Burma is officially the hottest destination for 2013. Katherine Sazdanoff explains how to get off the newly-beaten-track on two wheels
Burma's roads are a wonderland for cycling enthusiasts. The country's tourist industry may be nascent, but for adventurous travellers keen to see historical ruins, beautiful scenery and culturally diverse communities few destinations are better.
For independent cyclists taking self-guided day trips, the following three rides are difficult (if not, impossible) to beat.
The area's 4,000 ancient Buddhist temples are quite simply spectacular. The fact that they are easily accessible by two wheels makes them even better. Upon arrival in Bagan, rent a bike and grab a map at your hotel or one of the many bike shops (though, don't expect high quality bikes as they don't exist).
Start the morning by watching a colourful sunrise at Shwesandaw Paya, located close to Old Bagan (arrive early for a prime viewing spot). Spend time in Old Bagan, taking in the area's most popular temples such as Ananda Pagoda (a well preserved, very large temple with strikingly beautiful gold shimmering top) and Thatbyinnyu Temple (Bagan's highest temple).
Grab a quick lunch, leave the crowds behind and head out on the open dusty road through Bagan's quieter Central Plain. Here you'll find the Sin-byu-shin complex (stunning views with no tourists in sight) and the Wi-ni-do Group (housing brilliant ancient wall murals).
Get lost, find yourself and then get lost again – all while exploring Burma's finest historical ruins.
Escape the heat and make your way to Pyin Oo Lwin, a peaceful hill station located approximately two hours from Mandalay. Pyin Oo Lwin's impressive Dat Taw Gyaik waterfall, beautifully manicured National Kandawgyi Botanical Gardens and historical colonial buildings are all easily accessible on bike (which can be rented at one of the many shops in town).
Start the morning with a downhill ride to Dat Taw Gyaik waterfall (the most spectacular of the Anisakan Falls). From Pyin Oo Lwin, jump on the main Mandalay Highway towards Anisakan and take the second signposted right, then continue straight until the road ends (approximately a 10km ride). Park the bike and begin the 45-minute trek down to Dat Taw Gyaik, a spectacular, thundering, three-step waterfall.
After a quick dip, hike back up and ride uphill to Pyin Oo Lwin. Pick up lunch in town, before cycling to the National Kandawgyi Botanical Gardens – Burma's acclaimed and very well maintained 435-acre botanical garden (approximately 2km from the town centre, and easy to find with a simple town map).
Take a stroll around the gardens and end the afternoon by hopping on the Circular Road showcasing historic colonial buildings.
Inle Lake is on most traveller's itineraries in Burma. The scenery is beautiful, the surrounding villages are interesting and the cycling is superb. Buy a map and rent either a cruiser or mountain bike at one of the numerous shops in town.
In the morning, cycle to Kaung Daing, a picturesque Intha village surrounded by colourful fields and towering mountains (approximately 8km from Nyaung Shwe). The villagers of Kaung Daing make a living creating scrumptious sweets and tofu to sell at Inle Lake’s many local markets. Take a wander into the village, and they'll be delighted to show off their treats.
Put your bike into a motorboat and head east across the lake to Maing Thauk. While Maing Thauk is a destination in itself (quaint, traditional village spilling off of dry land into the lake), the real reason for the visit is the stunningly beautiful ride back to Nyaung Shwe (approximately 10km ride along a well-paved but rural road).
End the day wine tasting at Red Mountain Vineyard (approximately 3km before reaching Nyaung Shwe). The sauvignon blanc is crisp and surprisingly delightful; the sunset views sublime.
Katherine Sazdanoff decided to embark on a gap year with her husband at the age of 29 (better late than never, right?). Since departing her hometown of San Francisco nine months ago, she has been cycling, hiking and motorbiking through SE Asia and Europe, all the while contemplating how she'll ever be able to return to a desk job. Follow her upcoming adventures in Sri Lanka, India and Nepal, on her blog: www.rollingpina.com.