Photo: See things from a different angle on a cycling tour.

Cycling around Mandalay

Our rating:

The charm of Mandalay and its surrounds can often lie under the surface. For those who enjoy the wind in their hair and don’t mind getting a little sweaty, cycling this flat, pleasant area is a great way to explore and experience it properly.

Several companies offer bicycle tours in the Mandalay area, with Grasshopper Adventures and Bike World two of the more popular ones; they employ local guides with thorough knowledge of the area and offer good bikes and equipment. We tried Grasshopper Adventures thanks to their reputation (and also Mandalay address—Bike World’s one is in Yangon) and saw parts of the area previously undiscovered by us despite taking tours through similar spots in the past.

For instance, we’ve been to the world’s longest all-teak bridge dozens of times (though we still love going there!) but the U Bein Bridge Sunset Ride took us through quiet villages on the back side of Ava (Inwa), where we stopped to look at a giant monastery that was bombed during World War II—we’d never seen it before. We also stopped at local workshops where workers make cheroot cigars and alms bowls, while our guide picked fruit off the trees for us to eat that we hadn’t known was edible. The best part about being on the bike trail is that you’re not on the tourist trail; you can go miles without seeing another foreigner and you’ll meet locals intrigued by your funny bike-clothes.

Do consider the time of year if you’d decide you’d like to do a cycle trip. Starting at 13:00 in hot season left us partially melting, but was not enough to deter us. As the sun got lower and the temperature cooled down on our tour, we rolled through a Muslim village and its markets, then a Burmese village alive with the clacking of wooden looms. We reached U Bein Bridge by sunset, where a picnic of vegetable tempura, nuts, fruits and cake was waiting on a boat, which then took us around the lake (make sure to order a beer to bring aboard as your reward!).

Other tour options include one via trishaw for food lovers who want less leg movement and more time to digest. We decided to double up and also took a Magnificent Mandalay Mornings tour that ran from 07:30 till 11:30 and set us back US$33. This bike ride took us through unending green farmland and scenic views and had a focus on trying local food that on your own you’d likely be less likely to sample, or not even notice. Stops included markets, tea shops and street stalls, and again this experience took us well outside what we’ve previously explored in Mandalay.

Tour times can vary with the season, so make sure to double check availability before planning a trip.

Grasshopper Adventures Shop: 4/3 Mya Sandar Lane, between Sts 24 and 25 and Sts 62 and 63; T: (094) 0265 9886; open Mon-Fri 08:00-12:30, 16:30-18:30;
Bike World: 10F Khapaung Road, Yangon; T: (095) 152 7636;

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