It is early morning and still dark when our team meets at the boat pier in Nyaung Shwe - Inle Lake, Myanmar. The four of us are patiently waiting for our boat driver to approach the landing dock so we can load our bikes into the longtail boat and start our journey.
Today is a special day for us: we are setting out to test out our new route from Inle lake, via Samkar to Phayar Taung. It has been nearly four years since we first started bringing visitors to discover the hidden secrets of Inle lake by bike. Even though our Bike Boat and Kayak tour is one of the best outdoor adventures around the lake, we have decided that it is time to reveal some more secret spots where very few tourists go to. One of these is the lower lake that is connected to Inle lake through a small channel.
Our day starts huddled in a boat, speeding down Inle lake towards Indein and the sunrise. Once we’ve arrived and have unloaded the bikes, we stretch our legs and get ready to ride.
Very quickly we leave Indein and its crowds behind. Pedaling down small countryside roads, we ride along the lake towards its southern tip. Looking up from our bikes, we can see bamboo forests and sugar cane fields which sometimes give way to glimpses of the lake. It is still early morning and there are very few farmers on the road- either they are already out at work, or still sitting in their small village huts, enjoying breakfast before the hard labor of the day.
We have our first snack break at the intersection between the two lakes, connected by a small channel. The view is simply amazing. Sitting on the bridge, Inle lake lies behind us while we contemplate the still beauty of Samkar Lake ahead. An alluring mix of vibrant colors lies in front of us: the dark blue of the lake - peppered by the green of the water lilies and seaweed - is framed by the red fertile soil around the water’s edge. We can’t wait to continue our ride south down tracks far off the beaten track.
We pedal on down small trails that lead us around the lake. The ride is pure joy: small slopes going up and down, and breathtaking view after breathtaking view of the sparkling water. The farmers and villagers we pass wave at us, surprised as they are not used to seeing tourists in these parts.
Life here still goes at a different pace, far away from the tourist crowds of Inle lake. Sometimes we pass kids on their rusty bikes, which are usually a few sizes too big, and try to keep up with us as they laugh at our cycling gear and helmets.
Along our way, we stop in several small villages. Passing one of the local houses we hear friendly shouts - the couple waving are friends of our guide Sam and are visiting their family for the weekend. They happily invite us into their house and serve us traditional green tea, freshly harvested watermelons and bananas. Many people who live in Nyaung Shwe originally come from small villages around the lake. They move to town for better work opportunities, but their families remain in the villages and they frequently go back to visit them.
Along our way, we stop in several small villages. Passing one of the local houses we hear friendly shouts - the couple waving are friends of our guide Sam and are visiting their family for the weekend. They happily invite us into their house and serve us traditional green tea, freshly harvested watermelons, and bananas. Many people who live in Nyaung Shwe originally come from small villages around the lake. They move to town for better work opportunities, but their families remain in the villages and they frequently go back to visit them.
Refreshed and fueled up, we get back on our bikes and head to our last stop for the day: Phayar Thaung. This little town, far off the tourist radar, is famous for its monastery set on a hill overlooking the lake. Unfortunately, as we are only doing a test run, we won’t have the pleasure of spending the night here and make the most of the beautiful accommodations built by Aung Min and his Wife. These gorgeous high-end bungalows are built on stilts over the lake, a perfect place to relax after a day of riding and exploring.
However, we have to return to Nyaung Shwe. Sam, one of our local guides has to be in time to start his annual week of meditation. Like many practicing Buddhists, he spends at least one week per year in a monastery to meditate and live by the strict rules of monkhood. So for today, we will just have the time for a delicious lunch and a quick chat with the owners of the bungalows before heading back.
On our way to the boat that will bring us back to Nyaung Shwe, we pass by the monastery on the hilltop and stop to take in the stunning panorama. The monastery, home to around 2000 kids, is very quiet today. Most of the students are visiting family and friends for the holidays but we still manage to get drawn into a friendly conversation with some of the senior students. They love to practice their English and chit chat with us about life and football - yes! even in a small village far away from any big city young men love to talk about football!
We have to bid our farewells for now, as we still have a 3-hour boat ride back to Nyaung Shwe, but we will be back, to share this peaceful, rural gem with our customers who love to discover new places on two wheels, just like us.