October 13-14, 2016
Arriving in Inle Lake
The bus from Bagan dropped us off in the small town of Nyuang Shwe near Inle Lake at the absurd hour of 3:30am. Taxi drivers awaited us outside of the bus and immediately asked, “where are you going? Where are you going friend? Taxi? You need taxi?” We knew from google maps that our hotel was not far, so we left the chaotic scene and walked the ten minutes to Sweet Inn. The staff was incredibly accommodating and let us check in at the wee hour in the morning without charging us for another night. The location of the hotel was fantastic, right on a river that fed into Inle Lake. We awoke later in the morning to the sounds of longboat engines.
We choose to rent bikes on our first day in the city in order to see some villages farther outside oftown. Following our hand drawn map we got a little lost. A few wrong turns gave us a glimpse of local life just outside the city. People hunched at the rivers edge doing their laundry and rinsing off in the river, stilted huts and houses stood at the banks, chickens pecked about and children chanted after their teachers lead in a small community school.
We stopped mid-way for some drinks and were gifted a hand-rolled leaf cigarette by the woman working at the shop. These leaf cigarettes are called Cheroot and are the preferred smoke throughout the countryside. They are filled with shredded tobacco leaves and sometimes other additives like dried banana/pineapple, tamarind, honey, anise or jaggery for a sweet flavor. It is wrapped tightly by hand in a tha-na-phet leaf and uses a corn husk as a filter.
Back on our bikes, we didn’t make it to the village before it started pouring rain. We ducked for cover in a repair garage and were graciously given plastic stools to sit on while waiting out the rain. Despite not speaking any English, one of the men in the shop was eager to communicate with us. He offered us some fruit and continued talking and smiling while we just nodded our heads and smiled back.
Once the heavy rain stopped we hopped back on our bikes only to find a major traffic jam. A small stream that crossed the road had turned into a raging river of water, the result of a damn breaking farther up the mountain. No one quite new what to do, on-lookers stared in disbelief until a brave few ventured across, some on their motor scooters, others walking with pants rolled up and shoes off. After these adventurous pioneers, others tentatively began to cross as well.
Where's the Good Food?
Wet, cold and back in town we were craving a satisfying meal- the uninspired local food had left us craving more. Since the great street food we’ve had in Yangon, we’ve largely been disappointed by the cuisine. Lots of rice, little meat and little flavor.
We biked down a street dotted with western places mixed in amongst local places. We stopped at one western places and left yet again feeling unsatisfied. I think many of these western restaurants here are pushing beyond their culinary capabilities.
Life on the Lake
For 15,000kyat ($12.00) the day before we arranged a private boat to show us around Inle Lake. We were lucky with the timing of our visit as it fell right on the Paung Daw Oo Festival held during the first full moon of October, when people flock to see the images of Buddha carried by boat across the lake..
We met our boat driver at 5:30am right off of the jetty in front of our hotel. He spoke just enough English to communicate our itinerary. After taking our seats we set off down the river into the misty dawn air toward the lake. We passed fisherman in traditional garb with large bamboo nets, paddling in the distinctive standing position with one foot wrapped around the paddle. Nowadays, these guys are generally just putting on a show for tourists, hopping to collect a tip for their efforts. We caught sunrise before settling in for the Paung Daw Oo procession. Decorated canoes paraded by with rowers in traditional dress. Music played and some rowers dance along. At the end of the procession came the golden boats carrying sacred images of Buddha.
During the rest of our boat trip we stopped at various places on the river, seeing floating villages and gardens, a shop where the make the Cherrot cigarettes/cigars where we got to sample a variety of flavors for free and a silk weaving factory where they make silk and lotus fiber textiles on a loom. Surprisingly, though tourist attractions, we did not feel pressured to buy any products, we were only given a brief tour and description of the products no high pressure sales pitches. We stopped at the 5 day market which catered more to locals than tourists. We eyed a few of the gongs for sale, but prices were severely inflated.
From the market we stopped by a monastery once famed for it's 'jumping cats.' There's no longer a jumping cat show but we very much enjoyed playing with the adorable and tiny kittens. We took another stop at a shop with some 'long neck' women. This made us both a bit uncomfortable. These women are not even from the Inle Lake area, they come from another state in Myanmar, Kayah State and are here as an attraction. They sit weaving wearing stacks of bronze coils around their neck. The women start wearing the rings around the age of five and add more as they get older. There was a makeshift display with some information about the longneck people and samples of the coils, some women wear up to 20 pounds around their neck. This doesn't actually stretch the neck but rather weighs down the muscles around their collar bone and compresses the ribs giving the appearance of a longer neck.
We concluded our tour right as the mid-day sun reached it's peak. We spent a few hours in a French café, good bread but bad goat cheese, and waited around for our bus. We ended the day with 'traditional' Myanmar massage, and headed back to our hotel to get picked up for the night bus to Mandalay.