- This article is an itinerary.
The Burma Road was built during World War II to bring supplies to beleaguered China, to help them resist the Japanese invasion. The campaign in China, and therefore the Burma Road, were a very important part of the war effort, much more than most Westerners appreciate. The Japanese invasion of China turned into a major disaster for both sides.
The Chinese were fighting an invader with far better weapons and training, making do with whatever weapons their allies could send (some of them WW I surplus), enduring some spectacularly vicious oppression, and taking enormous numbers of casualties (over ten million military and civilian deaths, far more than any other nation except Russia). Moreover, they were disunited; the Communists and the Nationalists were sometimes more interested in their own disputes than in battling Japan.
Despite all that, the Chinese Army (run by the Nationalists with American advisers) managed to give the Japanese a remarkably hard time. Japanese planners thought they could take all of China in three months, leave a small force to hold it, and move most of their armies elsewhere. Actually, it took them three months just to take Shanghai, they never did manage to take more than about half of China, and roughly half of the total Japanese ground forces were tied down in China for the entire war. Arguably, every Allied land victory in the Pacific War was partly due to Chinese tenacity and the supplies delivered by the Burma Road.
There was a good deal of fighting in Burma with British, Indian, and other troops under General Slim and Colonel Wingate, and Americans and Chinese under Generals Stillwell and Wedemeyer, battling Japanese forces that held much of Burma and at one point even threatened India. Keeping the road open was an important Allied objective.
The alternative to the road was "flying the hump", which was taking supply planes from airports around Calcutta to Kunming over parts of the Himalayas. This was done by American pilots at great risk. Another Allied objective in Burma was to knock out bases used by Japanese fighters harassing the hump flyers. Today "The Hump" is a popular tourist bar in Kunming and there are commercial flights Kolkata-Kunming.
The Burma Road proper 
The actual Burma Road was largely built by the Chinese themselves, in 1937 and 1938 — about 200,000 workers with no heavy equipment hacking a road through Western Yunnan and Eastern Burma, from the regional center Kunming on the Chinese side to the railhead Lashio in Burma (now called Myanmar). The road is about 1150 km (over 700 miles) long and the area is extremely mountainous, so this was an amazing accomplishment. Starting in 1942, US Army Engineers did considerable work upgrading parts of this road.
The Burmese part of the Burma road is short, from the border town Ruili to Lashio, and can be traversed only one way which is (Ruili to Lashio) and only under escort.
Travelers on today's Yunnan tourist trail cover some of this route, albeit on far newer and better roads. Traces of the old road, including some milestones, are still visible.
The Ledo Road 
Another road was originally built by the British and Indians, starting in the 1920s, from Ledo in Assam over the mountains to Lashio. This Ledo Road was upgraded and extended by US Army Engineers during the war, and is also called the Stilwell Road after American General "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell. Total distance on this route from Ledo to Kunming was just over 1700 km, almost 1100 miles.
Traveling this road today is nearly impossible. The four hundred kilometers between the border with India (near Pangsau Pass) and Myitkyina is off-limits to foreigners. The road itself had mostly returned to the jungle but has been rebuilt, allegedly with forced Naga and Kachin labor, in recent years. The Myanmar junta is in the process of converting this section into an all weather section for trade with India.
The Indian section of the road, from Ledo to Nampong is also a restricted area.
In the event that sections of the road open up to travelers, the following are some of the highlights along the Ledo Road and the Burma Road.
- Nampong is a border town in the Indian state of Assam
- Pangsau Pass, just inside the Indo-Burma border, 3727 feet in height.
- Pangsau is the first town on the Burmese side.
- Lake of No Return (Nawng Yang in Burmese), Kacin Province, near Pangsau.
- Myitkyina, in Kachin State, is open to travelers and is connected by road, rail, air, and ferry from Mandalay.
- Bhamo, also in the Kachin State, is open to travelers.
- Namkham, a village in the Northern Shan State in Burma. Travel to Namkham is currently restricted and a permit (almost impossible to get) is required from Yangon.
- Kunming, a provincial capital and major tourist center on the Chinese side.