Edit Blog Post
Published: December 21st 2009
Leg rowers on Inle Lake.
A group of monks here in Inle Lake had a bit of time on their hands and a group of smarter-than-average cats in their monastery. All the fun started when the cats began to jump up on the monks' laps while they were meditating - and then through their clasped hands. The monks realized the cats' acrobatic potential and taught them to jump through little hoops for treats. Now it's a major tourist attraction.
The real name of the monastery is Nga Hpe Kyaung. It's a stunning teak wood building that sits on stilts right in the lake. We were a bit disappointed that the monks weren't actually putting on the show today. Instead, one of the ladies who helps to take care of the monastery was in charge, with a monk observing from a chair in the background. She shook a little container of kitty treats and a few of the 20 or so cats came running. She'd tap a cat on the nose with a little hoop, position it several feet about the cat's head, give a command and WHOOSH! - the kitty flew through the hoop. For anyone who's ever had a pet cat, you'll understand just
Collecting kelp for use in the floating gardens.
what an amazing feat this is. To Angelique's delight, the cats are pretty affectionate even when treats aren't involved and one of them ended up in her lap for a while. We made a donation to the monastery, a portion of which goes to fund the cats' food and treats.
After saying goodbye to our acrobatic friends, we cruised over to one of the floating markets. Like the land-based ones, there is a rotational market on the lake and today it was being held on the island of Ywama. Sanda had our boatman pull up at the back entrance to avoid the trinket boats (vendors who row up alongside the tourist boats and try a hard sell with various trinkets). We saw the hawkers in action on the other side of the island and were glad to have escaped.
The market was a bit disappointing. About half of the vendors were selling fruits and vegetables to locals; the other half were selling touristy items (jewelry, Buddha statues, scarves, T-shirts, etc). We broke one of our travel rules today and bought a few popular local snacks: one made from pop corn and held together by caramel (kind of like
Angelique and one of the cats at the "Cat Monastery"
cracker jacks meet rice krispy treats) and a sticky rice type of treat covered in powered sugar. We typically avoid eating anything from street stalls (a strategy which has worked pretty well so far) but it seemed unlikely that the sweets were harboring e. coli or other GI-tract nasties. The sweets were pretty tasty and no ill effects so far.
Our favorite part of today was visiting a silver-smithing village. Just like the fishing villages, this entire village is dedicated to one industry: silver-smithing. We motored past house after house that had little signs out advertising their silver businesses. Who would have thought that we'd find all of these silver crafters on a lake?
We stopped at one house and Sanda walked us through the rooms where an extended family was at work. It's incredible to think about how much time and effort goes into a single piece since all the work is done by hand. We bought a few small pieces at the shop including a very, very cool "Inle Fish" - each scale is a separate piece of silver all connnected together with a silver "backbone". The result is that the fish is very flexible and
Ok.....jump through the hoop?
moves in a graceful swimming motion.
Sanda offered to take us to see some Paduang women at a nearby house. We declined. In the Paduang tribe, the women have traditionally worn a stack of heavy bronze rings around their necks. The weight of these heavy rings causes deformities of their collarbones and elongates their necks by many inches. Eventually they can't even hold their heads up without the rings. The wearing of neck rings is no longer done for traditional reasons. These days neck ring wearing is solely a tourist attraction, and the women are sort of a carnival freak show. The women are essentially held captive by the men in their village and forced to wear the neck rings for the tourists. The exploitation of Paduang women occurs here in Inle and just over the border in Thailand and has been condemned by the United Nations.
The trip back to the main town at the north end of the lake took about 45 minutes. The sun was shining, the air was crisp and the scenery - the lake, the mountains, the floating gardens, etc. - was breathtaking. We passed many locals in their boats - fishing, transporting
cargo to other parts of the lake, pulling up seaweed from the bottom of the lake to be used for fertilizer in the floating gardens.
The Intha people have a very distinctive way of rowing that's only found here. Standing, they wrap their lower leg around their paddle and use it to propel the boat foward. The leg rowing looks tough!
We had lunch in the main town and then drove on to the airport for our 1.5 hour flight back to Yangon. Tonight is our last night in Burma.
Our flight was uneventful (although wine lovers should note that there is a wine bar at the otherwise bare bones Heho airport!). We arrived in Yangon just after sunset, at 5:45pm, and caught a cab to our hotel, the ParkRoyal. It's a very large hotel (about 300 rooms) and is well-located, just over a bridge at the north end of the downtown area.
After unpacking a bit, we took a cab down to Monsoon for our farewell Burma dinner. We opted for cocktails: Angelique had an excellent lemongrass martini (do try it if you ever have the chance) and Adrian had a Manhattan. We spent the
The floating market
evening talking over our trip. We wished we'd allocated more time to Burma and hope to return some day. There are two other main tourist areas that we didn't fit in: the beaches a few hours west of Yangon (sadly, this area was hard hit by Cyclone Nargis last year) and Mt. Kyaiktiyo, an enormous gold boulder perched high upon a cliff and one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites in Burma. Most of the other areas of Burma are either highly restricted or completely off-limits to tourists.
We also hope to someday explore two areas that are tightly controlled by government agencies:
- The southern beaches on the long strip of land bordering Thailand to the east and the Andaman Sea to the west. Access is tightly controlled because of the pearl industry but the beaches are supposed to be equal to (or possibly even more beautiful than) their Thai cousins.
- The far northern part of the country in the Himalayas. The town of Putao is evidently a great place to base for magnificent mountain trekking and visiting hilltribes.
Burma has been, by far, one of the most surprising and wonderful parts of our trip. We
Our wonderful bungalow at the Inle Resort.
hope that the Nats are right and that positive changes are in store for the wonderful Burmese people.
Tot: 2.733s; Tpl: 0.078s; cc: 13; qc: 32; dbt: 0.0522s; 2; m:saturn w:www (220.127.116.11); sld: 3;
; mem: 1.3mb