I was still feeling ill as I rode out of the guesthouse and battled Yangon traffic on my way out of the big city. I headed northwest towards Nyaungdon, with the intention of working my way north on the west side of Ayeyarwady River. It was 75km before things quietened down and I really entered ‘village country’, characterised by temples every few kilometres, rice fields and very welcoming people who are not indulging in betel nut to excess. After passing through a security checkpoint earlier in the day (passport details recorded) I was followed for 8km by a uniformed policeman. It was around 4pm when I realised I was being followed again, this time by a plain-clothed person. I played around for a few kilometres, slowing down to a crawl, or speeding up as fast as I could go. The guy similarly slowed down or sped up, all the while maintaining the same distance behind me. In the end I stopped mucking around and just focused on riding my usual pace. I figured that if I was going to have to ride through the night to reach the next town I would, so I may as well just put my head down and keep going. There was no way I was going to let the authorities force me to pay for a ride to the next town with licensed accommodation. My original plan was to find a temple to sleep in, but doing so would be impossible with this guy following me. It is technically illegal to stay anywhere in Myanmar that is not a government-registered hotel and it’s not unheard of for a cycle tourist to be followed and forced to get a car ride to a big town with such accommodation.

After a while I thought I should at least try and lose him. I stopped completely to see what he would do. He rode past me and pulled into a roadside ‘kiosk’ about 100m ahead. I started pedalling again and decided to ride on as fast as I could. As I rushed past the kiosk, I looked in and saw him keeping watch on the road. Our eyes met and the game was on. I continued as fast as I could for about 500m around a bend, then pulled into a little dirt track. The track dropped down a little and was lined with trees. The only way you could see down it was if you looked down it just as you passed. I went ten metres down, then turned around and faced the road. I fully expected he would ride past, look down, see me and stop. I would then ask him who he worked for and see what he had to say. Sure enough, within a minute, he went past, eyes staring intently forward, no doubt trying to see me ahead. He never looked down the track. I waited for a few minutes because I expected him to come back searching. When that didn’t happen, I decided to backtrack down the road to the nearest temple.

A few hundred metres back I found a dirt track at the end of which was an arch that I thought looked decorated enough to be the entrance to a temple. Sure enough, as I entered the track I saw a monk ahead. I asked him if I could use a toilet. This was my ploy to get off the track and be hidden for a little while. By this time it was 4.45pm and I thought I may as well ask if I could stay. Long story short, I spent the night in a wooden ‘house’ on stilts, sharing the floor with a monk, an old lady and a Buddha statue. My bed was a thin woven mat on the wooden floor. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful by pulling out my own sleeping mat, so for a second time in Myanmar I had a horrible night’s sleep trying to find some kind of comfort on a wooden floor. Maybe if I was fatter I’d be ok, but no matter which way I lay, some bone was grinding uncomfortably on the floor. I was slightly amused when I was woken in the night a couple of times by the monk munching on biscuits. Strictly speaking, monks are only allowed to eat between the time they wake up and midday. This monk also indulged in betel nut chewing. I was reminded of a conversation with Jeff about the fact that many monks in Myanmar do not follow the demands of Buddhism as well as they should.

Day 528 (pic)

Big and little

Accommodation Free-camp (Buddhist temple)
Distance ridden today 100.33km
Average cycling speed 17.4kph
Total distance ridden 14,276km