1 April 2016
Watching the sun set with a cocktail in hand and lounging by the pool can be part of your cycling adventure, writes Tatyana Leonov.
Although the days on the bike trail start melting into one happy memory, most of the cyclists in my group rate the track from Mount Popa to Bagan as one of the best. It’s our second to last day in the saddle on the 14-day Burma Adventure tour, run by SpiceRoads Cycle Tours (spiceroads. com/tours/mandalay).
We’ve cycled undulating hills bordered by sprawling sunflower fields in the Shan Plateau, rocketed across long flats while soaking up dreamy views of Inle Lake, leisurely pedalled along the banks of the Irrawaddy River, clambered up Kalaw’s epic mountains (our guide Myo calls them hills), and then whizzed down them.
Nearing the end of the tour, our two nights at Popa Mountain Resort (myanmartreasureresorts.com) offer a welcome slice of divinity. I spend my afternoons lazing by the infinity pool and, come dusk, join my travelling companions for sunset drinks. Both the infinity pool and the wooden deck where guests assemble to watch the sun do its end-of-day dance look out on to Popa Taung Kalat monastery, one of the most sacred sites in Myanmar. The view is unsurpassed – gleaming gold stupa, shrine and monastery domes sit atop a rocky outcrop.
We eventually have to leave Popa Mountain Resort, but the cycle to Bagan – an ancient city high on visitors’ hit lists for its stunning temple-strewn plains and laidback ‘old Myanmar’ feel – is worth it.
We cycle through arid land, spotting little vegetation except for toddy palm trees that soar skyward and low-lying shrub. We pedal through villages made up of just a few small huts; and residents run out to wave as we zoom past.
Snack stops transpire frequently, but today our stop at a small toddy palm farm on the outskirts of Bagan is special. The toddy palm plays an important role in Myanmar’s culture. The locals construct roofs out of the leaves of the tree; use the stems for building furniture; and if a palm is more than 150 years old, the trunk can be used as a pillar. Locals also collect toddy sap from the trees for numerous uses, but Myo can’t stop raving about a dessert they make out of it called jaggery – coarse, ugly, brown, sweet lumps. The few of us who ate more than we should claim it’s fuel for the one hour of cycling we have to endure to reach Bagan. We arrive in time for lunch and spend the afternoon relaxing by the pool at Thazin Garden Hotel (thazingarden.com) before heading to Ananda Temple, considered by many to be the most architecturally beautiful temple in Bagan.
Bagan was once home to more than 4,000 temples and stupas built by the kings of Bagan between the 9th and 13th centuries, but almost half of the structures were destroyed during the devastating earthquake of 1975. Still, more than 2,200 remain, and exploring on bike is the best way to cover ground.
First we cycle to Seinnyet Sister Temples, where we climb up the stairs to the second level of Seinnyet Ama Temple (the elder sister) and gape at the ethereal temple silhouettes scattered around the landscape.
Next we cycle to Shwesandaw Pagoda, one of the tallest in the country, where we climb to the top and breathe in the stunning panorama. Then it’s off to Dhammayangyi Temple, the largest in all of Bagan; before, sadly, our very last stop at Sulamani Temple. Perhaps because we know we have to part with our bikes soon, we cycle a little slower to enjoy our last ride, the enchanting surrounds and each other’s company.
The next day we’re on a flight back to Yangon, where the group first met each other almost two weeks ago. We spend our day seeing the city’s many sights and then laugh into the night as we recollect our best biking moments.
Jetstar’s bike policy
The combined weight of your bags and bulky items, such as a bicycle, must be within your baggage allowance. No single item can weigh more than 32kg. Bicycles must be packed in a bike bag or bike box; Jetstar does not provide boxes or bags. The bike must have deflated tyres, detached pedals, handle bars fixed parallel to the frame and a detached front wheel if the bike is longer than 180cm, fix alongside rear wheel. Fold-up bikes don’t need to travel in a bike pack. If the bike pack counts as excess baggage, charges will apply. Check for any public-transport bike restrictions at your destination.