Weekend motorcycle trip from Mandalay to Inle Lake and back

This year October and November months are rich on holidays, and when it came to choosing the way to spend few off days, I did think motorcycle trip first hand. As 5 days of Thadingyut (full moon day in October, very important calendar cycle festival in Myanmar) holidays approached closer and weather in Yangon had been swiftly changing back from hot and sunny to cloudy and wet, there was a good deal of likelihood I would end up riding through the rain. So I decided to change my initial plan of exploring the delta and opted for a motorcycle trip to Shan State instead, where the weather this time of the year is more rewarding for a rider.

Day 1 – From Mandalay to Inle Lake.

Saturday morning I left my hotel in Mandalay and took the Lashio-Muse road, which is the main transport link connecting Myanmar and China. Despite a significant number of commercial trucks and buses, it took me just 1,5 hours to reach Pyin Oo Lwin in a quite relaxed ride. Large sections of this road had been recently renovated and widened, especially those high on the plateau, with roughly 30 km before town being a very smooth experience, as I glided over the excellent blacktop through the groves of pine trees.

After a quick snack and waiting over a short shower (well, it’s still end of rainy season, chances are good you would get wet -)) I continued along the highway in the direction of Naungcho, a small transit town, where I took a turn onto the southbound road connecting all the way down to Shwenyaung, which is about 225 km away. Just about couple years ago most of that road was sand and gravel, making it a rather tedious experience that would have you spend almost whole day on the go. Now as the road is fully sealed, driving time has been reduced significantly, securing a pleasant ride, albeit bit longer than average.

For the first one hour I rode my motorcycle through some hilly country side, very similar to the one between Gokteik and Hsipaw, with ubiquitous corn fields and small villages on the way. The road then started twisting and leading downwards before it reached the bottom of a gorge where Duttawaddy river flows, all the way from the far away hills north of Hsipaw and Namtu, down to the plains of Central Myanmar, until it meets with Ayeyarwaddy River near Innwa (Ava).

Once passed over the bridge, I got into the lush green hills and the road would lead this way for another one hour through unpopulated forested land. Couple hours later I found myself in Intaw, a small roadside town by the big lake, populated mostly by Danu and Shan farmers. Mountain range here comes very close to the water, giving the whole area a picture perfect look, definitely worth another visit. Sadly, it got dark soon after I passed Intaw lake – making photo stops on the way can eat up plenty of time…

Essentially the remaining part of the trip was less impressive as it lay on the flat plateau with some distant mountains. I could see the silhouettes pretty well in pale light of the full moon, luckily it happened to be a cloudless night. Briefly stopping in Yauksauk for a cup of tea and refueling, I made it to Nyaungshwe around 9 p.m., checked in a hotel and few minutes later was already asleep after spending most of the day on the road.

Day 2 – Back to Mandalay.

Next morning promised a great day ahead – barely few clouds, it was calm and sunny. Quick breakfast at the hotel and I was again on my motorcycle heading back to Mandalay, this time via Ywangan, which would save me about 100 km compared to the day before.

Most interesting part began once I passed Aungban – the road here winds through the beautiful landscape, resembling that of Tuscany. Pindaya is known throughout the whole country as a major agricultural hub. This road is easily one of my favorite in Myanmar, wide enough to give space for two vehicles and smooth for a comfortable ride. It’s great to stop occasionally by the roadside to rest couple minutes in a shade of tall eucalyptus trees, looking over the distant hazy mountain range set against colorful rolling terrain.

About an hour later I was having simple lunch in Ywangan, highland town famous for local variety of coffee. It started drizzling soon, so I had to move on. Serpentine road that begins in the mountains right beyond Ywangan, is under reconstruction and partially covered in holes and puddles of water. The view though is amazing – all lush green mountains stretching as far as an eye could see.

Down to Myogyi mountains were left behind and I entered a flat valley, surrounded by large hills on both sides. Shortly after I was already on the old Yangon – Mandalay highway where it took me another hour to reach Mandalay as the sun was setting down.

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