What will we remember the most about Inle Lake? Avocados - the best we have ever eaten and the villages and fields floating on the water....
After the relative pollution and bustle of Mandalay, Inle Lake was a welcome respite. As with most of our trip, we have discovered that we like the smaller less-crowded places much more than most of the cities we've been too... there is more opportunity to really relax and speak to the local people...and we tend to stick to our budget (which is no small feat for us!)
We found a little guest house (Naung Khan (Little Inn) in Nyaung Shwe village) for $10 night that was apparently haunted... however we will get to that later on....
Again, not too much to do here except relax and enjoy the countryside - and of course go out onto the Lake which we did on our second day. We hired a boat that took us around for the whole day.
We left first thing in the morning and the mist rising from the very long but relatively narrow Lake was magical.... the fishermen were already out trying for their dinner as we speeded along with the cool morning breeze in our hair. Once we had gotten out of the channel and onto the actual Lake we were amazed by what we saw...strips and strips of floating fields stacked high wtih tomatos plants and other lovely veggies ripening in the Myanmar sunshine. Between these fields were actual villages floating in the middle of the Lake - all the houses on stilts with only little boats "parked" out front. Our boat slowed down going through the villages just as if we were on a suburban road with lots of children playing.
We also passed by fishermen who rowed their boats with their one leg - difficult to describe - however they just used their leg as if it were an arm and paddled away. They claim it is less tiring than using your arms, but it sure didn't look it!
Our first stop was at a market at Nam Pan - essentially overrun by package tourists and souvenir sellers so we made a quick exit. Then we did the obligatory tour of all the "crafts" (read souvenir shops) along the way. There was Inbawkon for silk weaving and a few other places for silversmithing and "cheroot" making. Cheroots are like cigars... the most disturbing fact about this stop is that all of them were being made by young girls (who should have been at school). Despite seeing how silk is made for the umpteenth time, we appreciated that all of these people were just trying to make a living and so didn't view it too much as an inconvenience to pop in for a few minutes... plus, all of these shops were in houses that seemed to float on the water so all the better!
After Phaung Dau U Paya - this time a floating temple - and some lunch - we stopped at a small village called Indein and visited the Naung Ohak (under the shade of banyan trees) Monastary. The setting was beautiful and there was a very long covered walkway that you went through up the hill to the actual monastery which took about 15 minutes to walk up and Shwe Inn Thein which is the actual stupa. Again, it seemed as if a bunch of temples were just scattered around except these ones were slightly disturbed by an earthquake as many of them just seemed to tilt in various directions.
In the same village we were able to visit some weavers - however these women were special in that they belonged to the Padaung tribe. This tribe is famous for its women with long necks...essentially from a very early age - the women begin to put brass rings around their necks to lengthen them. By the time the women are in their 60s (see photo) they will have anywhere between 20-25 rings around their neck which they NEVER take off. The ladies were lovely and the older one spoke good English so we had a nice time just having a chat there.
Our final, and probably least inspring stop for the day, was at the "Jumping Cat Monastary" - actually called Nga Phe Kyaung - where the monks have taught their cats to jump through rings.... a strange site in the middle of a Lake in Myanmar I can assure you!
Our final day was spent relaxing as most nights at the Inn we didn't get much sleep. No, if it was the ghosts it would make this bit of the story more interesting. Instead, we had bamboo walls between the rooms (which, if you ever build your own house, we do not recommend particularly if you would like any privacy!) and a very amorous young American couple "sleeping" next to us who kept EVERYONE at the Inn up with a combination of heavy breathing (about 4 times per day) and discussions about "the meaning of love and relationships" - one of the Dutch guests had had enough and screamed a less than polite English phrase in the hopes that this would quiet our frisky neighbours - it worked.
However, we also took one final bike ride through the countryside around our village in the late afternoon when the light is at its best. We cycled past rice paddies where buffalo were tilling the fields as well as villages with many children - all suprised to see the foreigners - and most of them laughing at Jonathan (we still can't figure out EXACTLY why....) Many of them decided to have a dance contest for us whilst we were there - it was a combo of traditional dance and, we think, break-dancing! Today was UNION DAY and we were approached by a group of little girls who ran up to us and gave us flowers - Jonathan and I put them behind our ears and helped them to do the same - again, smiles all around and a lasting impression that we will leave Inle Lake with.
After having managed to eat Avacados with absolutely every meal in our 4 days in Inle Lake, we must now go back to Yangon.....