The Inle Lake area of Myanmar was my favorite of all the places I visited during my month in the country. While there, you can take a boat out on the lake, bike around the lake, walk to the lake……ok, so it doesn’t take too long to realize there’s not much to do that doesn’t somehow involve the lake. Yes, you can go trekking in the surrounding mountains, but then you have to find a guide as it’s illegal without one. Plus there’s all the annoying walking…. Luckily, I met some people in Mandalay who had recently read an article about a vineyard and winery in the area.
Located on a hillside overlooking the town of Nyaungshwe and the lake, the Red Mountain Estate is apparently the only vineyard in Myanmar. Employing a French winemaker, they churn out various types of wine that can only be sampled within Myanmar or perhaps in China. That may change with the easing of export restrictions, but for now, you have to come to Inle Lake to try the Red Mountain Estate Taunggyi Wines.
The easiest way to get to the estate is to take a taxi, but I hate taxis and try to avoid them as much as possible. In fact, I hate them so much that we opted to rent bicycles instead. And I’m definitely not a fan of bikes, with their uncomfortable triangular seat made for…I have no idea who they’re made for. Have you ever seen anyone with a triangular ass? Me neither. The lack of innovation in the world of bicycles is shocking. Give me a two-by-four and some shards of broken glass and I’ll design a more comfortable seat.
Nevertheless, I still rank bikes above taxis, living animals (I wrote about being forced to ride a camel not too long ago) and my own two feet, so off we pedaled. The shores of Inle Lake are virtually flat before sloping up into the hills, yet the road engineers managed to find a way to ensure the road constantly changed elevation. I don’t even know how that was possible, but I guess you just can’t find competent slave labor these days.
When we arrived at the turnoff leading to the winery, we realized we hadn’t quite thought through our idea of avoiding taxis, as the winery is located on a hill. One look at the road winding its way upward was enough to convince us to leave our bikes at the bottom and walk up. We passed several vineyards on the way and eventually reached a nice outdoor seating area in front of a large building that contained the winery.
We hung around for a bit before we realized that the place seemed completely deserted. We walked around the outside of the building and eventually surprised what was apparently the only person within a kilometer of the winery. She turned out to be a waitress among the several hundred other things she must have been responsible for as the estate’s only visible employee.
We never got why no one was around, but it didn’t really matter as she took our order and would have cooked our food as well, had we ordered anything beyond a plate of cheese. Naturally we all got a wine tasting sampler, which included five wines for a few dollars, making this, surprisingly, one of the best budget activities in the country.
We asked her if we could get a tour of the winery before trying the wine, so she led us to the building, opened the door and pointed inside, “Go! Look!” Then she disappeared to slice our cheese and get our wine. We walked around a lab, a big room with tanks, a wine cellar, a few other rooms and had no idea what any of it was for. We basically had the run of the place and I was tempted to mix up my own batch of wine, but decided against it in the end. The woman was very trusting though.
By the time we finished our self-guided and entirely uninformative tour, our wine and cheese had arrived. We got two whites and three reds and they all had slight hints of grapes and……like I know what I’m talking about. The white wines tasted like white wine and the reds tasted like red. The cheese had a distinct cheese flavor and the water was cold.
As we were finishing up, a group of three western tourists showed up on their bikes, making this the single busiest month in the winery’s history. The new group were French and French-Canadian and since I was there with two girls from Montreal, I couldn’t tell you what was going on after that. They all spoke French (even the waitress spoke French and joined in) and I walked around and took pictures. Let’s hear it for my three years of French lessons!
When it came time to leave, the new group jumped on their bikes and sailed down the hill and off into the distance and we learned why no one leaves their bikes at the bottom, as we slowly walked to retrieve them. The ride back to our guesthouse in Nyaungshwe was even less enjoyable than the ride out, but despite that, I have to say the outing was successful.
The wine was good and very inexpensive, the weather was great, the view from the top of the hill of the valley and the lake in the distance was amazing and I even enjoyed everything about the bike ride apart from the seat and the actual pedaling.