The day is free to recover from the flight. The huge Bogyoke Market is worth a visit with food, clothing and handicrafts all on sale (closed on Mondays and public holidays), or visit the historic Strand Hotel which was often visited by the likes of Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham. There will be a welcome briefing this evening with dinner at a restaurant.
A short flight takes us to Heho, the gateway to the impressive Inle Lake. We then drive to Nyaungshwe our base for exploring the lake and its surroundings.The Shan Hills flank the lake on both sides, with villages on stilts, inhabited mostly by the Intha people (meaning sons of the lakes). In the afternoon we have a short warm up ride. (ride approx. 15 km).
Today begins with a ride to Inthein on the western banks of the lake, this intricate pagoda complex has hundreds of Shan style stupas clustered together on the hillside. Following years of decline and with the forest reclaiming the site, walking around and through it makes you feel like Indiana Jones. In the afternoon we cruise on the lake passing cottage industries, and visiting floating markets (if possible). We see the famous leg-rowing fishermen casting their nets in the lake - this technique of standing up holding a long paddle in one hand and their leg wrapped around the paddle lower down leaves the fishermen free to cast their conical fishing nets. This unique style evolved, as the lake is covered by reeds and floating plants, making it difficult to see above them while sitting. There is a five day cycle for the floating market that literally circles the lake; here the locals come to sell their traditional wares early in the morning and return to their village for the afternoon. Depending on its current location we will be able to visit it. (ride approx. 54 km).
Heading out on our bikes to visit the villages that surround the lake and the dense farmland, our ride is undulating and on quiet roads. We cycle around the edge of the lake towards Intha minority group villages passing rice paddies, sugar cane, traditional wooden houses and colourfully-dressed villagers. We stop en route at villages and see what is being made and harvested depending upon the time of year. We also visit Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, the lake's main sanctuary, containing five sacred Buddah images and several royal barges. Proceeding to the village of Inpawkhone, famous for its traditional silk weaving from the stems of lotus flowers, a time consuming process that results in high quality materials, we observe weaving techniques before visiting a cheroot factory where cigars are rolled by hand. We then return to Nyaungshwe by boat. (ride approx. 22 km).
Making our way towards the Shan Highland, there are a couple of tough uphills at the start of the day. Continuing through rolling hills, we stop and refuel at regular intervals. The last stretch of today's journey is the most scenic as we near Pindaya with Pa-Oh and other tribes working in the fields. We visit Pindaya caves, exploring its caverns and tunnels. There are more than 8000 Buddha images within the Pindaya limestone caverns and meditation chambers; every day pilgrims flock to the caves and install new Buddha images within this labyrinth of tunnels and chambers. (ride approx. 66 km).
Leaving Pindaya we cycle to Kyone junction, then from here we continue over the hills to Ywar Ngan passing more fields and small villages. After lunch we transfer the rest of the way to Mandalay.(ride approx. 54 km).
This morning we head out to one of Burma's most iconic sights, U Bein's Bridge. This teak bridge spans over a kilometer and is one of the most photogenic sights of the country. We continue cycling to Mingun, the home of the largest uncracked bell in the world until 2000 at 90 tons and have the opportunity to climb a huge unfinished pagoda which suffered earthquake damage but whose flat surface is now an ideal spot for amazing river views. From here we board a boat and head back to Mandalay. (ride approx. 45 km).
After driving to Myin Mu, we cycle to Monywa visiting the Hindu style Thanbodday temple enroute. Thanbodday is one of Burma's main attractions, yet like a lot of sites outside Rangoon, Mandalay and Bagan is seldom visited by foreign tourists. The site dates to 1303 and contains hundreds of gleaming gold-topped stupas. Inside, there are more than 500,000 Buddha images of all shapes and sizes. We will also stop at Boditahtaung pagoda, which houses the largest reclining Buddha image in the country, at 100m long and 27m high. Nearby is the largest standing Buddha in the world, Laykyun Setkyar. On arrival in Monywa there is an optional visit to the impressive Po Win Taung caves which consist of 947 sandstone caves dug out of the hills, that contain what is considered by archaeologists to be the richest collection of mural paintings and Buddhist statues in Southeast Asia. A few hundred meters away is Shwe Ba Taung where monasteries and temples are carved out rocky narrow cliffs. (ride approx. 60 km).
Today is a mix of cycling, driving and a boat ride to Bagan. We start off cycling from Yezagyo after about a 2 hour drive, then on reaching Pakkoku we board a boat on the Irrwaddy River to the ancient wonder of Bagan (Pagan).
In Bagan there are over 4000 temples and pagodas in many shapes and sizes to explore amongst the 25 square miles of brick that compare to the Angkor kingdom of Cambodia, Chichen Itza and Machu Picchu as one of the world's most spectacular archaeological sites. This is where Buddhism, Hinduism and Nat worship come together in an array of different shrines. (ride approx. 45 km).
This morning is spent exploring the temple complex spreading out as far as the horizon with its peaks of brick stupas that dot the skyline in many shapes and forms. Building commenced after the former Kings of Bagan introduced Theravada Buddhism in the mid-11th Century, a string of Kings followed building temples to worship their gods. Ananda Pahto with its bejeweled hti (umbrella), Dhammayangyi pahto and Shwesandaw Paya are the largest and most impressive sights we will visit along with the smaller hidden gems offering unique opportunities to climb and delve deeper into the history. We return to our hotel in the afternoon for free time, but finish the day watching sunset from the top of one of the many temples, enjoying stunning 360 degree views. Don't forget to look behind as the sun hits the many temples nearby, a truly magical experience and a photographer's paradise. (ride approx. 42 km).
Our scenic drive to Mt Popa takes in more stunning brick temples, before reaching the petrified forest that surrounds the extinct volcano. Perched high on the summit of the peak sits the Taungkalat Monastery displaying its 37 Nats (spirits) with frequent nat pwes (spirit ceremonies) held in their honour. One Nat, Ko Gyi Kyaw is adorned with whisky bottles because he was a heavy drinker, and this vice took him prematurely to his grave. He is the patron Nat of tramps and alcoholics. We take a brief hike up to the summit to pay our respect (not necessarily to Nat Ko Gyi Kyaw) before cycling back to Bagan through villages and quiet country lanes. (ride approx. 45 km).
After a free morning we fly back to Rangoon. The bikes and your leader will be available this morning for one last optional ride to Kyuak Gu U Min north of the main temple area on the banks of the Irrwaddy for anyone who is interested. This temple has intricate stone carvings and is situated away from the main archeological zone, so here we can discover a different side of Bagan. (ride approx. 20-30 km).
Rangoon sits under the shadow of the glittering Shwedagon Pagoda, the most religious site within Burma that is said to contain eight hairs of the Buddha. As the stupa glitters in gold with 5500 diamonds and numerous other precious stones overlooking the city, life goes on in the busy streets to the south where we will explore dilapidated colonial edifices on our city tour. Chinatown offers plenty of photographic opportunities with its unpaved streets lined with old wooden shuttered houses, medicine shops, temples and the more colourful markets. Close by, we visit Shwe Bontha, perhaps the most photogenic of all streets in the city, with its leafy sidewalks, pavement tea-shops and magnificent colonial buildings. Finally our tour takes us to Lake Kandawgyi to view the glittering Karaweik replica of the Royal Barge before ascending to Shwedagon Pagoda for impressive views over Rangoon at sunset.
After some more free time to explore in the morning, we leave for the airport in the afternoon.