Two days at Inle Lake…
Since being named Myanmar’s first designated place of protection under the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves back in 2015 – this one surely had to be worth a visit?
Day 260 – Monday 6th February 2017
Our bus, which was meant to drop us off at Inle Lake at 06:00 this morning, dropped us off half an hour early in a place called Shwenyaung. It was pitch black and bitterly cold, so with no real choice in the matter we took a tuk tuk (the first of our trip as it goes) all the way to our hostel, where we arrived eight hours before our official check in time:
We tried our luck and walked straight into reception, hopeful that they would at least let us drop off our bags, but then what felt like a miracle happened. Not only were we allowed to check in straight away (and sleep for a couple of hours), we were allowed breakfast too, and didn’t have to pay anything extra!
It was nearly 10:00 by the time we were ready to head out so we took a couple of bicycles from our hostel (which were also free) and cycled for nine kilometers as far as Kuang Daing Village. The place was fascinating – houses were built on stilts and the footpath was a boardwalk:
A few of the locals even asked to take photographs of us, which really proved how far off the beaten track we were.
As always it seemed to take much longer cycling back to where we started, but the sun probably had a part to play in that too; it seems to be much hotter here in Myanmar than it was in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.
For dinner we found ourselves a nice little Burmese restaurant and had a five course meal from the set menu, which cost the equivalent to just £4.50 per person (with a drink included), and summed up what I’d consider a pretty successful day.
The only thing that we didn’t see much of was the lake itself, and that was kind of intentional. Boat tours are very common out here but we were still lagging from the night bus today, so saved the opportunity for tomorrow. We knew that the itinerary was a long one and there was no point in signing up on the back of no sleep, especially when it’s this dry and dusty!
Day 261 – Tuesday 7th February 2017
Our tour started at 10:00 this morning from Inle Boat Station where we met our guide and jumped into the most unreliable looking boat I think I’ve ever laid eyes on. Seriously, based on appearance, this thing probably should’ve gone down about a decade ago. It worked though, and took us on a journey that would’ve been impossible using any other mode of transport:
First we visited the fishermen of Inle Lake, who practice a very unique style of fishing. By standing on one leg at the end of their boat, these fishermen are able to use their spare leg to hold either a cone shaped fishing net (to catch fish) or an ore (to paddle). At first it was quite funny to watch, but obviously worked very well:
Next we stopped at a lotus fibre workshop, where we found local craftsman clacking away tirelessly on wooden hand looms to produce some of the world’s most intriguing textiles. We watched in disbelief as lotus fibres were used to create anything from a small neck scarf to the entire kasaya (robe) of a Buddhist monk, which could take up to two weeks and over forty thousand lotus to come up with:
The artisans of Inle Lake don’t stop at lotus fibre weaving – there’s everything from silversmith who create beautiful jewelry with nothing more than a hammer and soldering iron, to cheroot curlers who are known to roll up to five hundred cigars every day, and boatmakers who provide a means of transport for locals and the thousands of Inle Lake visitors each year:
After stopping for some quick lunch we then visited a tribe of long neck women, who start wearing rings around their necks at the age of five, then add more and more as they grow older but never take them off. The women were particularly friendly and welcoming, so much so that we felt comfortable enough to ask them why they wear the rings, which they answered “as tradition, for protection.” Sounds rather vague if you ask me, but amazing nonetheless:
Our penultimate stop of the day was Inn Dien Pagoda, where we walked through the bamboo forest to find thousands of ancient stupas (Buddhist shrines) and stone pillars clustered together, some of which date back as far as the fourteenth century:
Our tour ended at Nga Phe Chaung Monastery, the oldest and largest monastery on Inle Lake, which was once known as the Jumping Cat Monastery because a former head monk trained cats to jump through hoops to impress tourists. Nowadays, since all of the jumping cats have either died or retired, the monastery is visited mostly for it’s impressive artwork collection.
We got back to Inle Boat Station at 17:00 after one of the most educational and fulfilling days that I can remember, then had to rush dinner and pack everything away before leaving at 19:00 on the night bus for Bagan.
I was left a little lost for words at the end of the day to be honest. It is estimated that Inle Lake only welcomes around 100,000 international visitors annually, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that number rocketed through the roof in years to come. I genuinely think I may have just found myself a new favourite place ever!