We told Mr S, over tea in Taunggyi that our next stop was Nyuang Shwe. He nodded: “Yes, must see Inle Lake. Very beautiful.”
And then a shadow passed across his face. “Too many tourists. Take bike ride.”
“Boat ride?” I asked.
“Bike ride,” he repeated. “That better.”
And so, on our first day in Nyaung Shwe, the small town near Inle Lake, we did just that.
Our hotel recommended MMK bike hire and $US1.50 each got us sturdy bikes with good brakes, gears that worked, back up service if required, a basic map, some friendly tips, and the use of the bikes for the full day.
The cycling was easy enough, especially in the beginning. The road was smooth, the gradient reasonable, the temperature pleasant,
and the views were beautiful,
although for most of the morning the lake itself was out of sight.
The gradient slowly increased and, by the time we reached the junction with the main road, hot springs were the last thing in the world that I was interested in.
The road continued to climb and I wondered when we might get a glimpse of the lake. It was late morning, when we reached the hot springs, the temperature was soaring but, despite the encouragement to stop from the locals who were sitting on the side of the road, we kept going, one push of the pedal at a time. My knee, which I’d twisted a few days earlier, began to scream its protest.
We passed a couple of shops, a construction site — a new, very smart home, and still we pedaled on.
There was a small, nondescript sign on the side of the road. We didn’t stop. The man at the bike hire shop had told us about a temple few visited but which he assured us had the best views of the lake. He said it was only a short distance past the turn off to the jetty. It was, he said, his favourite place on Inle. I was determined to get there.
Locals called after us. Where you go?
Temple, replied, John.
Inle this way, a man said, pointing down a side road. Boat this way.
A quick check of the map, a brief discussion between the two of us, and John asked, pointing along the road: How far to the temple?
Half hour, uphill.
It was approaching midday. Did I tell you already, it was hot?
I did? Well, let me tell you, it was so hot it was scorching. I was frying. Any want power about getting to that temple was evaporating fast.
A drink first, I suggested.
Buy at hot springs, the man said.
That meant pedaling back, along the road, another ten minutes.
At the hot springs we didn’t soak in the water. We didn’t even look at the pools. We ordered a very large pot of tea and drank it all, in the shade. While we drank we studied the large flight of steps on the other side of the road.
The view from there will be good, said John. We could climb those steps, instead of biking to the other temple.
It will be hot, I replied. Stinking, unbearably, swelteringly, scorchingly hot. I was ready to give up on any temple visits for the day.
I watched another couple set off. The woman looked like I felt, as if she was about to vaporise. She struggled up the steps, pausing frequently.
John looked at me. It’s not that bad, for the tropics, he said.
Okay, I said. And off we went, up the steps.
Now, sitting at my computer with a pleasant sea breeze wafting in the window, I wish I’d counted them. Because knowing the number, well, that would prove the extent of my suffering. I was too sweaty, too worried about my knee, too certain this was the most stupid thing I’d done in a long time, to bother at the time.
I didn’t count them. You’ll have to take my word for it, there were lots. It was steep, and as I may have mentioned, it was hot. Did I tell you, there was no shade? About halfway up I observed to John, I suppose temples are designed like this to help clear the mind of daily worries. Maybe it’s like our penance. Or a really horrible way to make merit. There was silence from John. He was, he said later, too hot to talk.
The temple at the top was small.
But it afforded good drying for the corn.
And the view was magnificent!
Enticed by the view I was soon on the bike again. At the junction, we were escorted to a boatman who, for about $8,000 Kyat ($US8.00) transported us and our bikes across the lake to Mine Thauk.
Note the boat. There are no seats! My knee wasn’t happy.
We motored through the reeds and floating gardens,
past a monastery,
and out on to the lake
This is what people travel half a world to see. Clear waters and blue skies and fishermen.
And there wasn’t a tourist in sight. We had the lake to ourselves, apart from the fishermen, or so it seemed. Despite my aching knee and the heat, it was all worth it.
I wasn’t the ony one with complaining joints. John’s long limbs didn’t much like being folded into that small boat. But he like me, thought it was worth every aching moment!
With a quick wave to our ferry man, we pushed our bikes along the pier, to the town of Mine Thauk.
From a small road side restaurant we watched the world go by.
The rain that had threatened all morning arrived and I had the perfect excuse for an ice-cream sundae. There was no point in setting off until the rain stopped which it did, eventually.
It was about another hour and a half on the bike, back to Nyaung Shwe. Many people do this bike ride in a half day. We were the slow but cheerful riders. We took the whole day.
This day was a highlight amongst highlights for us. I was very grateful, again, to Mr S.
- A rain poncho and a plastic bag for your camera, even in the dry season, is a good idea.
- Take a cell-phone, just in case you need to call for back-up.
- Set off early in the morning when it’s cool.
- There are shops on the road but they are few and far between, carry snacks.
- The locals were eager to practice their English and to help us get a boat.
- Only a moderate level of fitness is needed for this bike ride, especially if you prepared to take your time.
For more wanders and walks visit Jos’ Monday walk