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Published: September 16th 2017
The fishermen who row with their legs. The cynic in me thinks that these were staged.
Getting to Inle
I asked Win Aung to drive me to Mandalay Airport to catch my flight to Heho, the closest airport to Inle Lake. I told him that my flight was at 10am and he said he would pick me up at 8.30am. I trusted he knew what he was doing, so I happily hopped into his car when he showed up the next morning. I did not realize how far out of town Mandalay Airport was. After 35 minutes in the car - one hour to departure - there was still no sign of the airport. I hadn't even spotted any directional signs. I grew concerned and I asked him how much longer it was to the airport. He said 20 minutes. Yikes. That would get me there 35 minutes before departure. It then occurred to me that Win Aung may not have flown before, so he may not understand the check-in and security screening process. Sensing my tension, he sped up and deposited me at the airport at 9.20am. Lesson learned: next time ask how long it will take to get to the airport.
As it turned out, I was the last passenger to check
in. I was surprised that check in at Mandalay Airport was not computerized; I was handed a handwritten boarding pass and baggage tags were pre-printed. As soon as I got to the gate, boarding was announced and the flight departed 15 minutes early. The flight itself took only 30 minutes. The bus from Mandalay to Nyaung Shwe, in contrast, would have taken 7-8 hours. With multiple airlines flooding the Myanmar domestic market, airfares are reasonable. I paid US$60 for this one way ticket.
At Heho Airport, the ride I booked with Ostello Bello was already waiting for me. The drive took 45 minutes through beautiful countryside. At 11.15am, I arrived at Ostello Bello. It was so wonderful to have good wifi again (the wifi networks at the last two places I stayed got overloaded easily). I opted to stay in the common area until check in at 2pm. I caught up on online stuff and published my Mandalay blog. After checking in, I wandered around town and then settled in for some Netflix.
Finding My Posse
I chose to stay at Ostello Bello because I enjoyed the social interaction at their hostel in Bagan. Unlike at Bagan, I
With My New Friends
Walking to the natural swimming pool.
opted for a private room so that I could get some decent sleep. When happy hour rolled in at 5pm, I made my way to the rooftop area and saw a familiar face - Michael from France. I hung out with him, made some new friends, and drank way too much. Ostello Bello offered a barbecue that evening and so we stayed on the rooftop. Michael's English got more and more indecipherable the more he drank! As it turned out, I would end up spending a lot of time with Francophones this trip. More on that later.
The Handicraft Shop Tour
Ostello Bello makes it very easy to sightsee. They put up signup sheets in the common area for the various tours. They each cost a set amount per boat, divided by however many people (maximum five) go on each boat. Only two tours that morning had signups. One was a 10 hour trip, which I didn't fancy as it was too long, and the other was a 5-6 hour tour of lake highlights, including handicrafts making. I reluctantly signed up for that one.
There were seven people on this tour, and so we were split into
Phaung Daw U Pagoda
These misshapen blobs - made even more misshapen by all the gold leaf tacked on them - were the central focus of this temple.
two boats. I shared a boat with two Norwegians who were closer to my demographic, and the other boat had four young Spanish speakers from various countries. We visited some interesting sights on this tour, including Phaung Daw U Pagoda and Nga Phe Chaung Monastery. Phaung Daw U was an interesting temple. Its centerpiece wasn't a Buddha statue but some misshapen blobs made uneven with gold leaf. I couldn't figure out if these had once been small Buddha statues that had become misshapen due to all the gold leaf tacked onto them, or if they were in the process of being shaped into Buddha statues. Or maybe they were just intended to be blobs. The monastery was unique too. It was made of teak and each statue was housed in its own teak house. The other highlights were floating farms, which mostly seemed to cultivate tomatoes, and the fishermen of Inle Lake who steered with their legs. The latter looked staged to me. I also enjoyed getting glimpses into life on the lake when we went through the lake villages. Best sight we saw was a school.
