Explore’s recently retired Finance Director Mike Tyler has tried out many of our cycling holidays. Here he reflects on his time cycling through Burma on our Burma by Bike holiday:
“Burma can be summed up as an assault on the senses. It starts on the first day of the holiday at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, where the visitor is almost blinded by the vast amount of pure yellow, gold leaf covering the stupas and temples under a clear blue sky and then changing colour to darker, richer tones as the sun sets over the shrine. And those who come to worship dress to match the brilliance of the place. If there was ever a stunning start to an Explore holiday, then this is it.
The holiday progresses through the back roads of the country, away from the tourist areas and into a bygone rural age of bullock carts carrying hay, cattle and goats being herded along the lanes and people working in the fields. The smells of the animals (who don’t seem to mind cyclists joining the flow of the herd on two wheels) and the food being cooked at the roadside, waft up and occasionally mingle with incense.
Eat where the locals eat and take tea in the local cafes. These are the best ways to experience the real taste of Burmese cuisine and observe Burmese customs. Both will astound you; the latter with the sheer noise of the customers talking non-stop, the kitchen staff shouting orders and the overall feeling of friendliness.
But the special sound is to be discovered early in the morning as a long line of monks emerge from the monastery in the early morning mist, each clutching an empty lidded earthenware bowl. As the monks walk through the village or town in their dark red robes, oldest first, the locals come out of their houses with tureens of rice and soup and ladle food into proffered bowls as they pass. The special sound is the padding of bare feet on the earth and pavements.
This is a country of surprises. Nothing in Burma is done by halves. Whilst in most of South East Asia, a few stupas and temples would be sufficient, Burma believes that more is better. And not just a few more. At the end of the 13th century, Bagan, in the centre of Burma, had 10,000 Buddhist temples and pagodas. Even now with just over 2,000, it still seems a tad excessive. But the strange thing is that it’s not boring. The selection of temples visited by Explore groups, reached by cycling along sandy tracks and so avoiding the real tourists, are all totally different. For those prepared to climb to the top, the views are stunning, but for the male visitor, here is the final assault on the senses: legs must be covered when visiting any holy place in Burma and so Explore provides a traditional “longyi” for the men wearing cycling shorts. The longyi is a type of sarong that comes down to the ankles and is worn by all Burmese men. The men in my group became rather attached to their longyis, enjoying the cool feel, and looking forward to the next temple visit. This experience was less of a sensual assault, more of a caress – most welcome and fitting for this friendly and welcoming nation.”
By Mike Tyler
Mike travelled on Burma by Bike