Cycling in Myanmar – not the first destination you would think of for a cycling holiday 🙂 Still, it can be very rewarding! During my 3 weeks in Myanmar, I did a 2-day cycling tour around Mandalay. With the tour we would see some highlights of the area around Mandalay and visit the old royal capitals of Myanmar.
In the early morning, we were welcomed by our local tour guide Kay and a mechanic / tour guide from the cycling company “Grashoppers”. There were also 2 tuktuks to carry water, our luggage, spare parts and people who didn’t want to bike anymore. The bikes were ready for us at our hotel. They were all mountainbikes and in good condition. It took a bit to get the bikes ready for departure, but after all the saddles and helmets were set correctly, we were ready to take off. We were all very excited about our cycling trip in Myanmar and hoping we would survive the traffic 😉
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Our cycling Trip in Myanmar
The people in Myanmar are quite fond of cycling themselves. You see bikes both in the cities and the countryside. But the traffic in the cities is getting increasingly horrific and it does not look very safe! During our trip, we had to get out of Mandalay and cycled for about 30-40 minutes in quite heavy traffic on a dusty road.
Once we got out of that part, the joy began! Small villages, big smiles on the people’s faces alongside the road, temples everywhere and quite decent roads! This cycling trip was largely flat. Only on the second day, there were 4-5 large hills that are not very suitable for mountainbikes. Some hills we made it up, some we had to walk 🙂
We left the Awareddy River View hotel in Mandalay and after cycling about 45 minutes through the crazy traffic of the city, we arrived in Amarapura. In this town, we visited the famous U-Bein Bridge. Fun fact: world’s longest wooden bridge does not have water underneath it outside of the rainy season. Instead, lots of vegetables are grown on the fertile ground. Many people make the daily commute along the 1,2 km bridge everyday from the village every day to come sell souvenirs to tourists. Although a bit busy, it was still a cool place to see! We were here during the day, and some people went back for the sunset by tuktuk. You can rent a boat to get a good view.
We also had a look at the Maha Ganayon Kyaung monastery which was right next to the bridge. Even more ridiculous than the monastery we visited in Yangon, there were busloads of tourists watching the monks collect food and donations and then have lunch. I would have been happy to have skipped this part 🙂
From this point on, it would get quite hot! I was very happy with my hat, my sarong and sunblock! If you’re thinking about doing a cycling trip in Myanmar, make sure to check my packinglist for Myanmar. Even in winter season it gets really hot in Myanmar. Also, cycling in shorts is fine, but you need to cover up for the monasteries and temples.
After Amarapura, we hopped on our bikes again and departed to Ava (also known as Inwa). We had to take a small ferry boat to get there which was very exciting with all the bikes 🙂 . Loading all the people and all the bikes took two turns, and coming off the boat it was time for lunch.
It was lovely cycling through Ava, with many beautiful sites. We visited the teak Bagaya Kyaun Monastery which was quite a sight. Then we moved on to the Maha Aung Mye Bom San Monastery which for me was one of the highlights temple-wise! A stunning old building with some white stupas on the side.
We made a quick stop at the “leaning tower of Ava” Nanmyin, which you really don’t have to put on your to-do list. I would skip this any time :D.
We took to the boat back from Ava from another jetty and cycled about 30 minutes more to Sagaing. This is where we would spend the night. We stayed in the Shwe Pyne Sone hotel, which you can barely call average. Right next door, a new hotel called the “Happy Hotel” had opened its doors and I guess it would be worth a shot 🙂
Our whole group was picked up by a large tuktuk truck and taken to a new restaurant. They had assembled around 10 people of staff, plus kitchen staff. We got our food quickly and the service was awesome 🙂
The next morning we had an early breakfast before taking off again. We cycled to the foot of Sagaing hill. Here we parked our bikes and made a pretty horrific hike up 350 steps 🙂 The views were pretty but the Pagoda itself was nothing fancy compared to what we had already seen. Making our way down, time for a quick snack and drink and then back on our bikes!
After leaving Sagain, we set off for an amazing ride across rural Myanmar. Opposite to the day before that was filled with traffic and scary situations, the second day guided us through a hilly area with little villages along the way. The sun, the scenery and the people on the way made it a pure joy to ride around.
After a couple of hours cycling, we arrived in Mingun. Here we visited the Mingun Paya, which could have been the biggest stupa in the world. That would have been the case, if the king would have had the guts to finish it. An astrologist told him that if he would finish, he would die. Eventually he died anyway, but the stupa was never really finished :-). With the normal decay and some extra cracks due to an earthquake, as Lonely Planet puts it, “the Mingun Paya is now often described as world’s largest pile of bricks”.
After the Mingun Paya, we had a quick ook at the Mingun Bell (made by the same king who wanted to have the biggest stupa). It is one of the largest bells in the world, but also largely boring 😉
One of my favourite temples in Myanmar was the Hsinbyume Paya, a stupa from 1816. It’s beautifully white washed and stands out from the “temple crowd” 🙂 The terraces represent the seven mountain ranges around Mt. Meru – which is a mountain that is central to the Buddhist universe. It was lovely and quiet here, so we had plenty of time for good photo ops 😀
After a hot day, we were pleasantly surprised with a luxurious boat back along the Ayeyarwady River to the hotel. A hot shower and an awesome dinner at local barbecue joint “Shwe Khing Barbecue” ensured a great night of sleep.
Cycling in Myanmar with Grasshoppers
This was such a great adventure! I had 3 weeks in Myanmar, but even if you only had 1 week in Myanmar and would visit Mandalay, I would still try to cram in a small cycling tour. It really gives you a different perspective on the country! The tour we did was not a fixed tour, but was custom made for our group, and you can always ask for a custom tour if you are with a couple of people. In addition, Grashoppers has about 15 other tours in Myanmar that are worth checking out! Everything was very well taken care of – the biks were in decent condition, there was a mechanic in case a bike would break down. Also a large jerrycan of water was at our disposal in case we would run out.
So are you ready for cycling in Myanmar? Don’t wait – go there today 😀