3 Day Ride: Pindaya – Mandalay (via Ywengan and the ‘back way’ from Kyaukse) / 224km

Day 1: Pindaya – Ywengan

Distance: 80km (19th March 2016)

Road: up and down all day, paved but bumpy road; had to go 20km south from Pindaya first before you head northwest to Ywengan.

There is a steady climb out of Pindaya and then you get to enjoy some lovely rolling countryside. 8km in, our chain gets really jammed and we have to take an hour to tease it out from inbetween the derailer and kick stand… The cycle otherwise was pretty uneventful although there was a fair amount of climbing involved.

Ywengan is a small town (make your way to the centre) but there is one simple guesthouse (Khansan Guesthouse) for USD 10 – this is pricey for the room you get with a cold water bath and toilet outside although we did re-fill all our water bottles for free from his water dispenser. There are a couple of OK restaurants and a decent cafe half way up the hill – great for breakfast.

Day 2: Ywengan – wild camping 10km NW from Kyaukse (20th March 2016)

Distance: 90k by mostly downhill

Road: Paved – pretty darn good for Myanmar, especially considering how quiet and unused the road is – great ride down with spectacular views!

Mostly Up with a bit of down for the first 10k. You pass some sleepy villages where we stopped for a coffee and cake break and the scenery is great.

We pass a cool temple complex complete with four huge Buddha statues looking out across the valley.

  
The road is lined with white cherry blossom, dusted pink in the centre of each flower.

  Here I am just after we started the long decent! 

The road is narrow but in good nick with very little traffic. It zig-zags down in front of you like a great black snake. The views are AMAZING! This is the best ride we have had so far.

   
For a lot of the time it is completely silent except for the crickets and birds. Giant butterflies flutter past and gold and red dragon flies keep pace with us as we enjoy the downhill.

Every so often we stop to give the breaks a chance to cool off and enjoy the breathtaking views and the big drops into the valley. The landscape is dry but still very beautiful – again, clear signs of mass deforestation.

There is currently 1km of road works near the bottom where the road pretty much disappears, replaced by sand and rocks. It’s amazing how much hotter it’s got as we’ve climbed down. Bye bye cool weather…

We stop at a large restaurant a few km after the road works. A large river runs through the valley and we follow this for a while still on Rd 411 – a lush, green strip of land clings to its banks.

A few km on we then take a right turn onto the white Rd, crossing the river and then skirting around the mountains north. This connects to another yellow rd further North. You can turn left at the T-junction and head to Kyaukse this way, a much nicer ride which avoids the main AH1/AH2 road to the west. 

We had no plans to go to Kyaukse though as we needed to find a camping spot. We turn right again and head up past the huge Chinese cement factory following the road north. The landscape offers very little cover and despite it being a Sundy the road is still fairly busy. At dusk we agree we need to just get off the road as quickly as possible. A few people would likely see us but hopefull they wouldn’t take too much notice. 

We spot what looks like an empty bamboo shelter at the side of a field about 250m from the road. We make a dash for it and it ends up being the perfect hideaway for us. We wait for a while to see if anyone comes but by 7.30 we think it’s safe to pitch the tent. 

We watch a documentary about the English folk revival and then fall fast asleep. 

Day 3: Kyaukse to Mandalay – the scenic, not on the map, back way! (21st March 2016)

Distance: 54

Road: mostly unpaved, sandy and very tricky in places

So as to avoid the main rd into Madalay we cut a new route ourselves through the countryside north east of Kyaukse on our final day of this stretch from Inle.

We followed the road north towards the river, cutting through a valley and skirting the mountains on our right. The road is unpaved, sandy and pot holed but very wide. We need to cross the river to continue on but there is no bridge or official ferry crossing on the map. 

Assuming there will be someone with a boat willing to take us across when we get there we turn off to the left and follow the canal network towards one o the riverside villages (this is not marked on the map). The mountains offer an impressive backdrop as we cycle on this dirt track, banana plantations lining our way on both sides. 

  
It is bumpy and slow – definitely not for those cyclists who like to stick to paved roads but perfect for tourers who like to get away from the beaten track and don’t mind a bit of adventure, we cycled through some really lovely villages, glimpsing the daily lives of those Burmese who live off the land and who have very little.

We reach the village by the river an instantly spot a boat going back and forwards. It is absolutely stunning here and we both look forward to getting across so we can jump in the water for a pre-lunch swim. 

 The boat owner and his mate help us load the bike into the tiny boat and with very little fuss we’re over safely. 

  Only 25k to our Hotel in Mandalay!
After being on a very bumpy track for another 8km we turn onto the canal again and follow it right into centre of Mandalay, avoiding all the busy roads.

The city’s roads are terrible but we find our hotel and get ready to go off to meet mum and dad!

Rooftop cocktails overlooking sunset on the Ayeyarwady river
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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.