Inle Lake

A rather large lake
Nyaungshwe, Myanmar

Nyaungshwe, Myanmar

Even though we are not off trekking on this freezing cold morning in Kalaw, we still had to be up early to buy our bus tickets at 7am to continue the rest of the way to Inle lake.

We left at 7.45am on a tiny little local bus, packed full of women going about their daily shopping! We started winding our way back down the mountains a little bit and passing through small hillside villages. After around 90 minutes we were told to get off and then the bus left. No idea where we were. Turns out we were in Shwenyaung, where we wanted to be to get another bus to Nyaungshwe. Every single bus that passed us was packed to the roof, including the roof. Sod it, we got a taxi.

As we are arriving into Nyaungshwe a day earlier than planned, I hadn’t got a room pre booked. After trying 4 fully-booked hotels, we were getting a bit worried. Eventually we found one, initially asking a rather pricy $30 a night, they moved us downstairs to a $25 a night room. Incredibly poor value for money here. Although the room is huge, the beds are thin and uncomfortable with old, holey sheets and the room generally rather shabby.

We hired bicycles for the day – I’m becoming quite the expert now! And cycled around the town and some of the outer roads. We didn’t get particularly far before I was shattered, I was really trying but being ill has left me with no energy. So I spent the afternoon sitting around in the hotel, read sleeping.

In the (very cold!) evening, we headed out to a local restaurant. Most restaurants here are the front extension of someone’s home! I still didn’t feel like eating, but wanted to try something. So I ordered some tomato soup – nice and easy. However, once that came, it tasted nothing like tomato soup and I barely managed more than 2 mouthfuls before feeling sick again. So I didn’t eat.

It’s freezing here. We have such a massive room that doesn’t show any signs of warming up. After a not-particulary-warming shower, I cuddled under a couple of blankets and a lot of clothes to try and get warm. But almost instantly found myself running to the bathroom and throwing up the nothing that was inside my stomach. Wonderful. I can’t even keep water inside.

Thursday 6 December 2012

An exciting day today, off onto Inle lake! Of course, this meant another early morning. Breakfast looked nice at the hotel, the first time we have been offered pancakes. I say looked nice, I still couldn’t stomach any food which was a shame.

We were picked up at 7.30am by our boat driver (called Inda) and equally when I say ‘picked up’ I mean, he met us so that we could walk for 20 minutes to the boat dock. I wasn’t feeling up to that.

Our boat for the day was a long boat, we sat on wooden chairs, padded by life jackets! There was room for 5 people, but there were just 4 of us for the day. Once I was sat down, I felt a lot better. We had to drive along a waterway to head towards the main body of the lake. Inle lake is a Bird conservation area. Along this waterway there were random signs reminding you ‘here you can watch bird’! Although there were quite a lot of birds, they all looked to be the same type of seagull.

Once we hit the main lake, we instantly saw the local fishermen. Here they are very unique in that they use a large basket to put into the water to catch the fish. There were probably around 10 small boats hanging around here. I was expecting to see them all over the lake, but that was it, for the whole day!

The lake was really pretty. The morning was still very cold and a layer of mist hung all across the water. The surrounding mountains were dark shadows and the distant fishermen, all but shadows in the mist.

The lake area has a 5-day rotating market, today the market was in Ywama – that happens to be out on the lake! So that’s where we headed….along with every single other boat on the lake, it seemed! The water-area infront of the market was packed full of boats!

The market itself was on land, a maze of stalls. Nearest to our landing point were all the tourist souvenirs – the usual, like tshirts, little boxes and jewellery, but also the very odd – old cow bells, machetes, ugly statues and random stuff! Further into the market was food, all kinds of fresh produce, then kitchen wares and plastic shops, clothes etc. it was fairly busy, although a lot of tourists, there were a fair few locals too. One tribe, all dressed in black, but with a bright coloured towel wrapped in their hair, particularly stood out!

We drove through some villages, very large, tall teak buildings all scattered around the narrow waterways. We stopped off several times at various ‘workshops’. ie shops. But they did have interesting demonstrations and free tea. Firstly a silversmith, then a weaving shop, then a cigarette making shop and lastly a boat making shop (I guess incase anyone desperately wanted to take a 20m long boat back with them at $2,500 no engine).

