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Published: April 9th 2015
We headed to Inle earlier than expected, figuring we would do the hike I mentioned in the previous blog and fit in a little biking, which we did on our first afternoon in town. We headed south out of town, along the eastern side of the lake. It was a fairly flat bike ride, and the weather is a little cooler on the plateau than on the plains of Mandalay making it very comfortable -- at least until Darren and Katie decided they wanted to head directly up a hill to a pagoda above Maing Thauk. I was none too pleased with this plan, which I shared with them in the most delicate of terms, but I conceeded to the groups desires. Despite some painful cramps (at the time I was still battling some dehydration issues) we made it to the top. The views were a little hindered by the perpetual haze but the stupa was quite picturesque nonetheless.
We began the bike back towards town when we decided to stop by an establishment advertising "Cold Cocktails." Inle Heart View was an amazing restaurant / bar and I would highly recommend it to anyone heading to the area. It is
offset from the road by a small dirt path slightly uphill giving it a remote feel and a beautiful view over the lake. We had the coldest beers I've had in Myanmar which was incredibly refreshing and Katie had a nice shmancy cocktail. The owner also brought out a delicious tomato salad similar to an asian bruschetta. While we weren't able to follow through on our intentions to return later in the week, I'd highly recommend making it to Inle Heart View if you are in the area.
Afterwards we got on our bikes to take in the sunset at a winery just outside of town. This I would not recommend. While it was a pretty sunset and there is a novelty to drinking at a vineyard in the middle of Myanmar, if I was given a blind taste test of their product, I would not have guessed it was wine. It was awful. I only paid $2 so it wasn't that much of a disappointment.
The next day that we were in Inle (we split our Inle stay with the Pindaya hike) we did the boat trip the lake is famous for. Immediately upon entering the lake
from the channel we were met by one of "fishermen" we had been warned about. The lake has become so famous for the fishermen who row with one leg, while tossing nets with both hands and balancing on tiny carved out canoes on the other leg, that many of the fishermen have stopped actually fishing and instead just pose for pictures and ask for money. Having previously been warned we bypassed this and took some photos of actual fisherman while on our way to one Nampan, the site of that day's market. While the fishermen are picturesque, it does feel a bit intrusive taking photos of them going about their daily life. It's as if a group of Chinese tourists took a Radio Flyer wagon through your cubicles at work snapping photos.
The market we went to was a cornicopia of ethnic groups. Villagers from outlying communities descend upon the lake area for markets that rotate on a 5 day schedule around the lake. The vendors come from all the varying ethnicities in the surrouding communities and many wear their traditional clothing which allows you to see the wide variety of individuals in a concentrated area. One can find
anything from vegetables to electronics, clothing to building materials. And, of course you can find a lot of tourists and the requisite souvenir hawkers that go with any crowd of tourists. We ventured around scoping the place out and did some fantastic people watching. We also stumbled across an amazing fried treat while we walked around the food stalls. It was a fried doughnut / churro like sweet and it was 10 cents of absolute deliciousness.
Afterwards we stopped at some workshops In Phaw Khone. The entire village is composed of buildings on large stilts over the lake. There is very little actual land even in the middle of the dry season. People commute and absolutely depend on their boats and are master boat drivers. Just how well they could navigate and come within inches of each other while passing by at full speed was incredible. We stopped at a weaving workshop which was somewhat amusing, and after a quick stop at a metal working shop we decided we had enough. It was time we stopped for a bite to eat and a few beers. What astounded me most though about our meal was the fact that we were
in the middle of a lake, on a stilt house, in the middle of what felt like rural Myanmar, and our server walked up and gave us the wifi password. W.T.F. They had wifi!?! We just got it at my cottage in northern Wisconsin, and here we are on a stilt house in the middle of the lake in a developing country and they just hand it out as if it's acid at a Grateful Dead show.
From lunch we ventured to Inthein, which is home to multiple groups of pagoda in varying states of disrepair. The oldest of the group date from the 1600s but many are newer or recently reconstructed. It was a wonderful place to get lost in amongst the ruins. However, the heat had picked up and we were growing tired from an entire day on the water so we opted to cut our trip short and head home. On the way back we ventured through some floating gardens from the confines of our boat. We went up and down the rows of vegetables floating in the lake as the farmers tended to them from smaller boats.
Walking back into town that night Lawless
passed by us in a taxi on his way to the hotel. He was quite happy to see some familiar faces after having a rough trip to Myanmar to that point. Having to suffer through some food poisoning en route from Dubai to Bangkok, he managed to make the rest of the journey from Bangkok to Yangon and Yangon to Inle. After some quick catching up and a little of logistics, he crashed early. We weren't far behind as the next day we got up early for a long boat ride to Samkar. It is a 3 hour trip through the main lake and into a smaller winding river that weaves through the plains. You are able to observe smaller villages, again many of them on stilts, as you pass through the countryside. It is amazing how much more remote the area is, and how differently the locals react to you. On the main lake most simply ignore you while en route to Samkar they wave readily and the children lose their minds waving. As you can see in the photos, most of the kids are really interested in the foreigners and are very engaging. Two girls in the village
where we had lunch that day were venturing around the restaurant, picking tiny flowers, and handing them out to tourists as they came to eat. They weren't doing it for tips, they did it simply because they were interested in the foreigners and wanted to be nice.
Once in Samkar we made a stop at Tharkong Pagoda which is home to several stupas that are over 500 years old and many others that are significantly more recent. Our next stop was the Samkar monastery which houses some very old Buddha statues. More enjoyable though were the monks who were extremely engaging and excited to use their English with some Americans. We spoke with one monk for quite a while as he explained the history of the area and its current state. It is home to 5 monks and 15 novices, many of whom were peering at us from afar and a few adventurous ones snuck up to take photos.
We made a longer stop for lunch, getting in a few games of euchre and a few beers for good measure. Then we headed back to Inle, met up with Lawless's friend Nomi from DC and made plans for
the next few days and decided to head out the next day for Bagan. Inle gets a bit of a bad rep for being one of the larger tourist traps in Myanmar. I can understand why and it will be interesting to see how it develops in the next few years. But it is easy to find unique opportunities and to avoid the crowds. It is an absolutely lovely area and was a fantastic time.
(One more quick aside. I need to make sure I put in a plug for the hotel we stayed at: Zawgi Inn. The owner was amazingly helpful. He helped us set up all of the activities, including the Pindaya hike. When I accidentally left Katie's phome on the counter after we left town he even chased us down on his moped and returned it. The rooms were immaculate, the grounds were a large lush garden, and it was fantastically relaxing. All for $10 a night...)
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