Ecotourism (Nature Tourism) in Myanmar

cycling banner

Introduction to Cycling in Myanmar

(text compiled by Paul Bates, Harrison Institute)

1

 

Introduction

In recent years, good quality mountain bikes, helmets and other specialist equipment has become available in Myanmar. This has led to a number of travel companies offering an exciting range of cycling holidays.

It is also possible now (although still uncommon) to hire bikes and equipment on a casual, daily basis, without pre-booking. This is particularly the case in popular tourist centres such as Bagan, Nyaungshwe (the main access town for Inle Lake) and Yangon.

Meanwhile, organised cycling tours typically range in duration from half a day to 14 days or more and include a variety of destinations. These are primarily centred on:

  • Western Shan State - including Kalaw, Inle Lake, Pindaya, and Hsipaw
  • The Dry Zone of central Myanmar – especially the historical cities of Mandalay and Bagan and the extinct volcano of Mount Popa
  • The former capital of Myanmar – Yangon
  • Southeastern Myanmar – especially the beautiful Golden Rock area, Kyaikhtiyo, and Mawlamyine (and nearby Hpa-an) in the attractive limestone karst region of Mon and Kayin States
  • Putao in the north of Myanmar.
2
 

Cycling in the Kalaw area

Kalaw is one of the principal tourist hubs in Shan State. It is popular with visitors who come to enjoy its cool mountain air and its old colonial architecture and atmosphere. It is also popular with bird watchers (further information) and trekkers (further information).

A number of cycling tours feature Kalaw in their programme. Usually it is combined with various other locations in Shan State, especially Inle Lake and Pindaya. Most visitors fly to Heho airport and transfer to Kalaw where there is a wide choice of accommodation and restaurants.

Being a hill station, cycling tends to involve at least some testing uphill climbs but there are frequently excellent views to compensate for the hard work.

 

Cycling tours that include Kalaw

Cycling in Myanmar Tour 1
Indochina Holidays Travel Tour 1
Lotus Bonita Tour 1
Columbus Travel and Tour Tour 1
Magnificent Myanmar Travel and Tour 1

Cycling in the Inle Lake area

Inle Lake is an exceptionally popular destination for both local and international tourists. It offers a range of attractions, primarily centred on the lake. These include cultural site-seeing, enjoying the beautiful landscape, trekking (further information) and bird watching (further information).

Many tourists hire bicycles within Nyaungshwe (the principal access point for Inle Lake) for cycling around the town. Sturdier, well maintained, mountain bikes are also available for longer trips into the countryside. There is a good range of imported bikes with helmets available. Some can be hired on a daily basis without pre-booking.

1

Inle Lake features on a number of tours. These often combine cycling with boat trips and sometimes trekking. The area around the lake is picturesque with its many fields of vivid green paddy rice and numerous gold-topped pagodas. There is a wide range of hotels, guest houses and restaurants within Nyaungshwe, which should satisfy most tastes and budgets.

Cycling tours that include Inle Lake

No cycling tours are exclusively focused on Inle Lake but it features in the following programmes.

Cycling in Myanmar Tour 1, Tour 2, Tour 3, Tour 4, Tour 5
Indochina Holidays Tour 1, Tour 2, Tour 3, Tour 4, Tour 5
Ayuda Myanmar Tours Tour 1
Columbus Travel and Tour Tour 1
Authentic Myanmar Tour 1
Tours in Myanmar Tour 1
Marco Polo Travels and Tours Tour 1
Yangon Tours Tour 1
Expeditions Myanmar Tour 1

 

Cycling in the Pindaya area

At an altitude of 1164 metres, Pindaya is a 40 km bike ride north of Kalaw. It is perhaps most famous for the Shwe U Min (Pindaya Cave), home to between 6,000 and 8,000 Buddhas dating back to the late 18th century (further information). With its Royal Lake, impressive banyan trees, and laid-back atmosphere, Pindaya is becoming increasingly popular with tourists, including many trekkers (further information).

