Adventure tour operator Jochen Meissner, the owner and founder of Uncharted Horizons Myanmar, travels the little-known roads from Pathein to Gawyangyi Island by bicycle, visting Chaungtha, Ngwe Saung and Sinma along the three-day adventure.
One beautiful morning in late September, when the worst of the rainy season seemed to have finally passed, three of us set out to cycle the southern beaches of Myanmar. We arrived at Dagon Ayar bus station in Yangon’s far west Hlaingthayar district to board our bus to Pathein, arriving at 1pm and ready for our three-day costal cycling adventure.
After assembling our bikes and mounting the pannier bags, we started cycling. The first day was an easy one, 60km to Chaungtha beach, through lush and hilly terrain, but never too steep. Our route was lined with rubber plantations and small villages filled with friendly locals greeting us along the way.
With only 10km left we were slightly worried when we reached a long bridge crossing a creek to pause for a breather and the villagers told us there was a big chance of encountering wild elephants on the road ahead. They suggested we should blind them with our headlights and make as much noise as we could, but fortunately we did not encounter any and reached Chaungtha beach just before it got dark. After dining on some delicious fresh seafood we went to bed early, knowing the real challenge was yet to come.
On the morning of the second day, we were on our bikes by 6:30am. Our plan for the day was to cycle down south to Ngwe Saung and continue further on to the fishing village of Sinma and Gawyangyi island. The first part went really smooth and is exceptionally beautiful, small dirt trails through quaint fishing villages, sometimes right by the beach, and the usual crowds of friendly smiles and excited waving children everywhere. After two hours and three river crossings on tiny ferries, we reached Ngwe Saung beach, where we took a dip in the clear Andaman Sea.
At this point we thought we were about half-way for that day, which was probably true when looking at the map, but definitely not when considering the trail conditions, which consisted of deep mud and massive puddles for most of the way. It took us two hours to reach the beautiful fishing village of Sinma, where we enjoyed an excellent seafood lunch, before moving on to the “real unknown” further south.
During my research on Google maps I could see a small dirt road winding its way between the coastal range and the beach towards Nga Yoke Kaung and adjacent to Gawyangyi island, which has in recent years become a popular beach spot with local travelers as well as Yangon expats. But little did we know what the trail really looked like.
With rainy season only recently finished, the trail was covered in knee-deep mud for most parts, making it impassible even for motorbikes. For the final 30km of the trip, it took us over 6 hours. Only after reaching the beautiful village White Sand village (Te Phyu Ywa), the trail became slightly more rideable, and we reached Nga Yoke Kaung with the very last light of the day.
As it was dark already we were too late to reach our original destination of Gawyangyi Island. Instead we decided to stay in the village of Nga Yoke Kaung where a local guesthouse warmly welcomed us for 10,000Ks for the night. The kind owner even helped us to clean our bikes, which were covered in a thick layer of of half-dried mud and clay. A tasty dinner and several cold beers at the local fisherman’s bar helped us recover from the days ride. Having traveled 80km in total that day and being on a bike for 12 hours straight, it was definitely one of the hardest and most challenging rides. Needless to say we all enjoyed a fantastic sleep that night.
For our final day cycling, we were up at 6am and were the first ones on the tiny wooden ferry, which floated us over a mangrove-filled estuary. A spectacular concrete trail led us through the palm forest and the hills. Many of the tourist accommodations were still wrapped up in their rainy season covers, but some local teashops were open already to serve us a bowl of mohinga. Another 10 minutes and a short ride over the beach, we reached the Gawyangyi Island, a massive rocky outcrop off the mainland, connected by a sandbank, on which the bungalows and guesthouses are located. 10 minutes and 400 steps later, we enjoyed the incredible views that the pagoda viewpoint on the top of the hill provided.
But as we had still a long and challenging way ahead of us and so stocked up on bananas and sweets before asking for the way over the mountains, which would eventually connect us to the road leading to Pathein.
The locals told us they call this area “little Chin state” and we soon knew why. Massive steep climbs over several hundred (vertical) meters were waiting for us, followed by spectacular downhills, only to be followed by the next, even higher and steeper climbs. The views back to the coast were incredible, but this ride turned out to be much tougher than we had expected, especially having not fully recovered from the day before. But there we were, and our only option was to keep moving forward. Only in the early afternoon when we reached the top of the mountain, aptly named “Moe Hti Taung” which translates to “sky touching mountain”, did we enjoyed an one hour straight downhill on the eastern slope until we reached the junction village of Mayangon. From there we hired a truck, which brought us back to Pathein in a bit more than two hours, just in time to enjoy a beautiful sunset over the Pathein river with a cold beer in hands, exactly what we had deserved after this massive trip.
In total, the distance was only around 170 kilometer, but due to the trail conditions after rainy season, even for fit bikers, it’s impossible to go much further than that. At other times of the year, the trail will likely be much better, but the lush scenery and beautiful clear blue skies after the months of rainy season made it a very worthwhile trip – one that I am very much looking forward to doing again soon.
Jochen Meissner, the owner and founder of Uncharted Horizons Myanmar, an adventure tour company specializing in mountain biking and trekking tours far off the beaten tracks. His biggest passion is exploring the remote areas of Chin State, but he can be found anywhere in Myanmar, when adventure calls!
No. 109, 49th street (middle block), Pazundaung tsp., Yangon