Myanmar: Managing restricted locations while self-touring

Discussion in 'Asia' started by AdamCohn, Feb 10, 2019.

  1. AdamCohn

    AdamCohn Adventurer

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2011
    Oddometer:
    13
    Location:
    Seattle, WA, USA
    We will be traveling around Myanmar on motorcycle, self-guided. I am seeing lists like this one which indicate that there are lots of towns that we will need to avoid without special permission.

    I am trying to create a Google map to help us plan around these obstacles, but unfortunately, many of these places aren't identified on Google maps.

    How do these restrictions work? Is it possible for us to arrange in advance for these permissions? If we accidentally end up in one of these places, what do we do? How do we know whether we have crossed into the boundary of a place where we are allowed in the city but not the rural area?
    Thanks in advance!
    #1
  2. gavo

    gavo Slacker

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2010
    Oddometer:
    2,846
    Location:
    Gympie QLD
    I don't think it is allowed to travel there at all without a guide, it certainly wasn't when we were there 3 years ago. We were accompanied by a guide, driver and an immigration official at all times. Although we had some freedom when the guide said we are going here on the GPS and they would catch up to us at the next checkpoint. We were stopped at all checkpoints until the guide and our immigration officer arrived we were also questioned by police when we stopped for a drink in some towns and pulled over by the police several times because we had the headlight on in daylight hours, hardwired so couldn't be turned off and illegal in Myanmar and because we were on a foreign bike. We also had to wait for police escorts in and out of some towns. having said that it was a terrific county to visit. We used "Burma Senses" for the guide.
    #2
  3. AdamCohn

    AdamCohn Adventurer

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2011
    Oddometer:
    13
    Location:
    Seattle, WA, USA
    Hm, that is interesting! The company who will be renting us the bikes has made no mention of the need to have a guide. I will double-check with them!
    It definitely sounds like we should expect lots of checkpoints and be patient with the notion of needing to be escorted by the police. I presume I should assume that police stopping us are more inclined to be helping us than to get a bribe from us?
    #3
  4. gavo

    gavo Slacker

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2010
    Oddometer:
    2,846
    Location:
    Gympie QLD
    If the bikes are licenced in Myanmar it may make a big difference I don't know, But the police who jumped us on the highway and in 2 small towns wanted to keep us there and wanted to see our passports, until the guide and company arrived to smooth the way.
    No one suggested a bribe.
    We did meet a guy from Belgium riding a bicycle who seemed to be stop and start where he wanted.
    If you're hiring the bikes locally they should have all information.
    Enjoy, great country not yet spoiled by tourism.
    #4
  5. RobinRobin

    RobinRobin n00b

    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2019
    Oddometer:
    2
    Location:
    SE
    I rented a 150cc Bajaj Boxer in Mandalay in 2018 and didn't have any problems at all. I didn't use the main highway between Mandalay and Yangon as I was told that the motorcycle restriction is actually actively enforced there, but otherwise I felt free to go. I only had it for a week or 2 so didn't get to cross major distances. I was never stopped at any checkpoint, so I can't tell you if an international license is accepted etc.

    Note that a few things may prove challenging:
    - The cars are right-hand-drive while they drive on the right as well. This means that their overtaking is even more dangerous than in other Asian countries.
    - There have been days that I had to ride for 7 hours because there was no hotel between A and B. I met cyclists on the way who were camping, but they did run into troubles a few times along the way.
    - Some stretches are utterly boring and ugly, i.e. Mandalay - Bagan.
    - D-E-F on my map is breathtaking; you cross villages where hardly any foreigner has ever been. This route deviates from the (very busy) main road between Hsipaw (D) and Pyin Oo Lwin (F). It takes 5-6 times longer, but is very quite and nice.
    - The same goes for F-G-H (Pyin Oo Lwin (F) to Mandalay (H)).

    Read the map counter-clockwise, starting and ending in Mandalay.

    Attached Files:

    #5
  6. RobinRobin

    RobinRobin n00b

    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2019
    Oddometer:
    2
    Location:
    SE
    Also, you can ride TO Bagan but not IN (the temple area of) Bagan. I just rode to my hotel, parked my bike and rented the electric scooter every tourist rides.

