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Sitting between India, Bangladesh, China and Thailand, Myanmar is a substantial country that has, in recent years emerged from an isolated period and is now welcoming visitors to explore its stunning landscapes and intriguing culture and to engage its friendly and hospitable people in conversation. All of which is of course, best done on a bike.
Approx. Approx. 55 million
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Yangon (RGN) - Mandalay (MDL)
This city is the former national capital. It lost the crown though in 2006 to a new city called Nyapidaw, but it remains the most vibrant and varied urban center in the country. Decayed colonial buildings sit alongside high rise projects and fresh markets crowd into narrow alleys. Red betel stains the gutters and men in Longyi scramble aboard packed makeshift buses on their way home from work. This is one of those cities that you could wander through and observe for a week and still find it fascinating. Yangon is also home to the Shwedagon Pagoda, the most important Buddhist monument in the country. Yangon boasts the largest airport in the country, so for most people is is their entry and/or exit point. It is worth spending some time in this intriguing city.
The Bagan Plain sits alongside the Ayerawaddy (Irrawaddy River) and is home to more than 4000 intact stupa structures. It was home to a great deal more, but time has taken its toll on the collection. The area is considered the dry zone and sees very little rainfall, but when it does come, it comes in torrential sheets for a very short period.The beauty of Bagan is not something that is immediately apparent when you arrive, but as you explore you come to appreciate the subtle beauty of this parched, sandy land. The main pagodas feature some stunning pieces of Buddhist art and architecture and the landscape is particularly striking at dawn and dusk.Bikes present a great way to explore Bagan as it allows you to travel on smaller trails and paths that are not available to motor vehicles. There are no shortage of places to stop for a cold drink or a bite to eat. One hazzard to be aware of is the presence of tiny thorns that cause bicycle tires to become peppered with tiny holes which are impossible to repair. Of course, Grasshopper are wise to this and make use of kevlar re-enforced tires and anti puncture gel to ensure you will be free of tire perforation.Bagan is also famous for its ballooning and is now home to three highly regarded balloon operators. A balloon flight at dawn is something that will remain etched in your memory for a long time to come.Bagan has an airport called Nyaung U, named after the administrative town of Bagan. The code is NYU. Flights from Yangon, Mandalay and Thandwe connect with Nyaung U. Luxury overnight buses from Yangon take 10 hours or so and a reliable mini bus from Mandalay takes around 4.5 hours. Note, Mandalay Airport is only 3.5 hours by road from Bagan.
The main town of the lake area is called Nyaung Shwe and while many people choose to stay at stilt resorts out on the water, Grasshopper prefers to stay in town as it allows for a more independent experience. Nyaung Shwe really is a small town centered around a market. The scenery is lovely with dramatic mountains on each side and rice fields leading up to the edge of the lake.Combining a bike ride and a boat ride is a great way to experience this area. The lake itself is such an amazing place where glassy flat water reflects the images of the mountains on either side and fishermen with a distinct leg rowing action sink bamboo basket nets in to catch fish. The revolving market is a site in itself with villagers from a wide catchment coming in to trade produce and socialise. Getting back to the banks of the lake, there is some lovely riding to be had on small roads through sleepy villages and farmland. Inle even has a winery that you can drop into for a bite and a sip.The nearest airport to Inle Lake is Heho. Flights from Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan all connect to here. Road travel from anywhere to the lake is a time consuming venture at around 10 hours to get to Mandalay and many more to reach Yangon.
It has been commented by some that the city of Mandalay is not quite as romantic as Ruyard Kipling made out. In truth, it is quite a busy urban and commercial grid without a whole lot of beauty. All the more reason to get out of the city and explore the surrounds!The countryside around Mandalay has been cultivated for centuries and is quite productive land thanks to well designed irrigation infrastructure. A collection of secondary roads, village lanes and canal trails make for great bike riding and it is all within 10 minutes of the center of town on a bike.30 minutes drive to the south of Mandalay is the ancient court of Ava or Inwa. This walled city is still partly intact and is another amazing place to enjoy a ride. Roads and trails without any traffic to speak of and friendly communities along the way, just add to the natural beauty of the landscape and one routinely stumbles across little surprises like hidden pagodas and traditional artisans. Just north of Ava is the Ubein Bridge which is an impressive teak wood bridge, constructed by a mayor named U-bein. The bridge will likely be recognisable to you as the iconic sunset image (see above).It would be untrue to say that the city of Mandalay itself holds nothing for the curious visitor. As is true of any city in Asia, where there are people, there is food. Some people complain that Myanmar does not offer variety in food, but if you are with someone in the know, you will be astounded by the variety and the flavors. See our Mandalay Foodies tour for more.
Across the bay from Yangon, this area of Myanmar is both low key and off the beaten trail. It is an area of subtle beauty and has a certain laid back charm. There is now a reasonable standard of accommodation available and the scenery varies from the flat coastal areas and island around Mawlamyine to the jutting limestone landscape around Hpa An. A bike ride from Mawlamyine up through Hpa An to the Golden Rock is a great way to take this area in, and as it happens we have just that with our Cycle Southern Myanmar tour! Train and road are the only ways really to reach Mawlamyine from Yangon.
It is true that Myanmar with its impressive range of stunning geography, also has a lovely coastline. It is somewhat inaccessible though, and for this reason, most of the accommodation is centered around Ngapali. There is a range of accommodation options, but most of them are in the higher end of the spectrum. Air is the most practical and pretty much only viable option by which to reach Ngapali. The nearest airport is Thandwe (SNW) with flights landing from Yangon and Bagan.
Coolest time: November to February – Hottest Time: March to May
Wettest time: June to October – Driest Time: December to March
Our favourite time: November to February or July & August
Myanmar has a typical monsoon climate. The hot season is from February to May where temperatures get uncomfortably high and there is little rain, then expect heavy rains from May until October, when temperatures cool down and the climate is drier until February. You can expect considerably more rain in the mountains and coast, while in the central plains near Bagan and Mandalay there is less rainfall.
When is the best time to visit Myanmar?
While the temperatures are the coolest November to February, this means that the most tourists are visiting the country during this time. Especially if you are embarking on a tour that focuses on Bagan, Mandalay and the central plains, you may actually want to visit during the rainy season from June to October. Showers are not as frequent as you would imagine, and often are in the morning, leaving you with the rest of the day to explore. During this time, the central plains are way less crowded than normal and everything is green and fertile, making for especially picturesque landscapes.
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