At 7:00 a.m., we started out our journey from Yangon as we planned. Following a minor mishap with a leaking engine, which we were able to fix at Sagaing, we arrived in Shwebo at 8:30 p.m.
At noon the following day, we were at the border of Sagaing Region and Kachin State. A signboard reading ‘Welcome to Kachin State’ was seen by the Mandalay- Myitkyina rail road. I felt warm when we reached Myitkyina and I saw Ko Chit Kaung and some Kachin ladies waiting for us holding the sign ‘Welcome 4X4 MYANMAR’’ near the town entrance signboard. Myitkyina’s evening was alive even though there were not very many motorbikes or cars. With Ko Chit Kaung we had dinner at a restaurant with a bamboo floor beside the Ayeyarwaddy River.
Rice was placed on banana leaves with many traditional curries—I did not know most of them. The dinner was perfect with grilled fish, Kachin traditional curries, khaungyay (fermented rice wine), and cold breezes from Ayeyarwaddy river. Then we headed back to our hotel.
The next day we reached Myitsone beyond Tanphe village. Myitsone is the juncture of the two rivers Maykha and Malikha. It is the place the Ayeyarwaddy River starts, the place Kachin people love. The view of the juncture was quite amazingwith a white sand bank and giant mountains.
We rested and prepared our cars the next day for the big journey into China and a snow mountain.
On Day Five at 7:00 a.m. we gathered in front of the hotel. Our guide reminded us what to do and what not to do—to follow the rules of the region and of the indigenous, and not to offend to the local cultures. He was of Lisu ethnicity and could speak Kachin, Jingphaw, Lachaite, La-htaw and Chinese. We passed the tunnel at Myanmar-Sino border—it was the very first time in my life. Therefore, we stopped at the other side of the tunnel to take pictures. Our Chinese guide informed us not to throw trash and that if we did, we would be chased down and arrested as CCTV cameras were everywhere. But throwing trash is not our habit anyway as we always make a point of never throwing trash on our tours.
Through to China. We decided to take a shortcut to Panwa. After passing a few Chinese villages, the road became steep. According to our guide, Panwa was after this mountain—it looked quite close but took a long time to drive up. At first, it was tar but as we drove higher it changed into a dirt road. We drove close to the cliff and slipped past the stone walls.
Here we were at the top of the mountain 6,700 feet above the sea level. But we were not able to admire our achievement for a long time for we would be late. After driving down, we smelled something but we did not know from which car. We poured water on the wheels of the cars but dared not use a lot because water was difficult to find in the forest. At 5:00 p.m., we joined a main road and were on the way to Panwa.
To our surprise, there was a mountain ahead of us. The guide said that Panwa was on the top of the mountain. Oh! We had to climb up again. But the road was quite good. We drove up steadily and arrived at a Myanmar immigration gate which was already closed so we found a hotel to stay in for the night.
On the sixth morning we awoke to a temperature of zero degrees. I was worried. ‘Would the engines even start?’ The cars were covered in ice. I turned the key and, to my delight, it started at once. The road was covered in ice and the fog was as thick as rain. At the last Chinese village in our trip an old man was selling Chinese dumplings like in the Chinese movies. The guide told us that there would not be any place to buy food, so we filled our stomach.
Another member of the rally said he was hearing a worrying noise from his car, but our guide insisted to drive until the Myanmar gate, so we did. We got back through to Myanmar with less security checks than before. I felt safe driving into my own country. When we checked the suspicious car, we all felt worried to see only one of the joint bolt nuts was left. So we unloaded the car and moved everything to the other cars leaving it behind.
The drive to the next town, Phimaw, was hilly. When driving up, I kept staring at the heat gauge and when going down, I kept getting smells from the brake. I tried to use higher gears when going down rather than using the brakes. Despite our cautious efforts, the burn smell still came out.
Arriving in Phimaw, we were still in search of a snow mountain. At this point, three cars of our expedition had already headed back for Yangon and we had had to abandon another so we were left as a group of five. Reports on which areas had snowfall varied. A man who had returned from Makawt Mountain told us there was lots of snow there two days ago.
The following day we headed towards the mountain. The journey to the base was to take eight hours. Along the way we saw members of the Chinese-Lisu ethnicity who only spoke a dialect of Chinese-Lisu so our guide could not talk to them. Maybe because of the cold, their cheeks were red. After passing many check points along the way, I was getting fed up until I heard, ‘We’ve seen the snow mountain,’ over the walkie-talkie. In the distance, to our delight, white clusters of the snow lay here and there on the hill side. Our destination was just in our reach. We decided to camp at the village at the base as the peak of the mountain was at 10,000ft and our tents were not ideal for that!
The next morning, our eighth day on the road, we drove for an hour to the peak of the mountain. We were shivering with the cold and the visibility was very low – we had to clear the windshield often. We were able to stand with our feet on the top of Makawt Mountain. Snow beside the road was deep. We were very delighted but could not stand the freezing cold so we tried to make a wood fire but failed. After pouring petrol onto the gathered wood we managed to light it and we started to feel warm.
few moments later, the sun started to glow and we took our photos. We felt very thrilled to accomplish our wish and the way back to Phimaw was effortless and, I felt, much faster.
On Day Nine we drove back from Phimaw to Chiphwe. By the afternoon we passed a place where the rocks were amazingly square in shape. The view from there were scenic and we could not help gazing and admiring the beauty.
We left the hotel the next morning for Myitkyina, a four hour drive away, and we drove easily without any stress.
All of a sudden, I saw one of the cars in our group rolling down into the ravine. It was the same car that had had problems previously. I have to say the driver was lucky not to have rolled into the river on our right side and that it was a shallow ravine.
We decided to leave the car behind and to return with a mechanic after buying spare parts in Myikyina. It was 2:30 p.m., when we arrived at Myitkyina and luckily we managed to get the spare parts easily though it was difficult to convince a mechanic to join us for the nighttime journey. Eventually we went back to the car and fixed it by 11 p.m. It was difficult to drive through all the security gates because most of them were closed and unmanned.
I asked to stop the car as I felt like urinating, but Ko Chit Kaung warned me not to get out and insisted I pee in the car because the members of ethnic armed groups would be passing around here. It was about 2:00 a.m., and I felt easy only when we arrived at the last gate to Chiphwe. I was happy when I saw the town entrance sign of Myitkyina. We, as a celebration of our achievement, went to a restaurant near the market that opened all night.
On Day 11, our 4X4 MYANMAR 2018 MANAW EXPEDITION finally ended. We had made it to our final destination in the scheduled timeframe with minimal damage.