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Passing through... We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves--Pico Iyer---Passing through from Europe to Africa to Asia to Oceania etc.& back again! 9 mos. of dreaming and exploring!

Inle Lake

MYANMAR | Friday, 26 April 2013 | Views [1251]

From Bagan, we organized a day bus to Inle Lake. I read plenty of forums about Inle because, until the last minute, we just weren’t sure we wanted to do it. All I had really read about it was that it was a lake at a higher elevation and you could explore it. A lake? Ooooo how exciting I thought to myself [sarcastically speaking]. I really needed to read more on it before I decided I wanted to make the effort to go there. There were a few forums I found that had similar thinking. However, after reading through plenty of forums, many people argued that Inle Lake is a special place worth visiting. The lake itself is ‘magical’, the locals are the nicest in the whole country, and it is just a great place to relax and unwind for a few days. As we started our travels through Mandalay and Bagan, those opinions seemed to be enforced by others, so it seemed we really should check it out.

The beginning of the journey to Inle was less than pleasant! The bus we took in the morning was supposed to take 10 hours to Inle (it took about 9 hours) but it was in much worse condition than the bus we had taken to Bagan. In addition, as per protocol anywhere in Southeast Asia, they were constantly adding people on until the walkways were full and plenty of seats were even doubled up!! The amount of people made the A/C practically non-existent! It was so hot & stuffy and the bus ride was so windy that plenty of people puked (I am surprised no one passed out)! To say I was sweating profusely would be an understatement. This was most definitely the worst bus ride I have had this whole trip  (easily worse than Tanzania, and actually worse than the hectic Indian buses in terms of how stuffy and hot it was----the heat was not that much of a factor in India!). The relief on everyone’s face when we finally arrived at Inle was indescribable! The bus dropped us off right in town, which made for a nice quick walk to the nearby guesthouses. We shopped around a bit to find the best deal, but decided to go with a more upscale place for $10 more just to have some A/C (the bus ride made this a necessity!). We were staying in a small pocket of town where all the guesthouses and restaurants were, which made for easy access to everything. We were also a 3 minute walk to the canal where you could rent boats for the lake. We learned that you could just go there in the AM when you felt like it and hire a boat for the day for about 20000 kyat (“chat”) = $25. Our US friend was no longer with us (he had gone to Yangon, which we decided not to do in the end) but our Irish buddy was still with us. In addition, we met 2 german sisters who also joined the ‘crew’. Together, we decided to get a boat for the day. We went there at 7am and hired a boat for 18000 kyat for the day. They had a fixed schedule for the day but you could spend as much or as little time as you wanted at each venue. Unfortunately, the one annoying thing on the day tour is the amount of ‘workshops’ they take you to- silver/blacksmith/ cheetroot (cigars)/silk weaving….and on  and on…….they basically just show you how they do it then bring you into the showroom to get you to buy something. We zoomed through these workshops and only a few were cool—like the silk and cotton weaving one where there were tribal women with incredibly long necks on heirlooms! Other than that we weren’t planning to buy anything so it was a bit of a waste of time for us.

Anyways, you head out to the lake via a long boat (basically looks like a massive canoe with an engine) and the first place you reach is the biggest, widest part of the lake, where you see the famous ‘foot padding’ fisherman and you get an amazing view of the lake and the surrounding mountains- spectacular! Then we went to the daily market which was also fun. We bought some stuff there and were invited by a monk into a small monastery with many Buddha statues. He told us we could take pictures and enjoy, as he went outside to organize a bushel of flowers. We thanked him and asked if we could take a picture of him arranging the flowers. He had no problem with this, he was so sweet. We told him we had done Vipassana meditation recently and he seemed pleasantly surprised by this, although his English was not good enough in order to have a more extensive discussion with him about this. Either way, sweet man, and what a nice experience! Across from the sort of ‘floating market’ (it was dry season so it wasn’t actually floating at the moment) we went to check out an array of old and new pagodas/temples scattered along the landscape. It was awesome to just walk around the place, especially with the magnificent backdrop of the lake and the mountains behind us…and no one else around…..

