Having been all ‘templed’ out in ancient Bagan and desperately needing to escape the heat of Mandalay, we hopped on the next interstate ‘aircond’ bus to another much visited attraction of Myanmar, Inle Lake. We bumped into our French and Canadian travellers again. Always nice to see familiar faces.
Hot steamy meat buns. Good for the cold temperature
As our journey progressed on winding roads that elevated us to higher grounds, the temperature cooled down, comforting us from the heat. Several of our seated neighbors whom were happily munching on their snacks and enjoying the music videos at the start of the journey began groaning. We looked at each other and silently exclaimed – motion sickness! It wasn’t long before we heard the rustling of plastic bags, coughs and then the horrid sounds of puke spluttering in the bags. The smell of puke permeated in the air and we had to breathe with our noses covered in wet tissues which were handed out earlier by the bus conductor. The little bit of wind blowing from the aircond ducts above us actually saved us from the wafting stench.
Wine on tap or by the bottle.. if you’re tired of whisky
We were dropped off in the wee hours at the Naungshwe bus station and greeted by several taxi drivers shining torchlights in our faces. They already knew our point of destination. The French and Canadians had boarded their pre-booked ride to their riverside accommodation while we were left, off the bus, with Mike and Martin, a middle aged grey haired Scotsman, and a young blonde Swede. Both had met in the Yangon airport and decided to be travelling companions. Mike was already been prepared with a hotel in mind to check into. The charm of standing in the cold dark night beside the lonely road without an inkling of where things were, and no shops opened, seemed unappealing to us. Following Mike and Martin to their accommodation, Remember Inn, was the best choice plus we could to share the taxi fare.
Moemoe, our smiling taxi driver of Intha descent (indigenous to Inle) drove us in his 80’s Mitsubishi Galant station wagon with plenty of space for our bags. After stopping briefly for us to pay the Inle Lake entrance fee, we continued our journey for another 10minutes before arriving at the lodge. Moemoe, familiar with the procedure of new guests went in to retrieve the sleeping manager from the front desk to show us the rooms. Scottish Mike had been right about the hotel being the best available for budget stay, as recommended by his pals. The double room was large, sufficiently clean, and had hot bathing water. Heaven.
Next day, we woke up early to a bright sun and cool temperatures. Certainly a heavenly place after the hellish heat of the south. We went up to the rooftop to take our breakfast which provided us with a nice view of the town. Our options were, Burmese rice or noodles, or a western dish. We ate some then decided to save space for food on our walk out to the town area, just 10mins away.
On the way out, we reserved seats on a regular boat tour of Inle Lake the next day through the hotel. You can also organise tours from vendors in town or the boatmen directly. We were lazy so we left our names and had the hotel find others to share the boat.
Our first stop, the market.
“Eat shan noodles, grow up more beautiful”
Nyaungshwe town being too small for our wandering feet, we decided to hop onto the back of a pick-up truck taxi to head out to Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, located less an hour’s drive up winding roads to an even higher altitude. Once our truck filled to its near maximum capacity with middled aged ladies cramped at the back, several monks squashed in the front and trade items latched onto the top of the roof, it began its journey. Some passengers got off along the way but more were collected together with extra luggage. As we snaked up the road under an overcast sky, the temperature cooled down further which made the crammed journey a little more bearable.
Don’t forget your fancy hat when visiting Taunggyi
Wall-E lives somewhere here
“You’ve got to move like Bogyoke Aungsan”
Inle Lake is the second largest lake in Myanmar at 116 square kilometers. The largest lake is Indawgyi Lake, located in Moenyin township. The Inle Lake tour, normally is a joy ride on the lake, where you will get to observe the daily activities and the going ons on Inle, such as visiting the villages, shopping at the travelling flea market, visiting the jumping cat monastery (Nga Phe Kyaung), and observing the famous single leg paddling fishermen. After that, it gets pretty commercial and you will be brought to silk factories, cigar factories and various other souvenir making factories located at different points on the lake. We took the 6 hour tour which covered the main lake, skipping the extra 3 hour tour which brings you remote parts of the lake where the indigenous Intha live, and to visit ancient temples. Obviously, there are the home-stay programs and some trekking tours which we did not have time for.
the calm, mirror like effect of Inle Lake
These kids were a riot. They ran up to meet us, posed for us to have their photo taken, then demanded to see it. Then they ran off giggling. Too cute for words!
learning to roll a cigar
silk threads from the lotus plant for making silk wear
the famous fisherman of Inle Lake
Inle lake has environmental and sustainability issues. The lake is over fished judging from what is available at the market. The evidence of non-caged African Tilapia, an invasive species, have probably killed off many of the species found there. The uncontrolled use of fertilizers for cultivating the lush floating tomatoes gardens (a much needed economy for Inle residents) have also increased toxicity levels so much that the villages require piped water from the mainland to bath, drink and cook.
Any visitor would have noticed the fast growing water hyacinths floating everywhere on the lake, and its tributaries – while it adds some charm to the scenery, it is a water plant that chokes up lake, decreasing oxygen levels for the marine life below. Inle lake is a now a protected habitat but we are unsure how much of its natural habitat has already been destroyed, and if it will ever flourish again.
The Inle Flea Market
On different days, the flea market opens at different villages on the lake for its residents to buy their provisions conveniently, and of course, for tourists like us to marvel at the sights and sounds.
hooves and brains.. you name it, they have it
what a pharmacy.. how do they know where they put everything?
the travelling metalsmith
We ended the tour with Myanmar-brand draught beers at a local eatery with Mike, Martin and Miyuki. Sadly no Mandalay brand beer in sight. Of the lot, Mike was probably the most widely travelled. Always preferring the independent traveler route, he had already circled the globe and revisited several Asian destinations including Myanmar. He filled the hours for us, with many tales of adventure, told in his wry humor, including the reason why his girlfriend couldn’t join him on this travel – she conveniently threw herself down the stairs of a fancy and expensive restaurant in London and had broken her arm. Mike admits it must have been a ploy to avoid having to travel uncomfortably in a developing country.
Martin the young Swede with long blonde locks was searching for the meaning of life having left home after high school to work in Denmark with some friends. Just like many travellers from the west, coming to Asia was an affordable option and a place to discover new things and maybe to get some partying in too. He had been rock-climbing in Krabi prior to Myanmar.
Miyuki was a single female traveller from Japan. She decided to take a break from her work to discover the rest of the world. Quiet on the surface, but when prodded with questions and after a few beers, she was as gregarious as the next person at the table. Our beer glasses built up dangerously high, and soon, it was time to go back to the guesthouse.
Little monks playing soccer furiously while camera wielding foreigners marvel at the rare kodak moment.
Do you wonder as we did why a monastery should have shards of glass on its fences?
In Nyaungshwe, there is a crooked man who lives in a crooked house. Mother Goose would be proud.
This crooked man even had a padlock on the door of his crooked house.
Ah.. what a journey.. we were nearing the end of our trip now, and we didn’t particularly want to go home..
See the slideshow for more images of Inle and more. Descriptions only found on flickr.
If you liked this story, read our past posts on Myanmar –
Our posts so far:
1. Yangon City, Myanmar