Cycling tours that include Pindaya

Indochina Holidays Travel Tour 1, Tour 2, Tour 3
Cycling in Myanmar Tour 1
Expeditions Myanmar Tour 1
Lotus Bonita Tour 1
Columbus Travel and Tour Tour 1

 

Cycling in the Hsipaw (Hsibaw) area

Hsipaw is a small town on the railway line from Mandalay to Lashio. This line includes the spectacular viaduct over the Gokteik Gorge (further information). Tourists are becoming increasingly drawn to Hsipaw’s relaxed pace of life and charm (further information), especially as other areas of Shan State, Inle Lake, in particular, are becoming ever more crowded. As with trekking (further information), there are now a small number of cycling tours that include Hsipaw in their itinerary.

 

Cycling tours that include Hsipaw

Mountain Kingdoms Tour 1
Indochina Holidays Travel Tour 1

Cycling in the Mandalay area

Mandalay is an increasingly popular centre for cycling tours. Situated in the centre of the country, on the east bank of the Ayeyarwady River, the city is a cultural, business and tourism centre with excellent air (national and international), road and rail links and with a wide range of accommodation and restaurants.

Most cycle tours avoid the busier streets of central Mandalay in favour of the historical former capitals of Amarapura and Inwa (Ava), which lie close to its southern suburbs. They also visit the beautiful Mandalay Hill, which lies to the north of the city. At Inwa, in particular, the roads are quiet and the scenery is timeless within ox carts, paddy fields, and small local villages. Meanwhile in Amarapura, there is a rich Buddhist culture to observe, together with a thriving local industry of handicrafts including marble carving, silk and cotton weaving, and bronze casting. Here highlights include the world’s longest teak bridge, the U Bein Bridge, which crosses Taungtaman Inn (Lake).

For those with more time, longer trips include crossing the Ayeyarwady River by way of the impressive Sagaing Bridge to cycle round the Sagaing Hills, which are home to numerous temples, pagodas and monasteries. From here, some tours travel north to Mingun, home to one of the world’s largest stupas, which was abandoned before completion in 1819 and subsequently damaged by an earthquake. Mingun is also home to one of the world’s largest, uncracked, hanging bells. Many boats ply between Mingun and Mandalay and for those with tired legs, they offer an excellent way to return to the city.

Mandalay is also the starting point for those heading to the Shan Plateau and some tours include the challenging but interesting cycle ride to the former colonial hill station of Pyin Oo Lwin (Maymyo), which is 67 km east of Mandalay, at an altitude of 1,070 metres.

 

Cycling tours that include Mandalay

Cycling in Myanmar Tour 1, Tour 2, Tour 3, Tour 4
Indochina Holidays Travel Tour 1, Tour 2, Tour 3, Tour 4, Tour 5, Tour 6, Tour 7, Tour 8, Tour 9
Mountain Kingdoms Tour 1
Columbus Travel and Tour Tour 1
Tours in Myanmar Tour 1, Tour 2
Marco Polo Travels and Tours Tour 1
Expeditions Myanmar Tour 1

Cycling in the Bagan area

Bagan, with more than 2000 pagodas and a fascinating history, is a highlight and  ‘must-see’ cultural destination for most national and international tourists coming to Myanmar. With six endemic bird species, it is also of great interest to bird watchers (further information).

Not surprisingly, many cycling tours also include Bagan in their itinerary since it is both a beautiful destination and the cycle trip from Mandalay to Bagan is a very pleasant one. Most of the route passes through an undulating dry zone countryside, which is dotted with interesting villages. There is relatively little traffic. Bagan is also a great stopping-off point on the longer journey between Mandalay and Mount Popa.

Cycling tours that include Bagan

Cycling in Myanmar Tour 1, Tour 2
Yangon Tours Tour 1
Expeditions Myanmar Tour 1
Indochina Holidays Travel Tour 1, Tour 2, Tour 3, Tour 4, Tour 5, Tour 6, Tour 7, Tour 8
Mountain Kingdoms Tour 1
Columbus Travel and Tour Tour 1
Authentic Myanmar Tour 1
Tours in Myanmar Tour 1
Marco Polo Travels and Tours Tour 1, Tour 2

Cycling in the Mount Popa area

Mount Popa is the core of an extinct volcano that rises 1,520 metres from the flat, surrounding dry zone plain. Today, it is covered in forest and with its cooler climate and commanding views is popular with tourists, including those who come to observe its wildlife (further information).

