Myanmar, Day four, Inle Lake
It turned out that the Shwe Mandalar VIP bus was not quite as enjoyable as I had first believed it would be. The bus itself was indeed very plush and comfortable, the driver playing his music ALL the way along was not so conducive to a good nights sleep however. Neither was his having the front windows open. It was FREEZING, ok not actually freezing, the thermometer only plunged to five degrees, so almost. Earplugs in, cashmere beanie, eye mask and my warmest clothes on I cocooned myself in the fleece blanket provided. The cold, music, regular stops where they left the door open lowering the temperature even further, the incredibly winding roads, the drivers daredevil driving and horn honking made for a restless night.
We arrived in Nyuang Shwe at six thirty am feeling very worse for wear, off loaded in pretty much the middle of nowhere our bags and us then loaded into a pickup truck with wet bench seats. We shivered our way to our hotel, Golden Dream, who wonderfully, miraculously let us check in. The first thing we did was put the kettle on. After a tasty breakfast of pancakes and fruit we tried to organise a visit to the Cat Jumping Monastery for a bit later after a mornings rest and relaxation but ended up being bustled out the door on an all day trip because the floating market isn’t on again while we are here and finishes at eleven thirty, sigh. Here is an instance where researching somewhere before your visit pays off, of course we had not.
We also had not altogether understood it was a boat trip, yes I know it’s called Inle Lake and yes the descriptor is of a floating market, what can I say we were all exhausted. So we followed our driver hoping for a warm car not an open air tuk tuk and got a long narrow boat instead. By this point we were all pretty cold, dressed in everything warm we had (slim pickings) and looking more than slightly ridiculous and not caring one bit. Seated comfortably in single file on low cushioned chairs, the journey to the market started along a wide canal and soon opened up onto the lake itself. As soon as it did three young men on small fishing boats little more than open canoes, rowing in the traditional manner with one leg and holding large fishing baskets aloft began to pose for photos for money. I’d read about this and yes it is cheesy but it is also how the fishermen still fish today on the lake and everyone needs to make a living. The balance they possess is quite extraordinary and they put on a good show, growing up on the lake the children learn to walk, then fish.
Photos taken and money given we were on our way again. We didn’t realise we’d arrived at the floating market as it’s not actually floating. Our boat driver stopped at a stilted house on a lake bank, a silversmith and jewellery shop, as our boat pulled in another pulled up along side selling carving and trinkets. I had heard about this too, you are taken to silversmithing, traditional umbrella and cheroot making stores, lotus, silk and cotton weaving demonstrations, after which of course they want you to buy something. It’s not a hard sell but the disappointment when you don’t is evident. Ma bought me a little articulated silver fish and we wandered into what we later discovered was the floating market. Stalls selling pretty much the same as each other lined a narrow strip of land away from the waterway before meeting up with a slightly wider area with a few clothing and vegetable sellers and then more of the same wooden carvings, bamboo tattoo pens, bells, buddhas, old coins down the other side. It does not make a round so once you’ve walked along you rather annoyingly need to retrace your steps all the way to the beginning to exit. We bought long loose trousers for pyjamas and J bought a very lovely woollen poncho. I also picked up a little bell for no reason other than it sounded pretty. We read afterwards that a lot of up to date blogs say this is one of the low points of the lake and a tourist trap best avoided. It wasn’t awful but it would certainly have been improved by a coherent route around it and some variety in items for sale. We also later learnt everything was much more expensive than in the shops of Nyuang Shwe.
Across from the non floating floating market is a very nice temple complex with maybe twenty stupas in various states from perfect to almost finished to many moons old and in serious decay. A Stupa for thise in doubt is a pointy structure traditionally containing the remains of a monk or nun and used for prayer, reflection and meditation.
Having failed to navigate our way back to the spot our boatman had dropped and was waiting for us we wandered into one of the adjacent shops and saw three Kayan women. The Kayan believe a long neck is beautiful and wear place brass rings to elongate them. They seemed very happy to pose for photos in exchange for some money, I suppose it is after all why they are there.
Boat found we headed around the lake through some of the many villages on stilts. There were some houses with no windows and bamboo matting walls with huge satellite dishes on top. Speakers half my size perched on alarmingly tilting floors, pigs four feet above the water in little pig styes on stilts. A very different way of life indeed. Inle lake is surprisingly clear, one hundred and sixteen metres square and almost eight hundred metres above sea level, the average depth of the lake is less than two metres.
After the villages we passed through the wonderful floating gardens which cover about twenty five percent of the lakes surface, row upon row of tomatoes, gourds and what looked like green beans cultivated on artificial islands anchored in place by bamboo and surrounded by water hyacinth. Cormorants and egrets perched high atop bamboo poles. It was utterly gorgeous and I imagine when the water hyacinth blooms is breathtaking.
We headed to a floating weaving workshop next and saw them making thread from the lotus stem, woven into fabric more expensive than silk, it was incredibly soft. They were also weaving with cotton and silk and a blend of both. Their shop was hard to resist and we came away with a two metre piece of bright multicoloured check weave silk cotton blend which we can wear as a scarf or sarong.
Lunch was delicious at the Royal Palace floating restaurant but by this point we were all flagging and wanted only to head to the jumping cat monastery, see some cats jumping and head back to the hotel for a nap. Here again research could have saved us a wasted trip. Although the boat ride there was very lovely and the Monastery itself nice enough, they stopped the jumping of cats four years ago, boo!
Back to the hotel it was, where I had a mini meltdown I was so cold and off Ma and I went in search of warm clothes. We both bought fleeces and socks and I bought sweatpants and gloves too. Later I went back with J and he too bought a hooded fleece and sweatpants, ooh how lovely it is to be warm, I don’t think it even reached twenty today and if it did that was only in direct sunlight. Having been in the thirties for the last seven months we’re struggling. And clearly not the only ones, every one here is in fleeces, quilted jackets, woolly hats etc
For dinner we headed to the Inle Palace next to our hotel, I thought at first the restaurant was made from shipping containers but it is made from painted bamboo. The food was lovely, the staff friendly and it has a great feel about it.
We’re planning a lazy day with some cycling and wine tasting tomorrow and I am crossing my fingers for sun Xx