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.

image

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. 

image

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.

image

  

 

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.

Advertisements

Mektila to Kalaw: Our First (semi) Hitch 

Distance: 50km by bike another 75k roughly by bus

Mektila is a pretty large town and we stopped for breakfast (tasty samosas and large churos like bread sticks) before continuing east. The countryside here is very flat but we knew that we’d reach the bottom of the mountains which lead up to Inle Lake after roughly 65km.

Paddy was still feeling a bit dodge and out progress was a bit slow. We managed 50k and then agreed to stop and hitch the rest of the way. We wanted to get to Kalaw that night.
After two minutes of standing by the road a small truck stopped and two guys got out. They were already pretty loaded up with boxes and we couldn’t see how we were going to fit the tandem in. They inquired as to where we were going and then helped us flag down another vehicle, this time a minivan. 
This van was going all the way to Kalaw. Yay! 
It wasn’t clear what this van was… Initially we thought it was just a family car. They said they could strap tandem to the top and nothing was mentioned about payment… Paddy by this time was feeling pretty ropey and we were just glad that we had managed to catch a lift so quickly.
The journey took about 2 hours total. After around half an hour it became clear that we had actually flagged down a private bus service, run by two guys. People were picked up and dropped off as we twisted and turned up the mountain. 
We were met with some spectacular scenery but neither of us regretted the decision to grab a ride rather than cycle. This was a tough climb, busy with cars and trucks.
As we neared the end of our journey we had come to the conclusion that some sort of payment would be required. We were happy to pay, and discussed whether we should raise the subject before our stop. In the end we decided to ask how much before we arrived. We think this was probably a mistake as it gave the two guys a good while to discuss how much they could get away with charging – it was pretty obvious what they were discussing!
They quoted 20,000 on arrival – 7000 each + 6000 for the bike. This, we though was a bit steep, and we tried to question it but a local stepped in and explained this was a fair price. 
Tandem was lifted down from the roof unscathed. In the end we paid the two guys their 20,000 in the knowledge that at least it was all going directly to them (rather than us paying a local bus or tour company who have to give a heavy cut to the government.)
We learnt a lot from this experience. When hitching, if a passenger van stops – check to see if it has a sign in the windscreen to indicate it’s a local pick up service. Always agree the price (if any) before your bike is tied on and if you can check how much locals pay before you set off then that always helps!!! 

Bustling North, Without a Hitch

Sunday 13th March 2016
Due to the limited 28 visa situation in Myanmar we have a stricter schedule here than usual.

Myanmar is a BIG country and we will be spending what promises to be a great week with the two ‘Sheen Seniors’ who we are meeting in Mandalay on the 21st. We were determined to visit Inle Lake before then.

All this meant we needed to get north, fast. We’ve not done too much by public transport yet… Just a couple of cargo trains in Thailand in and out of Bangkok and we had read many times that the trains in Myanmar are slow, unreliable and uncomfortable.

Bus seemed the best option – but how willing would they be in taking a tandem? 

There are only two buses from Hpa-An to Mandalay (12 hours) and both are night services leaving 6pm and 6.30pm. There is a decent motorway servicing Bago to Mandalay which makes up the majority of the journey. We wanted to be dropped off near Meiktila so we could head East form there.

Our hotel called a bus company and the request to take the tandem came back negatory. Unperturbed we agreed we’d hitch hike instead and went and had dinner with some other cycle tourers. The only worry was that we needed to hitch over 700km… and Paddy’s stomach hadn’t been feeling too good for the last day either….

Hitch Hiking in Asia is very easy and although we hadn’t tried it yet, we’ve heard many stories of other cycle tourers sticking their thumb out to grab a ride. ‘People always stop’ said one cyclist to us. 

Before we left the next morning to start our hitching we stopped at the bus ticket kiosk in town to see if the bus company could be persuaded a second time. Whether the guy was more forceful, or whether he just knew the right people to call, this time the bus company said yes to the tandem, as long as we removed both wheels. 

Faced with either a 10 hour bus journey or hitching for 24 hours in trucks we knew which one we’d prefer, the only sticking point was that the tickets were 15,000 kyat each + 10,000 for the bike. Our daily budget here is 35,0000. 

In the end we bit the bullet and went for the bus. Despite wanting to experience the hitching, we agreed that maybe covering 700km on our first hitching trip with tandem might be an overstretch. 

Maybe we were too carful, maybe not… 

Tandem (minus his wheels and handle bars) was well looked after by the loading guys and was placed carefully in the hold next to a collection of huge spikey fruit. We enjoyed our comfortable bus journey, complete with pillows, blankets and reclining chairs. We even slept a lot of the way (despite an over friendly monk waking us up at every stop to check we didn’t need the toilet!) 

We arrived at our stop just outside Mektila at 5.30am. We were dropped off on the hard shoulder 12km from Mektila. It’s not as bad as it sounds, this motorway is famously deserted (there are myths that kids even fly their kites on it apparently) and we set up the bike under the friendly eyes of some Motorbike taxi drivers who race each other up and down the tarmac.

Time to get to Kalaw!