Mount Popa is also popular with cyclists since the road from Bagan is both picturesque and relatively traffic-free. Much of the way is through rich farmland which is characterised by fields of sesame, beans, and groundnuts and which are ringed by lines of tall, majestic toddy palms. Elsewhere there is dry acacia forest, which is home to a rich bird fauna.

Cycling tours that include Mount Popa

Cycling in Myanmar Tour 1, Tour 2
Tours in Myanmar Tour 1
Yangon Tours Tour 1
Expeditions Myanmar Tour 1
Indochina Holidays Travel Tour 1, Tour 2, Tour 3, Tour 4, Tour 5, Tour 6, Tour 7, Tour 8

Cycling in the Yangon area

Cycling in Yangon is becoming increasingly popular. Some tours feature the city itself. This is an area rich in cultural interest, although sadly, it is also becoming rather notorious for its bad traffic. Most tours, however, are focused on the suburbs and the surrounding towns and villages. Highlights include visiting Twante, which is situated west of the Hlaing River and is famous for its ceramic industry. This is often combined with a trip through the sleepy suburbs of Dala, a short ferry ride from downtown Yangon (further information).

For those feeling fit and strong, there are also longer tours for example from Yangon to Pyay in Bago Region or an 8 day trip north to Bagan and Pakokku.

Cycling tours that include Yangon

Cycling in Myanmar Tour 1, Tour 2, Tour 3, Tour 4
Columbus Travel and Tour Tour 1
Marco Polo Travels and Tours Tour 1
Expeditions Myanmar Tour 1
Indochina Holidays Travel Tour 1, Tour 2, Tour 3

 

Cycling in the Kyaikhtiyo area

Kyaikhtiyo in Mon State is a centre of Buddhist pilgrimage and is famous for its ‘balancing’ golden stupa, a rock which seems to miraculously hang, as though suspended in air, on a cliff edge at the top of Mount Kyaikhtiyo. The area surrounding Kyaikhtiyo is a wildlife sanctuary, although sadly much of the forest is now degraded (further information).

That said, the hills and fertile valleys of Kyaikhtiyo, together with the traditional Mon villages are attractive and offer some interesting opportunities for cycling.

Cycling tours that include Kyaikhtiyo

Cycling in Myanmar Tour 1
Ayuda Myanmar Travel Tour 1
Tours in Myanmar Tour 1

 

Cycling in the Mawlamyine (and Hpa-an) area

Mawlamyine is a small city in Mon State, situated some 300 km from Yangon in southeast Myanmar. For many years, it was forgotten by time and the world. For the local inhabitants it was probably a challenging place to live but for the occasional visitors it was an idyllic wonderland of gentle decay, which oozed character and charm.

Today, it remains an attractive, albeit more prosperous city. Its central ridge is topped with five separate monasteries. The city’s tallest and most visible stupa (the Kyaikthanlan Paya) probably provided the inspiration for the opening line of Rudyard’s Kipling’s famous poem ‘Mandalay’ in which he writes ‘By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea/ There’s a Burma girl a-setting’, and I know she thinks o’ me’. In colonial times, Mawlamyine (then called Moulmein) served as the capital of British Burma from 1826 to 1852.

Mawlamyine marks the meeting point of three lovely rivers, the Thanlwin (Salween) from the north, the Ataran from the south, and the Gyaing from the east. They drain into the Gulf of the Mottama, to the west of the city. The city itself is separated from the Gulf by the island of Bilu, which features in some cycling tours. To the east, Mawlamyine is surrounded by beautiful countryside characterised by precipitous limestone outcrops, numerous large caves, and green fields of paddy rice.

Hpa-an, which lies to the north of Mawlamyine but in the neighbouring Kayin State, is also striking. It is situated on the east bank of the Thanlin River and is also within easy reach of some particularly fine and impressive limestone hills.

 

Cycling tours that include Mawlamyine (and/or Hpa-an)

Cycling in Myanmar Tour 1
Ayuda Myanmar Tours Tour 1
Indochina Holidays Travel Tour 1, Tour 2

Cycling in the Putao area

Putao is famous for its spectacular scenery and is particularly popular with trekkers (further information) and bird watchers (further information). There are currently few opportunities for cycling, although a half day tour is available. No doubt more tours will follow in the future.

Cycling tours that include Putao

Authentic Myanmar Tour 1