Asia Myanmar

Inle Lake by bicycle: The alternative experience

Storm on inle lake

Sometimes it’s better to get off the beaten path, to get yourself some wheels and try it D.I.Y-style for the day. As an antidote to our mute kid’s rote tour of Inle Lake the day before, my companions and I hired bicycles for 1,500 kyats ($1.50) for the day. What followed was a far more organic, spontaneous adventure that survives in my top-three Myanmar experiences.

My agonizing cycle around Inle Lake

The bikes provided a musical harmony on the ride. My sister’s bell tinkled incessantly and my chain clacked with every turn of the pedals. The chiming and clicking were supported by the alto squeal of everyone’s brakes.

The town is a breeze to ride through, the only other traffic being motorcycles, horse and carriages, and tractors pulling along cartloads of people and products. Within minutes, we had crossed the main canal in town and were pedalling along a rattle-inducing dusty road through verdant rice fields and forests.

The sun was fierce, the air mere water vapour making me wish for an oxygen tank to aid breathing. I recall a steep incline that nearly killed me, though in retrospect it was probably only raised twenty degrees. I’ll thus attribute my weakness to a crippling vomit-inducing stomach bug that plagued me that day. My calves shook with fatigue. In reality, the ride, though in stifling heat, is relatively easy.

We sought respite in the Khaung Daing Hot Springs, where for 7,500 kyat ($7.50), we were given towels, shampoo, showers and three private pools of varying degrees of HOT, overlooking unruly fields. It seemed a bit foolish in such heat to indulge in hot springs, but the bathe was welcome relief for our aching muscles. We reluctantly returned to the bicycle seats to undo all the relaxing work of the spring waters.

We rode through the town of Khaung Daing, where villagers yelled “you wanna boooaaat?” in high pitches as we passed. I fought my temptation to give in and acquiesce to an easy ride back to Nyaungshwe.

Hupin Hotel, which provides a viewpoint up the top of a ruthlessly endless stairway, was worth the pain. I collapsed at the top, pulse throbbing, fingers tingling, resisting the temptation to resurrect the contents of my stomach.

view of Inle from Hupin Hotel

The pearly Inle Lake stretched out before us. And it was a view, mountains in the distance, floating gardens in the foreground, and a whole lot of silver in between.

A storm-tossed boat journey across Inle Lake

Given my pathetically weakened state, we resolved to take up one of the villagers on their “you wanna boooaaat?” appeals on the ride back through town. Only there were none. We stopped to inquire at a restaurant (well, a place with plastic tables and chairs and little else under a thatched roof). The owner ran to find a friend with that most valuable of vehicles.

This friend led us across a dirt trail, just wide enough for a bike tyre, between stilt houses, drying washing and vegetable fields. We came to a family house under which were half a dozen long boats wedged between stilts.

The sky by now was heavily bruised and the women of the house tittered and giggled at the prospect of our crossing the lake in this unpromising weather. We were farewelled with grins and laughter as thunder clapped overhead.

We sat ourselves on the bamboo mat on the bottom of the boat – like the locals – and set off through a waterway to the lake, leaves of tomato vines which enclosed the route slapping our faces as we passed.

Inle, it appeared, had multiple personalities and we were meeting its rebellious side. The mountains beyond had vanquished behind inky clouds. The water was dark and choppy, its silver sheen obliterated. We soon became closer acquainted as the water burst over the sides to soak us.

Storm brewing on Inle Lake

As the rain came on, we held our umbrellas low over us to create a protective cocoon. It still did nothing for the water steadily creeping under the mat, soaking our bottoms. Yet we were still better off than our driver, who was open to the elements and soaked through.

As we steered down the main canal, local onlookers gasped, cheered, and waved as they realised the huddled mass under the umbrellas were foreigners. To me, pitifully nursing my stomach and trying to ignore the wet clothes clinging to my underside, it was the perfect ride. This wasn’t a show, a pretty display put on for the tourists. I felt like I had truly been initiated into Inle Lake’s secrets.

Read up on more of my Myanmar travel experiences here on ARoamerTherapy today.

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