As we haul our bikes out of the boat and scramble up the riverbank, I suddenly become aware of a sound I’ve never heard before in Yangon.
I stand, entranced by the stillness for a few seconds, my reverie interrupted only by the sound of the breeze whispering through the rice paddies. We’re less than 3 miles from the clamour of downtown Yangon, but it feels like a world away.
Our half-day cycling tour is one of a range of half- and full-day tours led by adventure travel specialists Uncharted Horizons, which offers adventures that include kayaking in Ngapali, mountain biking in Taunggyi and trekking in Chin State. The company was founded by seasoned adventurer and mountain biker Jochen Meissner, who says there is “no better way” to explore the city than by bike.
The 30km round trip has taken us across the river and through the fishing villages of Dala before bringing us here to the river island of Seikgyikanaungto township. Despite being only a short boat trip from Dalat, the island remains undisturbed by tourists, and has something of a haunting, clandestine air about it, as if we’d stumbled onto the set of a subtropical Wicker Man.
“When you’re on a bike you can explore places that no other tourists go and discover hidden secrets … You get a glimpse of daily life and have a real adventure at the same time,” says Jochen.
Cycling around the peaceful river island, it certainly feels as though we’ve discovered a “hidden secret”. Our route takes us through small, lively villages where locals smile and wave at us and small children and street dogs stop their games to stare at us in amazement. A few Myanmar words go a long way here and our greetings of minglabar are met with shrieks of excitement from everyone we pass.
There are no cars or roads here, and the narrow, even path that skirts the island is so ideal for cycling that it is as if it has been built for bike tours. Our guides, Ye Htun Kyaw and Yeyint Zaw, are both friendly and indispensable – when they are not protecting us from the traffic of downtown Yangon and hauling our bikes in and out of the small boats that take us across the river, they are chasing away intoxicated, belligerent teenagers and scooping up small children that wander into our path.
They are also knowledgeable about the places we visit, which is fortunate because the route itself is as fascinating as it is peaceful, taking us past pagodas, mosques, churches and Hindu temples which sit side by side in Coca-Cola ad-esque harmony. We stop at the quaint customs office on the far end of the island where we watch passing ships throw their customs duties to a boy in a small boat waiting for them in the middle of the river.
As we load our bikes into the dinghy that will take us back to Yangon’s Lanthit Jetty, I look at my watch and realise it’s only lunchtime. We’ve only been cycling for four hours but, away from the dust and chaos of the city, time seems to have slowed down, and I feel as if I’m returning after a peaceful weekend retreat.
Then our boat pulls into the jetty and the sounds of car horns and hollering food vendors return to my ears, and the tranquillity is too soon forgotten.
Uncharted Horizons offers a variety of half-day and full-day bike tours. Customised bike tours are also available. For more information visit Uncharted Horizons on Facebook.