Pindaya: Spectacular caves or just a spectacular rip off?

17th March 2016
Distance: 61km 

Road: Paved, good road 

After our luxurious day of eating and drinking and being taken around the lake yesterday on the boat it was time to get back on the bike again and head north, our final destination being Mandalay on the 21st.

Our first leg would be the 61km to Pindaya where there is a large cave complex filled with thousands of Buddhas. 

There is a steady but very manageable incline out of Nwyngshwe and then a flattish plateaux at the top. We meet some cool Americans at the turn off and stop to chat for a while. We have a very strong headwind in our faces which makes the cycle a bit gruelling from there on but the scenery is very nice.

We pass an extravagant ceremony taking place off from the road so we decide to stop to take a closer look. It turns out to be an initiation ceremony for 8 local boys who are about to embark on their first stint as a Buddhist monk. Some of the boys are tiny (5-6 years old) but they will probably only stay at the monastery for a few nights.

  
 

The whole town has come out to either take part in the ceremony or to watch. All the boys are dressed in colourful outfits and headdresses and mounted on beautifully groomed horses, flanked by golden parasols. A riderless horse leads the boys; the vacant seat signifying the presence of the Buddah. 

  

A long line of offerings carried by groups of young people (money, blankets, flowers) proceeds the boys. Four young women carry a plume of beautiful peacock feathers and a parasol and are apparently the teenage girls who will this year ‘come of age’.  

 

The long line of people makes a circuit around the village three times accompanied by live musicians.  

 

This little guy is playing it cool…  

 We reach Pindaya which, is set around a large lake, at around 4pm. It’s very pretty and is a town which is clearly doing well from the tourism.

The only problem with Pindaya is the serious lack of affordable accommodation the cheapest we could find was $20 dollars with no breakfast. It is a true tourist trap and a cheap meal is also hard to come by… To top this off tourists also have to pay a $2 fee just to enter the town!! This would be like towns such as Falmouth, Cardigan or Harrogate starting to charge tourists £5 on their way in. 

The cave is 3000 kyat to enter (hide your camera so you don’t get charged the additional 300 for that). I guess the cave complex is impressive but it’s very set up for visitors and is so lit up by lights that it lacked any real sense of wonder or mysticism for us. Having blown our budget on everything else the 20 mins we spent wondering around the statues just didn’t seem worth it really! 

If you are strapped for time or are trying to save the pennies between the inevitable money traps of Inle and Bagan/Mandalay, we might suggest to leave Pindaya off your itinerary. The issue is the cycle between Inle and the next hotel in Ywengan which would be a long day… Possible if you are in good shape or only semi-loaded. If you have a tent definitely camping would be an option. 

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Kalaw to Inle Lake

After a scrummy thali and a good sleep at the cheapest hotel we could find (Green Pine Hotel $10) we got up early and headed to the local market to buy some breakfast provisions as that night we planned to wild camp for the first time in Myanmar. The market is very busy with vendors selling all sorts of stuff.

Camping is not permitted here as all tourists must register each night with a tourist registered guesthouse (where the government takes a cut). Burmese can stay in local guesthouse but people can get into serious trouble with the local police if they offer hospitality to tourists. There was a time here where even family members would need to gain permission before visiting their relatives. 

This means that when camping you need to be well out of sight and be prepared to be ‘moved on’, sometimes late at night, if the authorities do find you. 

Wanting to avoid the main road and plethora of tour buses going up to Inle we follow the main Rd for 12k and then divert right onto the back road just after the town of  Aungban. This road shows up yellow on our OSM map so we were unsure what the road would be like but was pleasantly surprised to find paved tarmac (it gets worse further down) and we made good headway. 
 

We lap up the countryside of red rolling hills, there is barely anyone else on the road and for a long time the only other people we see are some local Pah-O women working in the fields all adorned with colourful headdresses.

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With plenty of time we take a couple of detours around some of the sleepy villages. 

Our second detour takes us through the village of Part tu and we stop for a drink. The road out of Part tu turns into a mud track but we’re feeling adventurous and we soon find ourselves trundling along a bumpy bridle way. It gets pretty tough and we’re forced to get off and push for a good long way, a few crossed words are spoken out of sheer frustration and exhaustion but the scenery is spectacular and we soon find a path which leads back to the road (which has now turned to gravel).
   

We manage to head off the guy attempting to charge us 13,000 kyat to enter the ‘lake area’ (this is a legitimate cost according to the guidebook). We tell him we’ve already paid but lost the ticket and cycle on quickly.

A few km on however I realise my glasses are missing and so with a groan we turn back before I leave Paddy with the bike to retrace our steps down the bumpy track. After 30mins of searching I admit defeat and hot, tired and grumpy I walk back empty handed. 

When I get back Paddy has fixed up a long flag pole at the back of the bike and tells me he made some new friends who were fascinated by the bike. 

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As the sun sets we turn off down a side track to find a camping spot and manage to pitch just before dark. The nights sky is spectacular. 


We have a visitor in the morning, a guy who obviously lives nearby. We make him coffee which he accepts but then leaves us to cook up our breakfast with a cheery wave goodbye.

We’re soon dropping down towards the lake – the view from here is fantastic, a large pagoda sat on a hill in the foreground sets off the whole misty morning scene nicely. 

   

People are washing clothes, bathing, arriving by bus and generally milling about. We take some photos and as usual we and the bike also get a lot attention.

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We complete the 30km left to Nyaungshwe passing rich fields of sunflowers, vegetables and orchard trees. This is certainly an area of plenty. We check in at our hotel (Gypsy Inn $15) before heading straight out for lunch. After we head up to the nearest winery. The wine isn’t great but the view and atmosphere is great. Especially after 4.30.

Back in town we spend an hour shopping for a boat trip around the lake for the next day. We pay 21,000 for a boat which includes a student guide. We turn in early ready for the 7am pickup the next morning. Time to enjoy being taken around the markets and various cottage industries which exist on the lake.