An ungodly start of 6am before sun up was decreed because although 334 kms is not a long day, it was going to be slow and it proved to be over 10 hours driving.
In theory it was a navigators dream. Turn right out of the hotel and head east, stop at 180 kms for lunch, continue east for another 155 kms and stop at hotel.
Unfortunately for drivers, the road was not straight, in fact no straight section exceeded about 200 meters.
Setting off in the dark, driving into sunrise proved a magical feeling with mist and smoke hanging in the trees in an ethereal haze.
After a few kilometres dodging traffic without lights, our road snaked up the mountain and down the other side in a succession of turns. Horns were in constant use because oncoming traffic tended to use all the road, including the bit we were using.
We were to pass through three villages of the Silver Palaung tribe who live in stilt houses and wear distinctive costume of silver bands or hoops around their waist. Whole families live together in spacious wooden huts, with cosy terraces. The Palaung people grow tea in the hills and dominate the trade in pickled tea, the Silver Palaung live at lower elevations and are traditionally farmers, growing more rice than tea. Their diet is mostly vegetarian.
The ladies were more than willing to have their photos taken, although they are wholly unused to seeing foreigners.
One of the most distinctive aspects of Myanmar is the smile. If we wave and smile at them along the road, it is like switching the lights on. Their faces light up and they wave back, giggling at these crazy foreigners in these strange cars. It is very engaging and it makes you realise that people are much the same the world over, despite different cultures and languages.
We have even received emails with pictures, like the ones above. These were taken by Aung Thu who was working in his shop selling engineering and plumbing equipment when he saw us driving through his village. A fellow car enthusiast, he grabbed his phone and snapped the cars he saw, then taking the time to find this blog and email us to say “I saw you!”
150 kms in, we drove into a gorge with almost vertical sides and a rushing stream in the bottom. We climbed and descended and traversed through lush green countryside devoid of people and agriculture. It could have been Wales.
After lunch our road continued until we reached the instruction “the road through the mountains here is twisty and not frequently used”. Given that we had already made about 10,000 turns, the news that the next road would be “twisty” sounded daunting.
We were not prepared for what was to come. In fact this part of Myanmar benefits from a major investment programme to upgrade and widen the road. Unfortunately, that involved step one which was to remove the road altogether whilst the landscape is reshaped. We tackled stretches of sand, gravel, stone and earth in a cloud of dust making it impossible to see.
Huge earth moving equipment was demolishing whole hillsides, tipping the spoil onto the road where diggers would shovel it into the river below.
In places, enthusiastic road building teams were creating a jigsaw puzzles of rocks to form the base of the widened road.
Sturdy youths were breaking stones with heavy mallet and ladies were carrying pots of tar ready to pour onto the road surface.
At one point the road was closed until Zani and our liaison officer got it opened for us to pass.
We arrived in Kengtung, the capital of the Golden Triangle in a cloud of dust, filthy from head to foot, but a grin from ear to ear. This is what Globalrally is all about. Tackling roads that most would avoid, and enjoying it.
We are the first Europeans to travel the road by car for two years and we celebrated accordingly; along with Neil M. who the ladies dressed in a Longi, to celebrate his 70th.