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Published: April 6th 2013
The calming influence of water has been known throughout human history. Mankind appreciates the role of water in providing a fundamental necessity of human life ... indeed if we don't drink, we die. Perhaps this elementary law of nature is the catalyst for our deep yearning for water, as our collective spirit strives to be in the presence of the ultimate life giver. So if now's the time to get a little wet, there can be few better destinations than glorious Inle Lake in the Mandalay Region. There's more to visiting Myanmar than enjoying big cities, pagodas, monasteries and the famous historical architecture of Bagan, despite their clear and obvious charms. The country also provides visitors with an insight into village life on the water, as it's been lived by the people of Inle Lake for countless centuries.
But first things first, constant reader, as it's time to bring the journal up to speed. We left off in Bagan enjoying the wonderful architecture on the plains, from where I caught an early morning bus for the journey to Inle Lake. The bus pulled up right outside my guest house, and couldn't have been more convenient. There were plenty of spare
Don't shoot kids!
Water pistol shenanigans, and they got me too...
seats at the beginning of the trip, so I could stretch out luxuriously along with some other foreigners on board. An hour or so out of Bagan the bus began to fill up with locals, as you would expect, and it was a pleasant but winding seven hour drive through hilly country to Nyaung Shwe, which is the gateway to Inle Lake. It was only twenty minutes walk from the bus stop to the recommended Bright hotel, and I was grateful to dump my bags in the room after check in, and begin to relax in my new home for the next four days. It's always great arriving at a new destination and getting comfortable in your room. However, the thought in the back of the mind is that in a few days time one needs to pack everything up again and get back on the road, only for the cycle to repeat itself. However that's the constant rhythm of a traveller's life, and it doesn't pay to get too comfortable in your accommodation. Otherwise it may prove a little too difficult packing up to leave again!
I decided to take things easy on the first few days in
the hotel, and didn't book on any tours at all. I just wandered around Nyaung Shwe, and chatted to a nice pair of Australian girls at a local restaurant. Then two Europeans maniacs rocked up on their bike, and we got chatting as you do. These two young guys are really carving it up, and I found myself constantly smiling as they described their antics. One memorable tale involved climbing up the outside of a pagoda, only to find a young local clambering up behind them. One guy describes hanging on for dear life at the top when this kid climbs up, hangs on with one arm, and displays his wares with the other. "Do you want to buy a postcard?" the boy asks like it's the most natural thing in the world. These young guys are half crazy, but full of spirit and a great affection for the people of Myanmar, I just had to laugh after meeting them. To be a young man again, but I have to say I've always been too responsible to get up to some of the crazy antics these guys seemed to pull.
Anyways, part of the thrill of travel
is that you will meet all types of people on the road. It was time to get cracking after a couple of days doing a whole lot of nothing, so on the third day I hired a bike for the first time in a decade, having been assured most of the riding would be on the flat. The hotel manager proved to be telling it like it is, and I found it effortless getting around town for the day on the bike, and also very enjoyable. The main destination he recommended was five kilometres out of town, and I followed his directions on the map before arriving at Red Mountain winery and vineyard. I felt so cultured, going out to a winery with great views and sipping on a couple of fine wines for just a few dollars. The winery is up on a hilltop, and has superb views of the countryside and out to Inle Lake, and it was an excellent visit. Oh yeah, and the wines were good too! Then on the last day I booked an all day boat trip out to Inle Lake, which proved to be one of the highlights of my visit to Myanmar.
We started at 7:00am after a quick brekkie, and the boat man walked me down to the canal just five minutes from the hotel, where he gunned his boat until we opened up on to the expanses of the lake. Our first destination was a market in a remote village which took an hour to get to. He just pointed me in the direction of the trail, and told me to walk for thirty minutes. Although it was a bit disconcerting at first, with no phones, no contact details, and no idea where I was, I duly followed his instructions and my confidence began to grow as I followed the only main trail along. The countryside was gorgeous too, and I enjoyed getting a taste of village life away from other tourists and all the distractions of modern society.
Sure enough I made my way back to his boat like a homing pigeon, and we set off back down a tributary before getting back into the expanses of Inle Lake. We made our way to an impressive temple on the lake, which was heaving with locals and tourists alike. I climbed off his boat and wandered around the temple,
and it's an impressive building way out on the expanses of the lake. Then the driver took me to the floating village, and we meandered along while I madly snapped away at the locals who live their entire lives on the water. The idea of one of the locals falling out of their canoes seems so remote as to be near impossible, and the fishermen have a wonderful technique of hooking a foot around their paddle and stretching a leg into the water. This acts as a counterbalance for them as they work to haul their nets in and the like. It's a wonderful thing to behold, and they seem perfectly balanced with just the one leg on the canoe. We got back in the afternoon, and I had time to get some lunch and pack my bags before the overnight commute back to the capital.
It's a solid twelve hours on the bus from Inle Lake back to Yangon, but the trip proved to be surprisingly comfortable. I chatted with a Taiwanese guy during the breaks, the air-conditioning was working well, and the seat reclined luxuriously. I piled into a taxi at Yangon bus terminal, and it took
nearly an hour to even get out of the terminal area. Taxis were playing a game of dare using their cars as weapons, and at one stage my guy and another guy drove up to each other headlight to headlight, neither prepared to back down or give an inch. The only way we managed to break the stalemate was after a bus started up and squeezed himself further in to his parking spot. It was complete mayhem, but after clearing the terminal the cabbie gunned it to drop off his passengers at our respective destinations.
So here I am back at the MGM hotel, relaxing for a few days in the same hotel the adventure started in over a fortnight ago. As I prepare for the journey home, first I can look forward to a final few days with my friend via a stopover in Bangkok, and it's going to be fun meeting up again. Often times we don't get to see our friends nearly as often as we should, so I'm glad to have the chance to spend a bit more time with him before returning home to Sydney. I've had a wonderful journey though Southeast Asia, and
I'm taking a moment to reflect on my travels in amazing Myanmar where, basically all of you should be here now!
Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water." W.C. Fields
It's home time, so until next time I'm signing off for now
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