay close attention on the way down. It was quite fun going down, meandering between potholes and loose rocks on the road. One thing we did not have to contend with was traffic. We got to experience silence, which was amazing. We stopped for lunch at a roadside stand. A couple of women with their babies were sitting there, and a few men were working on their scooter nearby. We first had just a couple of awesome oranges, and later decided to stay for some food, as we didn't know how far we had to go before we got another chance to eat. It turned out to be an awesome meal, of some rice and fried onions - which may not sound so good, but it really hit the spot. We sat with one of the women at a little table under a roof, and watched the road. We thanked them for the food and their company, and started out descent. We passed a few broken down trucks on the way. People are quite used to fixing things in this country. Many perform miracles to make things go again, they're all very mechanically inclined, perhaps out of necessity. A lot of flat tires, which is to be expected judging by how worn some of them get, and how rough the roads are. Many don't even have proper tools, and use whatever they can to get the job done. Sometimes they are forced to unload the entire truck before they can fix the problem, which is why perhaps there are always at least three of them on the job, and not just the driver. They also must adhere to a rather loose schedule.
We stopped at a little village of Myo Gyi for some tea and refreshingly cool pop. The owner of the place spoke English, and we got to hang out with her and her family for a bit in the shade. It became very hot outside. Once we got on the way, we didn't stop much until we kit Kyaukse. We went past more villages, and saw some large areas with obvious signs of recent flooding (damaged crops in the river valley below, and lots of water on the road, as well as a damaged and washed out bridge). The town of Thanywa had a strong military presence, and many road re-constructions in progress, which made for an interesting ride. We stopped at one point on the side of the road to have some chips with avocados, as we were running rather low on fuel. We sat there watching locals go by on bicycles and on foot. It was quite neat. It wasn't easy to motivate ourselves to keep going, but the thought of a nice, long shower was very tempting to us.
Eventually, we hit the massive, four lane highway to Kyaukse, with 8 miles to go, according to some local estimates. The road felt incredibly smooth to us. We were surprised to see that the 2 right lanes were completely blocked off to cars. We got to enjoy the road with only bicycles and walkers on it, as well as a few scooters. It was cruisy and fun.
When we rode into Kyaukse, a festival was in progress. There were tonnes of people and traffic on the road. We donated money to a monastery and were surrounded by some 30 kids while trying to take photos of a couple of mascots across the road. They all crowded to see the photos in the viewfinder of our camera. We carried on, as we could hear thunder in the background. The town felt really large, and we thought that we would have no problems finding a proper guesthouse. Well, we were wrong to assume that. We stopped to ask for directions, and a man called up a trishaw guy to show us the way. We gave him 1000Kyat, mostly because we did not have any smaller bills, and he didn't seem to expect money for his service. He was also ready to give us some change back, but we let it be. He left pretty stoked. The guesthouse, if you can call it that, looked really rough. I stood at the chek-in counter, while the head-cheese was on the phone - probably with the police as he saw us coming. Once he got off the phone, I asked if he had room, knowing fully well that there were 19 out 20 keys hanging in a glass case behind him. He said he had no room, to which I responded, that he seems to be mistaken as I see the 19 keys behind him. He then asked us to continue on to Mandalay. We were really surprised to have to go through the same scenario again, in such a big town, with only 45km to Mandalay. Our dreams of a proper room, and a proper shower dissolved instantly. We knew this wasn't going to be fun. I went on to explain our situation, as he seemed unaware of it at the time. I told him that we are tired, it is dark outside, and it looks as though it is about to rain. He responded with 14000Kyat. I then asked to see the room. He led me to a padlocked, storage-like room. The sheets on the bed were stained and dirty, and the place was filthy. There was no running water in the outdoor bathroom, just a tub full of skungy water, similar to the night before. We did have a fan in the room, and the electricity went off intermittently, roughly every 15 minutes, which was a step above last night's accommodation. I tried in vein to get him to lower the price, but he wouldn't budge. I did, however, manage to convince him to change the bed sheets, which felt like a small victory at the time. What followed was an hour of waiting as they copied each of our passports 13 times, and filled out 13 copies of some document. They also asked the same questions over and over again. What is your nation? Where did you come from today? Where are you leaving for tomorrow? And so on. As I stood there, minding our passports, a local paid 1000Kyat to spend the night in a similar or better room, hassle free - all I could do was give the head-cheese a look that said: "I saw that". After spending over an hour, following our passports around, they decided to keep them for the night, despite having paid for the stay in full. I understood how much hassle they had to go through to let us stay, and perhaps, in the end the owner only got 1000Kyat from us while the rest ended up in some other greedy pockets. I'll never know. We took turns going out for dinner. I didn't venture out far, and just headed across the street. As soon as I tried ordering my meal, the guy looked across the street to the guesthouse owner who was sitting outside, so as to ask permission to serve me. Another local paid for my meal of some rice pie, and tea. We wasted no time going to sleep, as we both felt like bolting out of the place first thing in the morning. Destination Mandalay, where we knew a shower awaited us, or at least we wouldn't have it any other way.