Arriving at the best hotel I have ever been in, a brand new luxury hotel, to be told that I am their VERY FIRST foreign guest, and they throw a party for me! Bouncing down a steep mountain road for 2+ hours, pedaling across a hot, dusty plain all day, and relieved to make it.
I packed up my bike and left Pyin U Lwin at sunrise. For the next 3 hours, I pedaled maybe 30 minutes. The rest of it was COASTING DOWN an increasingly steep, 3000+ foot descent into the Myanmar plains below. So I first stopped and adjusted my brakes, yet again. They were wearing thin because of all these descents.
The road varied from top-notch to terrible, with potholes and gravel. So I kept my hands constantly on the brakes. On a few straightaways, I imagine I hit 40+ mph. The truck traffic was the worst of it; large, overfilled caravans of lorries bearing down with their goods to the plains below. The smell of overheated, burning brakes filled the road. I passed trucks pulled over to the side, with brakes smoking and afire. The locals had improvised an industry where men on 3-wheeled scooters with tanks of water rushed in to hose down the overheated brakes. I passed thru clouds of steam boiling off from the brake drums of disabled trucks. It was everything I could to do maintain concentration and control as I sped down the mountain with trucks and cars all around me. I was afraid to slow down because of what might be behind me. In places the road narrowed to one lane, so I had no choice but to get out into the traffic. It was switchback after switchback, and sometimes the road was too narrow to pull off. I thought that, given the circumstances, the truck drivers were about as courteous and careful with me as they could be. My worries were that the brakes on the truck behind me would simply fail, like on the disabled trucks on the side. I was greatly relieved when, 2+ hours later, I finally reached the hot, dry, dusty bottom of this mountain descent. Time to drink a coconut. My forearms were sore from braking the whole time.
Now I was on the flat, agricultural plains of the country. Hot, dry and dusty. The next few hundred miles would be the same, until I got to the southern peninsula and the Andaman Sea, with its mountains, beaches, and history.
Toward sunset, I arrive at the city of Kyaukse. I pull into a luxury hotel. They are surprised to see a guest on a bicycle. I am dusty and dirty. Immediately, I am struck by the elegance of the place. Granite and marble, teak, rosewood, and mahogany, everyone dressed as one would expect in a $500 @ night NYC hotel. And dirty ole me on my bicycle. I am not worthy of this place. But with smiles, they accept me, and for only $18 @ NIGHT! I cannot believe it. The best place I have ever stayed in. So I clean up and crash out.
Next morning I go to the breakfast buffet, on the top of the building. The view is 360 degrees great, with pagoda-covered mountains to the east, and the bustling city to the north and west, and the river to the south. After a superb meal, including sushi for breakfast, I decide to tip the whole kitchen staff. In public, I give all of the staff 5000 kyat, (about $4 US). But in their currency, this translates into a lot. Tipping is not something that is done in Myanmar. A number of local businessmen men are watching as I do this. I look to them and say, “Myanmar #1!” and give them a thumbs up. They all cheer. Then I find out that the man smiling at me is the OWNER of the hotel, and he was showing off the new facilities when they observed me. It was perfect, if inadvertent, advertising on my part. Then they tell me that I am their VERY FIRST foreign guest, and that he has relatives living in the USA and they love the USA for supporting human rights in Myanmar!
Wow. And then they throw an all-day party for me. With a private car, they take me to their sacred pagodas, up the mountain, and feed me. They bring carved watermelons and fruit to my room for me personally. How am I to lose weight on this trip? But how can I refuse? So now, I am staying another day. Such is the serendipity of these journeys, and the kindness of the people here.