We took an overnight bus to a place called Nyaungshwe which is the local town where you stay for a visit to Inle Lake. We were expecting a cold journey as we knew about their love of air conditioning, so we came prepared. We broke down half an hour after we left and spent three hours on the side of the road while the driver fixed the problem so we ended up having an 11 hour journey. We went straight to our hotel and slept… Later on in the afternoon, we went into Nyaungshwe and found a local boatman and arranged a trip out onto the lake the next day.
Nyaungshwe is a lovely little place which we read was very touristy. We must have been there during the down time because there were a few but not nearly as many as we thought. It caters for the visitors to the lake, so there are a few restaurants selling western food and lots of ‘tour’ agents. It is clean and pretty and it was great to be out of the hectic, noisy smelly cities at last. Our little family run hotel was by the river and so peaceful. We wandered around, grabbed a bite to eat (pizza YAY) and went to bed exhausted nice and early.
The next day we met our boat guy who didn’t speak any English unfortunately. We always like to chat to the local people but this time it was not possible, and the engine on the boat was so loud we couldn’t have talked anyway.
Inle Lake is 22 kms long and 10km wide. Home to the local Intha people, who live in stilt villages, there are also pagodas, floating gardens and fisherman that propel themselves along by wrapping their leg around a pole while they push a conical shaped net down through the water the trap the fish. We watched in awe as these guys managed to stay upright balancing on one leg while waving the other leg around attached to a long pole. (see pic on top)
We saw floating gardens, unique to this area where they grow a variety of vegetables and flowers The constant availability of nutrient-laden water results in these gardens being incredibly fertile.
Our driver then took us to all the places we should see. We went through the stilt villages – I love stilt villages – they seem to have so much character. There are a few on the lake – and life continues just like it would on land.
We then visited a silvermaking factory. I had been to a silvermaking factory when we were in Java but this one was more primitive. The silver was melted over a huge pot with a set of big bellows above and tended by a young apprentice.
We saw some very beautiful silver jewellery and I bought a necklace and matching bracelet. These small industries, along with the tourism they generate keep these villages relative prosperous in comparison to some of the other places we have seen.
We also visited a lotus and silk making factory. Lotus is a very expensive commodity and even here, a lotus scarf was hundreds of dollars. Most of what they made was a mixture of silk with a small line of lotus woven through it.
We also visited a homemade cigar and cigarette factory. We had seen them in the market in Mandalay and now we saw them being made. Girls were making them and I asked them if they ever smoked. They were shocked at the thought – women are not allowed to smoke until they are 40 – well beyond child bearing age! Men are encouraged to start at 19. Not many women do start smoking at 40 but they all knew a couple who did! They had to make 800 a day. 8 hours a day, 100 an hour – no slacking then…
Next I asked the boat guy if I could see the school. He understood and took us to the school building which was all I really wanted to see, but then he parked the boat and we were invited inside. It was such good timing because they were having their school concert, and we were invited to sit at the very front and watch. We didn’t speak a word of Burmese and they didn’t speak a word of English but it was just the same as when I watched our kids in their school concerts. Mums encouraging their kids to sing up, mouthing the words to them and the pride on their faces. I loved it – could have stayed all day but time was pressing on and we had more to see. They all waved and yelled their goodbyes and we left – feeling all goosebumpy.
We left the school and headed off to see the Kayan people, known as the Long neck Ladies. On our way we were stopped by some local ladies selling from their boats. We arrived at one of the weaving houses and the ladies were there. One the verandah was a granddaughter and her grandmother. She spoke good English and explained that her grandmother started having the ring (it is one coil) put on her at the age of 9 and therefore has now got 39 rings (as one coil). The granddaughter explained that because she was 15 when she had her first ring, she only had 10 and could not have any more. She explained that the neck is not lengthened rather that the clavicle is pushed down giving the appearance of a long neck. They don’t know the origin of the tradition but now it brings in the tourist dollar they are retaining it but not for the really young kids. The Kayan people are the original Burmese people who wore rings, but many of them fled the fighting and ended up in the Thai refugee camps where they started earning the tourist dollar. Here in Inle Lake, the ladies come and weave and chat to you but they didn’t ask us for anything, unless we wanted to purchase their cloth. Either way it is a tourist earner to have rings,so I felt a bit awkward asking if I could take their photo, but the granddaughter said it was fine, they were happy to have photos taken. There were only a few of us through that day, but with the obvious interest in this area, and the tourism increasing I wonder how long it will be before they stop being so generous.
We also visited a paper-making hut, a parasol making hut and a monastery. All geared towards the tourist dollar but it made a fabulous day out.
The next day we hired bikes and explored the region around Nyaungshwe. It was easy as the roads are quite good, not too hilly and there are not that many cars. Even the dogs lie around the road to soak up the sun – because the people are Buddhist they are very kind to the dogs, and we saw bowls of food out for them everywhere. The dogs are not manky or flea ridden and everyone is good to them. They know they are not going to get driven over and that people will go round them. It was lovely to see this after having come through Indonesia. We travelled through villages and each one had their own monastery with a Buddha. Some were painted white, some had gold leaf – but they were all immaculately maintained.
We watched oxen being driven down the road, kids playing with stones, mums chatting and men paying a kind of tiddlywinks game. Everyone just waved as we went by.
We spent the last day in the town, drinking and eating and then flew down to Yangon. It was only a 1.5 hour flight in comparison to a 12 hour night bus journey – which we couldn’t face again. We spent the night in Yangon and on the Sunday flew back to Perth to see our kids. So excited – a couple of weeks at home …