Yesterday, I went on a day’s bike ride with my new friends Matthew and Arian. We set off at around 11am, hiring ‘delux’ bikes from a bloke up the road. I was grateful for both of the gears mine had. I was also glad to have someone else map reading (cue sniggers about my world class geography degree).
We set off in search of the hot springs. En route we stopped off at the small village (really no more than 20 houses, I guess) and came across a sugar producing factory (well, an open walled bamboo and wooden hut with 5 people producing sugar from sugar cane). This being Burma, they didn’t shoo us away or warn us about the health and safety dangers of approaching the boiling cauldron of liquid sugar. Instead, they greeted us with wide smiles, invited us to drink the pure liquid coming off the sugar cane, help them to make the solid sheets of brown sugar (think sweet kendal mint cake), and offered us samples to try. It was really interesting to see the process up close and I took some nice photos that I’ll share here when wifi connections allow.
Then onto the hot springs, preceded by a bowl of shan noodle soup (Matthew had 2 bowls – part sign of how good it is, part reflection of his gluttony). When I say hot springs, we’re talking 2 small swimming pools with increasingly hot water, allegedly containing minerals that – amongst other things – help to cure gout. We enjoyed the water, chatted, took in the sun and then noticed someone carrying a beer in a cooled glass tankard. No need to spell out what happened next. And again. Pure bliss.
Amazingly, the bikes cooperated when we went to leave and we headed off in the direction of a vineyard (yes, you heard it here first – Burma has a vineyard). The restaurant and tasting station were right at a the top of a peak overlooking the beautiful rural countryside we had cycled through, part lake, part sugar cane farming country. Arian and I enjoyed the wine tasting menu, a full glass of the Shiraz Tempranillo and a light bite to eat to sustain us for the cycle home. Matthew missed the vineyard in favour of finding a hotel for the night and a flight to Thailand. Poor decision.
The countryside around the lake is breathtakingly beautiful – field after field filled with sugar canes, carts pulled by oxen, women carrying their wares to market, and always a friendly smile and ‘hello’ from 95% of the people you pass. I caught myself as I was cycling along, smiling a bigger and broader smile than I have done for a long time. The country makes me very happy indeed.
Tonight I take the night bus to Bagan for a few days temple watching, some of it by bicycle, some by hot air balloon. Let’s hope the road to Bagan is kind to me…