Inle Lake – one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations – was our next stop, but it didn’t start on a high.
We left Hsipaw late afternoon to catch our first overnight bus in Myanmar. Usually on the more trafficked routes you have the choice between VIP sleeper buses (leg room, reclining seats, toilet) or regular coaches but sadly this journey didn’t apply. We got on the bus to find 3 women already throwing up in bags, and continued to do so for the remaining 12 hours. Our seats reclined a couple of centimeters and the seats in front of us were barely a hand span away, and with the aircon full blast we were unsure what death we were going to die from: squashed or frozen. Somehow we survived, albeit with no sleep, and at 6am arrived at our hotel where they kindly gave us a spare room to crash in as ours wasn’t yet available. Godsend.
Following a short nap, our faithful TripAdvisor informed us of a great pancake place (who’s slogan aptly was: sick of rice yet?) so that was where we went to replenish our energies and bellies. After a good breakfast (and 2 chocolate milkshakes for Annalie) we set off to book our tour around the lake. Apart from its beautiful setting of rolling hilltops covering the lake’s shoulders, Inle Lake is famous for the floating villages which are dotted all around its perimeter. Huge restaurants, homes and shops on stilts live on the water housing the local population; its quite a unique sight. So after a chilled first day walking through the village and enjoying a few games of pool in the only western looking pub, we were ready for an early night to get our beauty sleep for an early rise the following morning. It was then we discovered our hotel’s restaurant was right on the canal which meant our breakfasts were always a joy – coffee, fruit and eggs with a view of the long-boat traffic which in the mornings was always bustling.
By 7:30 we were on our longboat, equipped with a set of 4 small armchairs all laid out in a row. Our first destination was the market which interestingly changes location every day rotating between 8 different spots along the lake, and today it was at the very far end. It took us about an hour to get there are to our joy it was set up by a large array of pagodas (we’re now practically expert pagoda tourists having visited at least a couple hundred). We walked around the market stalls mostly made out of wooden tables and shacks that sold anything from food to clothes to medicines; it was basically the equivalent of our shopping center. After buying a couple of rice crackers we walked up to see the pagodas and gave our leftover cracker to a friendly dog and a pencil to a playful kid.
We let our guides lead our itinerary which after the market involved visiting a few local workshops. We stopped off at a silver making workshop where we saw a man melt silver with his very archaic furnace and tools, we stopped off at a cigar maker (lots of people smoke cigars here, including ladies who smoke the sweet variant which smells of aniseed), and then visited a fabric weaving workshop. It is here we learned the lake produces a large amount of lotus plants that, when cut and pulled apart, produce tiny fibers which can be rolled and weaved to create fabric. The procedure is quite time consuming and it apparently takes 2 months to produce 1 kilo of lotus fabric.
In between all these visits it was so enjoyable to just sit back and take in the view. Kids jumping in the water, people dipping bowls in the water to wash themselves, longboats driving up and down the water, farmers working their so-called floating gardens – it was all very beautiful.
Last but not least, we spied upon a number of fisherman along the lake. They balance themselves at the tip of the boat and wrap their leg around an oar to push themselves along the shallow waters, this leaves both their hands free to examine the nets they’ve cast to see if they’ve caught any fish. Very skilled technique and very beautiful to watch.
Our evening’s highlight was a small Indian restaurant with good enough curries but even better entertainment. The waiter was a huge Eminem fan – dressed like him, talked like him and I’m sure if asked he would’ve started rapping on the spot. A fun guy and cherry on the cake of a lovely meal.
Our final day was spent on bikes. We looped round the lake (well most of it) dipping in and out of little villages along the way. Because the lake is very long and thin, there are a few crossing points where long-boaters offer their services to pedestrians. Sadly a miscommunication between the young driver and his English speaking mate meant we got into a little money dispute once arrived, but luckily all was settled with no more than a Myanmar youngster probably swearing at us.
We enjoyed lunch at a little off-road restaurant called Bamboo Hut. The setting was beautiful and so was the food, with spring onion and tomato fritters being the highlight. With our bellies full we had just one stop left before home time: Red Mountain winery. Set on a hill this surprisingly large winery offers mind blowing views of the surrounding mountains and lake. Unfortunately but predictably, less mind blowing was our wine tasting, but the atmosphere totally made up for it.
Our final meal that evening was at the local night market where about a dozen stalls set up their hobs and tables and chairs. Here we had two very local dishes: shan noodle soup (thick noodles in a thick broth) and fish burrito (not really its name but gives the jist). It consisted of a cured fish which we had to chop into bits and wrap up in a lettuce leaf along with rice noodles, peanuts and a chilli sauce. Overall, both get our seal of approval.
Inle Lake is a place of beauty, but also one of tourists. Not a bad thing, I guess it’s just what happens to places that are so unique.
Next stop: the ancient town of Bagan.
Ciao for now x