Sunday, 3 December 2017

Final reflections - and a huge Thank You!

Two weeks after returning home from Myanmar seems a good time to share a few reflections on a truly amazing trip.

Firstly, it was a very intense experience: a challenging non-stop itinerary covering huge distances; a tough climate and terrain for cycling; and the non-stop sights and sounds of Myanmar - virtually 24 hours a day!

Secondly, it was a very social experience: meeting with dozens of local students and professionals in Yangon as part of our workshops and project visits; working with medical staff aiming to improve healthcare throughout Myanmar; so many wonderful local people who welcomed us so generously.  And of course a great group of people to ride bikes with!

And thirdly, it was a hugely inspiring experience: Being part of a mission to support Article 25 and their very talented staff in Myanmar was a real privilege, and we now look forward to completing the design guide and continuing to support the collaborations we have initiated.

So a HUGE thank you so much to everyone who has supported me on this adventure whether through messages of support, or through your generous sponsorship.  Together  we have raised over £34,500 so far and there is no doubt that the funds raised will help to make a huge difference to the improvement of healthcare to some very deserving people.

Geoff x

(PS my donation page will stay open until the end of December at:



Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Thurs 16 Nov: WE DID IT!

Today was our final morning in the saddle. To celebrate we were allowed an extra 30mins in bed before up at 6.30 for a 7am start. I was still feeling really weak (and 'unpredictable') after the illness of the last couple of days but I thought I would get back on and see how things went.  We took a route out of Nyaung Shwe and across paddy fields where traditional bamboo and modern buildings coexist. After taking final chance to explore a rural market we continued up tree-lined roads and past small villages into the mountain foothills to explore our final pagoda at Shwe Inn Thein Paya - a sublime remote spot with over 1,000 stupas in varying states of splendour and decay. This marked a fitting end to our bike journey together and where congratulations were shared by all and a few presents for our Burmese helpers and our guide San Wu.

This evening we are making our transfer back to Yangon for some final important jobs and then beginning our journeys home.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Weds 15th November: Loikaw – Phekhone – Lake Inle

Today the group set off in heavy rain on a mixture of good roads and some off-roading from Loikaw to Phekhone from where a 3 hour boat transfer took the group across Lake Inle. The group took in the small villages, fisherman at work, and the Lake's wildlife.  Thankfully the rain had stopped by then!

Unfortunately myself and roommate Tom had to sit out taday's riding as were are both suffering with a fever and took the more direct route to our final stop at Nyaung Shwe. Tonight we will celebrate our achievements with a farewell dinner.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Tues 14th November: Pinlaung – Loikaw

Today we awoke to cool grey skies and a wet road. But before long we were heading along at a brisk pace towards our evening destination of Loikaw in the Karen hills - off the beaten track and seldom visited by tourists. On the way at a morning stop we encountered a very friendly road-building gang (road improvements are happening everywhere in Myanmar!) and a few of us joined in a game on cane ball which everyone felt was great fun!

After riding through amazing mountainous scenery for several hours we arrived at the village of Pekhone, inhabited by the Padaung people. Here we visited a larger RHC and the neighbouring Hospital as part of our research.

After getting going again we descended the mountains with an amazing view of our next region: Inle Lake.
From here we made an impromptu visit to an RHC which was curtailed as the nurse had to accompany a patient to hospital. And then we Travelled out to see our 3rd RHC of the day just south of Pekon. 

In Loikaw we visited the Taung Kwe Pagoda, perched precariously on a stunning rock formation with magnificent views of the surrounding area. The rock formation is said to be the origin of the town’s name which means ‘Island of Mountains’ in Shan. So all in all another tough day but rewarding day.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Mon 13th November: Kalaw – Pinlaung

Up and out on the road early again. Everyone has tired legs now and is beginning to feel the lack of sleep so it takes us all a little longer to warm up and get going. And especially so today as we awoke to a misty and cool morning on the high plain.  

We rode higher and higher into the mountain mist and were occasionally rewarded with a stunning view as the morning mist lifted to reveal a stunning mountainous landscape all around us. We rode through green paddy fields, mountain passes, Pa-O villages and beautiful countryside. As usual the roads were lined by many local people who were excited to see us and wave to us as we passed by.

