Inle Lake is one of the most popular areas of Burma to visit and although not quite overrun by tourists, there were certainly a fair few here.
Rather than suffer a long bus ride across the country, I flew. What I didn’t appreciate is that the flight first went to Mandalay before re-directing to Inle. Oh well – I guess it’s a good opportunity to see more of the country side from the air! One of the first things to hit me when getting off the plane is how much cooler it was here. We had very pleasant temperatures, and I finally got to wear my thin merino top to keep warm – during the day, no less! It was such a nice respite from the horrid heat of Yangon and Bagan.
Day 1: Rain, rain, go away
I arrived to yet another downpour of rain which pretty much lasted the entire day. I did venture out for some lunch when it eased off slightly and the photo above shows what it was like in town.
So rather that do the bike ride around the lake that I planned, it was a quiet day at the hotel catching up on some reading.
Day 2: Wines and a little bicycle drama
It poured down with rain all night, and continued to do so until midday. It was a horrendous heavy rain that turns the all the side roads (and even much of the main road) to mud. It doesn’t make for pleasant walking and I was worried what it would be like cycling, but I gave it a go in the afternoon. However, given that I lost half a day, I decided to head to the local Red Mountain Estate winery for lunch – about a ½ hour cycle away. (Who knew that there were wineries in Burma!?).
I met up with an English chap there and we enjoyed some wine-tasting and a lunch. The wine was not the best that I’ve had but it was surprisingly good. And just having some company to talk to and share the wine with meant that we stayed on for another 2 glasses of wine, sharing travel stories. It was a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon!
We planned to ride our bikes back to the town together. We coasted down the hill from the winery, and as we got to the main road, I started to pedal – only to find that my chain had broken and I was free-wheeling! Bloody hell – it’s always me that gets the flat tyres and broken bikes.
One of the local men came rushing over to help. He took the chain off, tipped the bike upside down and was going about trying to repair the chain. It was a bit of a hopeless cause I thought… until his wife came over and started telling him how to fix it. (Some things never change in any culture!). She ran back home, grabbed some pliers, came back and pushed her husband out of the way. He argued, she argued back and I thought we were going to have a regular old domestic going on! She actually managed to fix the chain, I gave them a small amount of money for their efforts and I was back on my bike – literally. For all of five minutes, that is, until the chain broke again.
I suggested to my new English friend that I just grab the next taxi truck to take me and the bike back to town. He had another idea and suggested that he would just push me all the way back. So you can imagine what that’s like: after 2-3 wines, I’m trying to steer my bike while he’s pedalling twice as hard, pushing me along with his hand on my back while in fits of laughter. Ok, it was me laughing. He was mostly puffing. But it actually worked. Luckily the road was flat. And of course, I felt terribly guilty. (Note to Alan: I know what you are thinking right about now!)
Day 3: A boat trip on the lake
The highlight of a visit to Inle Lake is not supposed to be the wine, but is to hire a boat (with driver) for the day to see various places of interest: a floating market, villages on stiles, floating gardens, some local industry workshops (which coincidentally also sell souvenirs), and of course, a sight-seeing trip in Burma wouldn’t be complete without a pagoda and monastery or two.
The boat trip was an excellent way to spend a day and it was fascinating to see local life on the water. However, I could have done without the more touristy souvenir stops. But that was my fault for not planning a route with the driver ahead of time.
The fishermen in the Inle area have a unique way to paddle their boats – using their leg! While standing on the end of their boat, they wrap one leg around the paddle. How they keep their balance is beyond me!
Stilt house communities
These clearly fascinated me just based on the number of photos I ended up with (over 900 for the day!). I’m sure I must have photographed every single stilt house on the lake. The houses were surprisingly huge – in some cases, they clearly incorporated a business, but in others (like the one below), I have no idea. They were just very large rectangular structures, open plan from what I could tell (and have read).
These homes appeared in organised rows like they were on streets made of water – and people got around on their boats.
I won’t bore you with all 900 photos..but there are a few more in the slideshow!
Cheroot (cigar) making workshop
This was a mildly interesting stop although I didn’t particularly appreciate the fact that it looked like it was young kids making the cigars.
These cigars are ‘boutique’style cigars – hand rolled, with all natural ingredients. The raw tobacco actually smelled really good and was made up of a blend of tobacco, honey, tamarind, brown sugar, banana food (eh?) and anise seed (the most prevalent smell).
They gave out free samples and a ex-smoking French girl convinced me to try hers (“It’s much sweeter and milder than normal cigarettes”, she said). I took a puff and didn’t think much of it. (I promise – I didn’t inhale!) I much prefer the raw tobacco smell.
This was far more interesting to me, particularly to how they produce lotus silk, which I had never even heard of. They take the stalks of the lotus plant, and chop them into lengths of about 4-5cm. From the stalks, they pull out these very fine fibres which they lay down and roll with their fingers, merging it into the previous length of fibre.
They continue this until they have long enough threads to be processed (dried, coloured, and spun onto a bobbin). It’s an incredibly manual process, takings days to produce enough threads to work with. The lotus is combined with silk to make scarves and other clothes. It was a lovely fabric, like a heavy silk – but very expensive to buy!
These were also quite interesting. They create floating ‘mats’ of weed and other vegetative material staked to the lake bottom with bamboo, on which they plant tomatoes and other crops. They tend to the gardens from their boats.
There were other floating villages but these ones were inhabited by the poorer gardeners, so the quality was somewhat lacking. But they were very picturesque especially as the sun had some out and the water in this area was dead calm making for perfect reflections.
Unfortunately, these homes have no built in sewerage system, and all human and water waste goes directly into the lake. This is causing huge problems for the lake in terms of water quality – and of course, this is what provides water and nourishment for the floating gardens.
More temples and pagodas
As I said earlier, a day in Burma would not be complete without a compulsory visit to at least one pagoda, temple and/or monastery. I went to one of each on this trip…
This place was quite interesting – it had hundreds of stupas. Many were crumbling but are now being restored (which means rebuilt from scratch I think!). The restoration work is being sponsored by families and businesses judging by the signs that were hung on the new ones. I think I preferred the crumbling version… they were far more interesting!
And the finale of the day…
And how to finish a nice, enjoyable day on the lake? With a massage of course! It’s the first massage I’ve had since travelling and can’t believe I left it so long! I had a full 60min Swedish oil massage for the princely sum of $12 or so. Although she did manage to find some ‘sore spots’ to work on, there weren’t as many as usual. I guess that’s the joy of not sitting behind a desk all day anymore! No photo supplied 🙂
This is something that I haven’t mentioned previously, but many of the women and children wear thanaka paste on their face. Men will sometimes wear it although I saw that far less frequently. The younger ones tend to make nice patterns on their cheeks (leaf shape is common) while many just slather it on. They wear it everywhere, in all situations: at work in an office, when visiting a temple, working in the floating gardens, or shopping at the market.
The paste is made of ground bark from perrenial trees and is applied as a thick yellowish cream. It’s considered a beauty product, primarily used as sun protection but it’s also apparently cooling as well. (Maybe in this heat, I should have tried it!). It’s also considered to be anti-fungal and can treat skin blemishes. It’s an interesting look – but very prevalent here.
Whilst I did wheedle down my 900 photos to a smaller selection, there are still quite a few here, sorry. I just couldn’t decide which ones to cull! Pour a tea/coffee and enjoy!