    There are also reports of restrictions around Inle Lake, but I didn't find any. Every tourist entering Inle Lake (or Nyaungshwe actually) has to pay, but I never noticed a checkpoint so never paid. I was wearing a face mask riding a Myanmarese bike, so that may have helped.
    #6
  7. crazy cat

    crazy cat Crazy cat

    Joined:
    Sep 18, 2010
    Oddometer:
    57
    Location:
    Bermagui nsw
    Yes it is good to have a local regoed bike .bajaj boxer is perfect for police.i always have a guide to negotiate which roads we are allowed on. The gov issues temp ride permits but the police and insurance accept international licences
    #7
  8. AdamCohn

    AdamCohn Adventurer

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2011
    Oddometer:
    13
    Location:
    Seattle, WA, USA
    I just got home a couple days ago from our 3-week trip and figured I'd update on our experience:
    • Here's the pins I dropped on Google Maps as we traveled. They convey the majority of where we were: https://goo.gl/maps/md3LBNKXJx82
    • We picked up our bikes in Mandalay, rode all around and dropped them off in Yangon. We never had a guide of any sort.
    • We never had a single incident with police or anything. That includes our mistake of riding to our hotel in Yangon rather than our intended meetup location with the rental agency, which was intended to be where you can still ride. We passed two police directing traffic who didn't even react to the fact that we were on motorcycles where we shouldn't be. Could be that we were clearly foreigners and they cut us some slack
    • We used our bikes extensively in Bagan. We had assumed we'd need to rent e-bikes, but our hotel said that since the bikes were licensed from Mandalay there was no problem using them around Bagan. It was nice to not be one of the goofy-looking tourists on the little e-bikes :)
    • In terms of restricted areas, we generally stuck to regions where we knew we wouldn't be pushing our luck, eg. no Rakhine state, no far north. We did spend time in Kayah state where foreigners are only allowed to stay nights in one city, Loikaw. At my wise girlfriend's suggestion, we chatted with the Tourist Info office there, and the super helpful woman Victoria gave us the lowdown that we would be restricted in which roads we could travel in that state. In particular she said folks had been turned back by checkpoints on all but the main route south from there. (I forget which road, but if someone wants to know I will ask my girlfriend who will remember.)
    • While in Kayah state, we used satellite view on Google Maps to get deep into some villages, and despite having come to terms with the expectation that foreigners are required to pay to hang with Kayan villagers etc, we were never able to even find such guides or commerce. We had some very genuine, natural interactions with the villagers, got invited to join a birthday party, and had some great times with the folks out there.
    • We didn't encounter anyone ready to charge us the tourist fee to be in Bagan until our last day there when we hit up sunrise at a temple. We were happy to pay of course.
    • We never encountered anyone ready to charge us the tourist fee in Inle, though again we would have happily paid
    Those are the generally-applicable points I can offer offhand. If anyone has questions or wants to know more, let me know!
    Thanks everyone who replied!!!
    #8
  9. gavo

    gavo Slacker

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2010
    Oddometer:
    2,846
    Location:
    Gympie QLD
    Sounds like you had a great time. Stayed at the same hotel as us in Monywa, did you go to Thanboddhay Pagoda ? I was very impressed with that place. What was the name of the bike hire company, type of bike and cost? It appears to make life much easier having a local bike. After the hassles both overseas and here in Australia with bureaucracy I'll never ship my own bike over again.
    #9
  10. AdamCohn

    AdamCohn Adventurer

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2011
    Oddometer:
    13
    Location:
    Seattle, WA, USA
    We didn't make it to that pagoda... but plenty of others :)
    The rental company was: http://myanmarmotorbikes.com/myanmar-motorcycle-rental/ and we rented two Honda XR 125s and paid $20/day. The bikes were good, though of course encountered a handful of issues over the three week trip. Thankfully there's a grease pit every couple meters, so always someone to help out. When we did need parts, including tubes, they could only be procured at some of the medium sized cities, as few locals ride bikes like these.
    I've never shipped a bike abroad, and renting does avoid some of those hassles!
    #10