At around halfway we reviewed our 7th health centre: an older style building with well kept grounds and meticulously kept records of its patients and achievements. It also had its own ambulance! The staff were very friendly and cooperative and we learned a great deal from their information. We left feeling that it was a well run facility.

Much of the remaining riding was on fairly rough unpaved roads with many areas of roadworks. Although several heavy rain clouds threatened we escaped with just one short shower. Eventually after more than 70km we approached the town of Pinluang in the distance, our stay for the night and a welcome relief. Shortly after arrival we experienced our first torrential rainfall and we all felt lucky to have missed it out on the road!

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Sun 12th November: Meikhtila – Kalaw

Today we were up at the crack of dawn again and rolling out at 6.30am sharp. We rode directly into the rising sun across the lowland plains - before the morning heat - as rural Myanmar woke up to a new day. 

After around 40km we reached our 6th Health Centre. On the way we had passed several major agricultural and construction projects including road-building and sugar processing and we really sensed we were in another industrious part of the country. Whilst the Health Centre building was closed to patients (as it was Sunday) we were kindly granted access for inspection by the caretaker. It was much older and more basic than anything we have seen to date, however it had a real sense of purpose in looking after its surrounding population.

Almost immediately after concluding our research visit the road ahead kicked up sharply as we headed up the mountain road and into the high plateau of the Southern Shan State, resplendent with lush bamboo and banana plantations and pine forests. We took a very challenging climb to the former hill station town of Kalaw - which was a summer retreat for the British colonnials seeking to escape the lowland heat. We are exhausted at the end of a long day but in very good spirits and ready for tomorrow.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Sat 11th November: Mt. Popa – Meikhtila

We were up very early today to try and make a headstart on the cycling before the heat of the day. So up at 5am so, breakfast at 6am, and the team was rolling on the road at 6.30! We descended the mountain quickly and then headed out to find 2 health centres en route. 

We found the first mid-morning - an older style facility currently serving 36,000 people - and completed our assessment including interviews. We then headed on with fantastic views of Mount Pipa fading behind us to reach our 5th site. Although it was unstaffed due to the weekend and holiday period we were given permission to assess it from the outside and so could appraise the building and facilities in comparison with the others we had seen previously.

Having passed sugar palm plantations and sesame, peanut and corn field we finally completed the challenging hilly terrain and arrived safely at the lake town of Meiktila. We are all tired but happy at the progress we're making - both on the bike and with the research. Now looking forward to some rest this evening before setting off right and early again tomorrow!

Friday, 10 November 2017

Fri 10th November: Bagan – Mt. Popa

Today’s ride took us through the picturesque countryside to Mount Popa, an extinct volcano rising 1,518m above sea level, and to our 3rd Regional Health Centre on the way. 

We started the day at 7am on back roads and very sandy tracks en route to an older style health centre located in a very remote village. Although very basic it was staffed by happy people and the neighbouring school was delightful too.

We passed through many small villages on the way where we were able to meet local people and be welcomed into their homes. We also saw lots of traditional foods being produced, especially peanuts and palm sugar snacks and drinks. The tracks were extremely sandy all day which led to very tiring cycling, and a few spills along the way. It was also very hot today which made for slow and dusty progress!

As we approached Mt. Popa the road became much more challenging with an 800m climb. We stopped for a very late lunch at 4pm at a local restaurant. Once recharged we climbed the 777 steps to the summit of the sacred volcano Popa-Taung Kalat, from where we enjoyed breath-taking views over the Myingyan Plain. 

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Thurs 9th November: Monywa – Pakkoku – Bagan

Another amazing day in Myanmar. This morning we were up at 5.45 and on the road by 7 to try to get our 100km of cycling completed before the worst of the day’s heat. We rode south on tricky sandy roads, following the Irrawaddy River, and passing little-visited A Myint and A Neint villages, home to number of ancient pagodas. The route also took us past numerous rice fields and small villages where we met friendly local people of all ages who rarely come into contact with foreigners, particularly on bikes!

We rode on towards the small river town of Pakokku, where we boarded a private boat for a trip down river towards the ancient capital of Bagan and our research visit to the Rural Health Centre there. It was fascinating to hear how a larger Rural Health Centre works in treating the maternity, and general health needs, of the local population.

We stayed at the RHC until dusk and then ended the day with a ride into Bagan town to arrive at our lodgings in pitch darkness (with no lights)! A great day.