After that we went to a few of the workshops and then we headed to a place called Indein which was on the west side of the lake. It is a small town, known for its incredible amount of pagodas—single, gold spires just shooting up into the sky. Another great place to roam around—however, the heat was intense! We actually got stuck a few times in the narrow lanes of water while travelling from village to village because the water level was so low (it is dry season after all!). Another cool spot was going through the floating villages and floating gardens [of Kela] where you see stilted houses with gorgeous gardens just floating on the water (again with the magnificent backdrop). The ‘Jumping Cat Monastery’ was last on the list for the day, where apparently, the monks have taught their cats to jump. We saw plenty of cats, none were jumping, but some were sleeping….:P Tom explained that perhaps, one day, a long time ago, one of the cats did indeed jump!! Now they just sleep! We had a good laugh later when my dress slightly flew up while getting back in the boat—now that will get the cats to jump!

Overall, our favourite part of the day was just floating through the lake itself, watching fisherman go about their daily lives, and taking in the views. I can see the appeal of this place, it really does have a ‘magical’ feel. However, it just won’t feel the same in a few years as the tourists come in, pollution rises, and the locals start to learn how to make an easy buck……it is unfortunate but it is true.

I unfortunately got sick at Inle. I don’t know if it was a specific food or if it was being on the boat the whole day, or the heat, but around dinner time I felt very nauseous. I had to head back to the hotel and had to battle some GI issues most of the evening. I went to bed super early hoping that would help the situation. I guess since we got on the topic of food, I can mention a little bit about Burmese food. I am not a big fan to be honest. It comes nowhere near Thai or Vietnamese or Malaysian. I would best describe it as a spicier version of Chinese and more greasy than Chinese. However, I know that the Northern food is supposed to be a bit different from the southern (around Yangon) so I have no comparison there. The meals are rice based (ofcourse) with different types of stir fry, either fish or chicken, but not as creamy as northern Indian for instance. However, they do use too much oil and the food feels quite heavy. In addition, the tourist spots have international food, most notably the Burmese love of Italian food, just about everywhere you go. We found ourselves having burgers and pizza some nights just to avoid the greasy alternatives. However, we did have some good salads and soups (and some not so good soups) too. Overall, nothing special [in the north anyways]. And, as mentioned earlier, our fav restaurant was definitely Weatherspoons, where we had the best food and drinks the whole trip!

Since I fell asleep so early the night before, we thought it would be a good idea to try to catch the sunrise the next morning (545AM). Assuming we wouldn’t be the only ones, we headed out last minute. Funny enough, we found ourselves at the boat dock desperately searching for a driver who would take us out for an hour. There were plenty of people up and about, but no one wanting to take us out on their boat----this would NEVER happen in Thailand or Veitnam!! Finally, after a good 20 minute search (the sun was about to come up!) a young guy offered to take us out! The sun was rising as we were going through the canal on the way to the lake, but we still enjoyed it once we got to the center of the lake! It was definitely worth the effort! Goes to show the Burmese are not too hell bent on tourism just yet….

We didn’t really discover the town that we were in (Nyang U) mainly because we were too lazy too. We could have rented bicycles but we didn’t, and we could have walked around more but we didn’t. It didn’t seem too exciting anyways, and I wasn’t feeling great some of the time. We did walk to the ‘night market’ one evening, but it was just a few stalls set up with food (not much of a market at all). Accompanying us was the Burmese version of Clancy the dog. It was one of the hotel workers dogs, and he accompanied us for the whole walk , guiding us along the streets. Just another cute dog to hang out with! Nonetheless, Inle lake was worth it, and I am glad we saw it when we did. Bagan wins though :P

Tags: birdy- the a team

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