The many stops to view handicraft did get tiresome though. We saw
Long Necked Woman
I can't remember which ethnic group there are from. They were at a weaving shop and it felt too much like a human zoo. I wasn't comfortable with this but I still took a picture.
silversmithing, umbrella making, weaving of silk, cotton, and lotus thread, and cigar making. Some stops were interesting, especially the making of silver artifacts and extracting thread out of lotus stems. There were also women with neck rings at one stop. We learned that they start wearing these rings at age fourteen. A couple of the women were young and spoke English, but I was a little uncomfortable because it seemed like a human zoo.
The souvenir shops weren't my cup of tea. Unfortunately for the Norwegians and I, the people in the other boat shopped a lot, and we ended up waiting for them at every stop. The final straw came at our lunch stop when we sat down to eat and they went souvenir shopping. When we finished our lunch, they sauntered in and sat down. Ugh. We asked the two boat drivers to split, and they agreed.
Back at Ostello Bello, I hung out with a different set of people - two French guys, a German and three Swiss - had a blast, and again, drank too much.
Making the Most of a Rainy Day
I planned to hire a bicycle and cycle around
School kids on their way home.
on my second and last full day at Inle. However, I woke up to dark clouds, and the skies opened up around 7am. I moped around, watched Netflix, and waited for the rain to clear. Around noon, I made my way downstairs and came across a trio of French speakers - one each from France, Switzerland, and Canada. I had met each of them earlier. They invited me to join them for lunch at a Thai restaurant. After lunch, they invited me to join them to visit a teak bridge and a natural pool. After a quick post-lunch siesta, we found a taxi (it was actually a carriage drawn by a motorcycle) and made our way to the northeastern shore of the lake. Along the way, the skies opened up again, but luckily our destinations that afternoon weren't rained out when we got to them.
The first stop was a 500 meter long teak bridge. We happened to be there when school was out. It looked as if these kids went to school in the towns along the lake, and those who lived on the lake came to this bridge to get home by boat. Anyway, we were swarmed
At the bridge, the boarded boats to go home.
by kids in their school uniforms walking past us, and we enjoyed watching them get into boats to go home.
The second stop was a natural pool. To get there, we hiked about 20 minutes on a dirt track. The pool was amazing! Fed by springs, the water was crystal clear and cool. Unfortunately, there were hundreds of mosquitoes. We all submerged as much as we could. I ended up wrapping my t-shirt around my face to keep from getting stung. Barriers broke down when our driver joined us in the pool and played with us. This was a great find.
Our last and unplanned stop of the day was the Red Mountain Winery. I hadn't been there but the others had already visited. Our driver seemed willing to go even though we had exceeded our planned two hour tour, so we all agreed to go. It isn't difficult to persuade Francophones to make a pit stop for cheese and wine.
Red Mountain Winery is one of these wonderfully random things you sometimes find during your travels. I mean, who expects to find a winery in Myanmar? We got up there in time for a spectacular sunset,
Natural Swimming Pool
Look how clear the water is.
and we ordered a bottle of sauvignon blanc and a couple of cheese plates. The wine was decent, as was the cheese. We also bumped into Ewan - a British guy I kept bumping into in Bagan and Mandalay - and he joined us for his second tasting. The mosquito situation at the winery was quite bad, though.
Our driver was a really great guy. He watched over us, loaned one girl his flip flops (he walked barefoot). He didn't complain when we exceeded by far the two hours we initially agreed to. He stopped to pick up two tourists who appeared stranded, and while we were at the winery he drove them back to Nyaung Shwe and then came back to get us. He declined payment from Ewan, and we suspect he declined payment from the other two tourists because we had chartered his vehicle. We gave him a big tip at the end. He later saw two of our party and he bought them snacks.
After arriving back at Ostello Bello, we trooped out for dinner (Michael joined us), and we explored the night market while looking for food. After that, it was yet more drinks
and conversation at the hostel rooftop.
Inle Lake was a fun stop for me. I am now at Heho Airport and I am heading north again because I failed to plan properly. I'll tell you more in my next entry.
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