Your mission, should you choose to accept it: to embark on the road trip of a lifetime. The Herculean odyssey that is the drive from India to distant Bangkok will not only change who you are, but also how you see the world.
On this journey, you’ll drive 2500 kms of the most challenging terrain you’ve ever faced in your life, over 10 days and across 3 countries to complete the trip – but getting there is only half the fun. Along the way, it’s a guarantee that you’ll come across things you’ve never seen before and also experience the weird and the unbelievable, giving you a collection of great pub stories that even Barney Stinson would be envious of.
From the strange to the beautiful, mysterious to moving, ridiculous to sublime, here are 10 of the weirdest, wackiest and most wonderful things you’ll learn on this driving adventure.
1) You can row a boat and fish with one leg
The fishermen of Myanmar’s Inle Lake have a unique, almost acrobatic rowing style that has fascinated travelers for years. Fishermen become martial artists as they stand on one foot like a flamingo at the stern of their teak boat and wrap their other leg around an oar; then, effortlessly balanced, they propel their teak boat forward and around the floating islands of the lake. Swiftly they plunge hand-woven nets into the water to trap fish, hauling the fish back up onto the boat in one synchronized movement, all the while keeping balance on one leg.
2) ‘Hanging on by a hair’ is more than just an expression
The Golden Rock or Kyaiktiyo Pagoda in Myanmar is a single, huge granite boulder covered in gold and topped by a stupa looks as though it’s going to topple off the edge of Mount Kyaiktiyo and roll down in to the sweeping landscape of Myanmar if someone so much as sneezes in its general direction #arockinahardplace. And yet this enormous boulder has perched precariously on the edge of a cliff, seemingly defying gravity for decades. Legend has it that the rock is kept in place by a meticulously placed strand of the Buddha’s hair. It’s a real life freak of nature, so don’t forget to rock a selfie here. #nopunintended
3) Myanmar’s capital city is also a ghost town
Six times the size of New York City, Naypyidaw is a grandiose city with more five-star hotels than almost any other city in the world, gleaming new office buildings, mansions galore, megamalls, cineplexes, parks, golf courses and even a zoo with an air-conditioned penguin house. But even though it has space for up to one million residents, the capital is extremely empty; it’s a relative ghost town. There are so few people living here that the streets are silent, the restaurants are empty and the highways are almost deserted. So, if you’d like, you can do cartwheels outside the Presidential Palace or, take a leaf from Top Gear’s playbook and enjoy a game of football – in the middle of the streets. You’ll probably never see a city like this anywhere else in the world.
4) Pointing your feet at a Buddha is bad form
In Thailand, feet are considered the lowest and dirtiest part of the body and it is extremely important to be careful not to inadvertently offend locals by showing people the soles of your feet or using your feet to point at anything, whether giving directions or pointing out something of interest. It is especially important never to point your feet at a Buddha or at any monks – so when sitting down in temples, try to kneel to avoid causing serious offence. And if you can’t find matching socks, at least make sure the ones you have are clean.
5) Your menu reads like ‘Fear Factor’s greatest hits
At small local restaurants and tea shops along the route from Imphal, through Myanmar, to Bangkok, you’ll be given the chance to eat all the weirdest, grossest, stomach-turning, PETA-offending treats that the region has to offer. Insects, reptiles, arachnids, all the animal parts you’d normally throw out, all go into the cooking pot: legs, guts, blood and all. Delicious or disgusting? Eat a plate of grilled bat in Myanmar or munch on some fried crickets in Bangkok with a glass of snake wine if you dare and you may just discover a new favorite.
6) The best sunscreen doesn’t come from a bottle
Thanaka, a yellowish-white paste made from the ground bark of the Thanaka tree has been used by Burmese women as a skin lotion and sunscreen for over 2000 years. Applied usually on the face in attractive designs – usually circles, dots and flowers – thanakha cools the skin, prevents sun damage, clears up acne and the Burmese also believe it reduces fevers and headaches when ingested. If you get to know some of the locals, they will enjoy letting you try it out and will help paint your face.
7) The Great ShweDagon Pagoda is covered in more gold than Bappi Lahiri
Bling meets Buddhism at this pagoda, the most sacred site in Myanmar. Completely covered in gold, the pagoda’s main central dome alone is plated with nearly 22,000 solid gold bars and encrusted by 7,000 diamonds, rubies, topaz and sapphires. The top of the stupa alone sparkles with 4531 diamonds – there’s even a whopping 72 carat diamond up there. This golden giant is guaranteed to leave you standing there, mouth open, and eyes wide in wonder – and will probably blind you in the midday sun. Could you honestly be within 50 miles of this and not want to go witness this splendour in person?
8) Bagan is the Manhattan of pagodas
With over 4440 pagodas on the plains of Bagan, no matter which one you’re looking at, you’ll spy a thousand more over its shoulder. It’s impossible not to feel like Indiana Jones or Lara Croft here, with a seemingly endless number of stupas, pagodas and temples just waiting to be explored. Regardless of how you choose to see the ancient monuments – soaring in a hot air balloon over pagodas glittering red and gold in the sunlight or driving through the stupa studded landscape, spectacular architecture, charming scenery and friendly locals will fill your days and your memory cards. Once experienced, Bagan is never forgotten.
9) At Lake Inle, the school bus is actually… the school boat
Can you imagine living your life entirely on water – not on an island, but literally on water? This is the normal way of life for the Intha who live on Lake Inle. Living in simple houses built high on stilts rising out of the water, they go about their daily business aboard a fleet of small teak boats. Fishermen catch nga hpein with their nets, farmers grow vegetables and fruit in large gardens that float on the surface of the lake, while artisans create ornamental objects, textiles, and cheroots, which are sold to visitors at floating-markets. You’d be hard pressed to find a more captivating lake in Myanmar…or anywhere else for that matter.
10) Bangkok is the best place to party
There’s so much to see on the way to Bangkok, it’s almost easy to forget where you’re going in the first place. Until you get here, that is. Whether you wish to visit cultural landmarks, get a replica of Mike Tyson’s tattoo on your face, go on a wild shopping spree, sip a cocktail at a rooftop restaurant, or dance the night away in Bangkok’s nightclubs, good times are guaranteed here. You’ll soon understand the meaning behind the proverbial lyric, “One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster…”
Wherever you go along this road trip, you will encounter moments of magic, times to treasure and experiences that capture your senses. So pack your bags and lose yourself again in this winding, thrilling journey, that is the Road to Bangkok.