My friend Campbell and I decided it was a good idea to ride around Myanmar a couple of years ago. This five-part blog post will give you some insight into the things we learnt, the stories we heard, the people we met, and the history behind many of the things we saw.
Inle Lake is a pretty amazing sight! The lake is used for everything from living on, farming, cleaning, bathing and fishing in. It is reasonably touristy by Burmese standards, however when we were about, we rarely saw foreigners. On day one of being here, we made a fantastic little ‘click’ of people that consisted of Mark (Ireland), Helen (Swizerland), Lea (Austria), Campbell and I. We were all classic people with great personalities, keeping the laughs rolling at all moments.
We hired a boat/driver to cruise around the lake, checking out fishing, cigar rolling, weaving, jumping cats and ancient temples. These activities were cool, however it was all a bit too touristy and ‘set up’. I think what we all enjoyed the most was simply being around each other on the beautiful lake, chatting away at whatever random comments came to mind. Thanks for the great time guys!
Downhilling with the Locals
We had finished spending a day around Mandalay (second biggest city) when we randomly saw a few guys with old downhill bikes near the biggest temple in the city. We got our trishaw driver to drop us off at this point so we could have a chat. The guys were all very literate and obviously had some money; there occupations included engineering, DJing and working in a bike shop.
They took us up their local trails, which winded down a hill that was only a 30min walk up. They lent us their bikes and we bashed down some basic trails that felt amazing after not riding off-road for a while. We stopped half way and give little children lots of treats for letting us ride though their village… it was really beautiful!
I was mucking around doing all sorts of random tricks on their bikes and decided it was a good idea to clothesline myself on the power supply for a few houses! I fell over, it was all right, but I had snapped a few of their small cables. The guys insisted it was ok, and I apologised profusely, as I felt terrible for what I had done.
According to the riders, they are the “only downhillers in Myanmar”.
Riding with a Pro Cyclist
We had only just arrived at Inle Lake and sat down in a restaurant to get some nice food. The food turned out to be absolutely amazing; dried beef was to die for! We ate and drank and generally had a good time, as we often do. Campbell then noticed the picture of a reasonably modern Trek road bike on the wall. I wandered over to it, and in a cabinet next to the picture were trophies, pictures, hats and the helmets of someone.
The lady who ran the restaurant told us that her brother was “the best cyclist in Myanmar”. She rang him up, and not long later a skinny yet very athletic Burmese man and his translator for the afternoon rocked up. We talked about where he had been, what it was like training here and where in Myanmar he rode. Not so secretly, Campbell developed a bit of a man-crush for him, enchanted by his smile and tattoos. We really wanted to know what level the “best cyclist in Myanmar” was at, so we organised to go for a morning ride the next day. As a gift, Campbell gave our cyclist his favourite cycling hat.
The next morning, our cyclist rocked up in his gear, including Campbell’s hat. His trainer arrived with him on a little motor scooter that we used for a bit of motor pacing. Not far along the road, our cyclist got a puncture which is not suprising! He was running super narrow racing slicks on these treacherous Burmese roads!
We stopped halfway on our 40km ride where we had some tea and talked about how he had become a cyclist. Apparently Myanmar doesn’t have any official cyclists, so according to the accountants he was a customs officer! They sent him money as a “customs officer” however he really used it to train and travel all over Asia. Kindly, he gave us both a pair of fake Oakley Radar sunglasses that we were absolutely stoked with and even used for the Tour de Timor! It was simply pot luck meeting both the downhillers in Mandalay and the pro-cyclist at Inle Lake!