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A day in the saddle around Inle.
By Daniel Fisher, February 2013
This was my second trip back to the area, having visited before for a festival. We’d returned primarily to cycle around the area having read others reviews.
Our start point of the day was Century Travel to hire bikes. We’d been there the evening before for dinner and they rented bikes for 1,500Ks which seemed the average price. Their bikes though were 5-speed and she also gave us a bottle of water each so done deal! We’d had a good chat the night before so knew our route already.
Setting off we headed back to the main cross-roads and back out of the town heading north by the Permit Booth (we were not stopped in either direction to see our ticket). Our destination was Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung temple just a 10 minute ride out of Nyaungshwe. This section of the ride is very pleasant indeed. Dual carriageway means that you only have traffic heading in your direction and the water-ways along the side of the road give you good reason to keep stopping for photographs. As we arrived at the temple we spotted several tour group buses (Saga louts by the score!) so opted to carry on north to investigate another temple that we’d spotted on the way into Nyaungshwe the previous day. We’d been to many temples in the country already and if I was to compare this to any, it would be the temple of the books in Mandalay. Lots of small Paya’s with images of Buddha all with different styles of cones and colouring. The two majestic lions that greet you at the entrance were also impressive. It was only a 15 minute ride from Shwe Yaunhwe Kyaung and worth it. From here we headed back south to our initial destination. The oval windows of Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung temple really make it something different. Young Buddhist monks sit in the windows studying, making for some fantastic photographic opportunities and don’t they know it! It all felt a little contrived. As a teacher to me it was clear that there was little, if any, learning going on. The “leader board” of donations in the same area listing names and domicile country of passing tour groups also gave it an odd feeling. You’ll have to make your own decision if you visit. The ride back south into town was a pleasant one again with cool winds blowing in off of the water and fields. After the Permit booth you come to a cross-roads. Turn left (east) and cycle passed the market area. After the police station and the high school we arrived at a small, but distinct, cross-roads with signs to both the Red Mountain vineyard and the orphanage. We opted to cycle all the way down to Maing Thauk and then visit the Red Mountain vineyard on the return for a sunset tipple. The road was smooth enough, only getting rough in one or two places and at the bridges. The surrounding fields housed lots of different birds, skitting between fields of sugar cane and dragon fruit. There were plenty of “restaurants” along the road and many smiling faces! Main Thuak was very easy to find. The village itself is split by the road, with the locals either opting to live on the land or out on the water in their stilt houses. The 300m bridge that stretches out to the stilt houses was one of the reasons we wanted to take this ride. We’d planned ahead and used one of the several shelters on the bridge for a picnic. Well worth planning for as it was a great spot to watch the locals (and tourists) arriving from the other side of the lake and also the locals going about their daily business. The bridge is reminiscent of U Bien in Mandalay, though of course not as grand but a great spot for photographs.
After our late but extremely relaxing lunch we headed back up to the road and across and up the hill towards the Forest Monastery. The first part is a gentle up-hill gradient culminating in a more aggressive climb for which we dismounted. Well, we’d just had lunch and didn’t want to exert ourselves any more than we needed to! The views of the lake were pretty spectacular and worth the climb.
From here we headed back down the road and following the local boat guys directions found the local orphanage. Our timing was a little off and there were not so many children there. We were also arriving unannounced. Nonetheless, we were made welcome and our small gifts of fruit from the market, reading books we’d collected from friends in Malaysia and footballs we’d picked up in Yangon were all received with much joy and many smiles. Back on the bikes and back north towards our final destination, the Red Mountain vineyard. We’d read that they closed at 4pm but you were allowed to stay up there for the sunset. We arrived shortly before, though many people arrived much later and were still welcomed in. We opted for the taster session of 4 wines for 2,000Ks per person. It felt very strange to be in Myanmar and sitting drinking reasonably good wines whilst looking out of over the northern part of the lake. With only 1 out of the 4 wines being rejected, we chose to order a full bottle of their red wine for 10,000ks.
Whilst enjoying the sunset we chatted with a young French couple who we’d met previously. They had cycled the west side of the lake first and taken the ferry across the river to Maing Thauk paying 7,000Ks for 4 people. The roads, they told us were much better on the eastern side (our route) and much better with the absence of both buses and lorries hurtling along.
We packed our wine after the sun started to hide itself being the ridge of the hillside and headed back for the last 20 minute ride into Nyaunshwe.
A very enjoyable way to spend a day in Myanmar and one that I’ll do again if I’m ever back this way.
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