We stopped for lunch in a large house-style restaurant on the water, overlooking the Phaung Daw Oo Paya. This was a large pyramidal temple, which the usual golden spiked roof. However today, unusually there was a lot of activity going on. After I watched the others enjoy lunch (I managed a banana, woo!) we headed across to see what was going on. From the limited English of our boat driver, we understood there was a festival happening. The whole grounds of the temple were full of people everywhere. Some sat, huddled in groups eating food. Others standing around by little tables with bags of uncooked rice everywhere. Then there were the monks and the nuns, of all ages, outnumbering everybody. Many of the monks were lined up with their bowls collecting dry rice from the hundreds of women gifting it out.

We ventured up the sides of the temple up towards the top, monks passing by on all sides of us! In the large circular room at the top, a sea of red robes! Monks sat, waiting, everywhere! In the middle, people were going up to rub some lumps of gold. (Apparently these used to be Buddhas, but are now so deformed due to the copious amounts of gold leaf applied to them!).

It is a shame we didn’t find out what was going on, but everyone seemed to be having a great time!

Back in the boat, we zoomed through some more of the waterways, passing through a farming area – with lanes of plants, mostly tomatoes we could see, then towards the Nga Hpe Kyaung monastery, also known as the Jumping Cat Monastery. That sounds like fun! However, unfortunately the monk who trained the cats to jump died and now they don’t jump. That was a shame. However, there are still quite a few cats sitting around in various sunny spots.

We were back out onto the open lake now, zooming past fishermen and people going about their lives on the lake. Until we reached our Northern point where our waterway was, up back through to the boat dock. After landing, we waved goodbye to our boat-mates and went to check into our new (much cheaper – and ironically much nicer) hotel. We were even given a plate of fruit on arrival, lovely!

With no way to pick up our luggage from our old hotel, we had to walk the 2 kilometre round trip.

Friday 7 December 2012

A nice relaxing morning today, and for the first time in a week, I’m starting to feel a bit better! I even managed a bit more breakfast than usual. However, straight after breakfast I managed to fall asleep again by accident.

After a slightly delayed morning, we went off on some bicycles again. This time to some of the nearby rice fields and villages. We found loads of ducks and cows! The scenery was really pretty. Lone people working in the fields, no machinery insight, everything done by hand.

The afternoon I spent hanging around in the jungle garden of the hotel! Until around 4pm it was starting to get too cold to sit outside.

We fancied a different dinner today and spotted a nearby Thai restaurant on the map. When we got there we were a bit surprised, this was really posh! We were greeted by 2 stone elephants at the entrance and some fancy bamboo menus. The tables were laid with wine glasses, place settings and fancy napkins, I felt totally out of place. More surprising though was the price, it really was only marginally more than eating in someone’s front lounge restaurant (in the end the total bill cost just $2 more!). I ordered a red curry and was so excited – when it came it looked and tasted like a red curry! It was delicious!! Such a shame that the best food so far in Myanmar, has been Thai.


Saturday 8 December 2012

After a leisurely breakfast, we packed our things and went for a last walk around the town.

After visiting the market, a couple of temples and wandering round a few shops, we were bored and went for lunch. The restaurant had 6 little kittens playing inside, cute!

We were picked up at 4pm and driven to the main road at Shwenyaung – where we had been a few days ago. We joined the hoards of (mostly white) people waiting for various buses. After nearly an hour of waiting, the first bus came along – a lovely, brand new, fancy looking coach. Most of the (white) people got on this one. But sadly not ours. Several (horrible) busses later and ours still hadn’t arrived.

It was nearly 6pm by the time ours rolled up. I was disappointed. It was a ******, cramped horrible bus. We had paid nearly $20 for this trip! The bus was packed, no room below for luggage as it was already full, so we had to bring our luggage on with us. The aisle was already full of bags, as were most of the foot wells. The seats were like sitting on rocks and the person infront had their seat all the way back into my lap so I was unable to move.

This was not fun. And we had to sit here for 12 hours.

We stopped off briefly in Kalaw. It was freezing. And I was not in a good mood.


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