After flying from one place to another we were finally able to go overland from Heho to Pindaya and from Pindaya to Nyaung Shwe on the shores of Inlé Lake then back to Heho. As you might guess, traveling by road is a great way to get a sense of the country that you miss by flying or by only visiting the large cities.
We were fortunate, also, to be able to stop where we wanted and take photos or just stretch. The roads in Myanmar are generally one and one-half lanes wide and not well-graded, even if paved, so one’s rear end can take a bit of a beating, too. The road along the western shore of Inlé lake is particularly bad. If you are at all subject to car sickness, you might want to medicate yourself if you do this drive.
The road from Heho to Pindaya climbs up to the market town and important highway nexus of Aungbahn. As you can see from the photo, it is a busy place with vendors, cars, busses, and trucks all competing for space and attention. There are also many shops and food stands; I wouldn’t exactly call them restaurants. We had an enjoyable and interesting time wandering around, observing the vendors, moving in and out of the shops, marveling at the decorations on the trucks, and basically soaking up the atmosphere.
After leaving Aungbahn, we were treated with some great scenery as we drove over the rolling hills of the Shan plateau through almost endless fields of dry cultivated mountain rice, colorful mustard and wheat. We also passed through a couple small farming villages and were able to take photos of the dwellings there. Tutu, our guide, told us each village is populated by people of the same ethnic heritage, Pao, Danu, Shan, etc. Therefore the inhabitants of each village speak a different dialect and have problems dealing with people from other villages. Bamar, the dialect of the dominant culture, has not caught on as the military rulers might wish so those who want to trade with the locals must learn to speak a number of different dialects. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that many of the rural people are illiterate so written communication isn’t an option.
The highway, itself, is used by a wide diversity of vehicles and non-vehicles. Everything from ox-carts and horse-carts to cars like the one we were in. Add in ex-Russian busses, two stroke diesel tractors hauling a year’s worth of crops on a trailer, pick up trucks carrying a full load plus upwards of ten passengers, over-loaded two stroke diesel trucks with sagging suspensions, military vehicles that neither stop nor slow down for anyone, Chinese style bicycles (like cruisers but not nearly as well built), and farmers walking on the verge carrying 50 to 75 pound loads on their backs and their heads, and you get some idea of why a two hour trip took more than three hours.
I wanted to get out and take a photo of what I was seeing about every ten minutes. If I had gotten my way, our trip would have taken an additional two hours. If photographing people in their natural environment is your thing, a couple days on the roads of the Shan State would be very profitable.
The drive from Pindaya to Nyaung Shwe was different as we spent a good deal of time running down the western edge of Inlé Lake on a road that felt like it hadn’t been repaired since the British left in 1947. The route we took went through some hilly tree-covered country that was not being farmed. Because of that we didn’t see the potpourri of people that we had seen 2 days earlier.
Our last morning in Shan country was taken up by the drive from Nyaung Shwe to Heho airport. We had to depart very early, take a pre-dawn boat ride from our hotel to Nyaung Shwe, and then drive for 2 hours in the early morning to arrive at the airport before 8:30am.
It amazes me, how many people are out walking on the highway at 6:30 in the morning. I assume they are going to work or farm or maybe just visiting. It makes sense to do one’s walking in the morning before the heat of the day but the numbers of people strolling along an otherwise traffic-free highway boggles my mind. It also indicates how poor folks are since they walk great distances rather than take a bus or other transportation that seems dirt cheap to us.
I’m happy we had the opportunity to see all that we saw on our “road trip.” I recommend you take the time to travel the rural highways. It’s an opportunity to see and experience things you won’t get in the cities.