Solo Travel Inle Lake….More Myanmar

The beautiful countryside…

Inle Lake

So so glad I made the decision to spend some time in his incredibly beautiful part of the world. To get to the lake I flew from Mandalay to Heho, and then by taxi to Nyuangshwe, the town where you can access boat trips to the lake. On the flight I realized that not all of Myanmar was flat like the Bagan Plains.

About an hours dive from the airport to Nyuangshwe, the views are are great. The nicely paved highway twists and turns its way up and then down the hills into The Inle Lake Valley.

I stayed at the Hotel Emperor Inle Lake, my favourite hotel thus far. Rock star service, free breakfasts and very helpful staff who helped me make arrangements to tour the lake with a fisherman. 

First day was a day of wandering the little town, pleasant enough with a lovely canal walk, some Wats and the usual shops and services.

The area around Inle Lake is mainly agricultural land including sugar cane which is set fire to after the harvest and so there is a low lying smoke that settles over the town and the lake. At first I thought it was a mist but later realized it wasn’t quite so innocuous. Like Bagan, hot air ballooning is popular but oh so expensive.

The next morning I was fetched at the Emperor by the fisherman who walked me a short distance to the canal where his longboat sat waiting. He wiped the morning dew off one of the two seats, retrieved a cushion from a plastic bag, gave me a bottle of water and we were on our way. It felt like the queens day out. 

The narrow canal leading to the lake buzzed with the diesel engines on the long tailed boats, coughing black smoke when started by a hand turned wheel. The churning waters were busy with people getting to and from work, home, school or whatever else occupied their days. 

I had only hoped to see the Inle Lake long boat fisherman and it was my lucky day. These fellows perform the outstanding feat of paddling with one leg while using both hands for traps or nets and all the while balancing precariously on the narrow lip of the bow on the remainng leg. Like a dance they plunge their traps into the lake and pull them back to the surface as smoothly as ballet. Wow what a sight. 

Turns out the boat tour with my fisherman, included stops at various arts and crafts cooperatives, where we would tie up to the docks in front of them. The cooperatives were in the hear today the communities entirely built on stilts including In Paw Khone, Nam Pan, Phangan Daw O Pagoda, Shwedagon in Dein Pagoda, Ywama Floating Market, and Nga Phe Kyaung Monastary, (difficult pronunciations for my English toungue). Hovering above the lake were schools, hospitals, temples, pagodas etc. In rustic buildings were mechanics, builders, boat makers, weavers etc., all busy at their trades, everyone moving about in longboats. 

The weaving cooperatives were fascinating and the women used foot to pedal and back strap looms to make beautiful things in traditional colours and designs. I didn’t know that the lotus plant could be used to make a thread and we had passed huge nurseries of them on the way to the villages. I took a picture of a woman cutting the stems to reveal a long, fine, white thread which was then combined with other threads and spun into a larger thread used in weaving along with cotton and silk.

The tour lasted about seven hours, would have been longer but I declined the last stop where the women wear gold bands around their necks. I had read that they were often exploited by the tour guides and I did not want to contribute.

Back in Nyuangshwe I wandered the streets for awhile watching the hardworking people go about their business when suddenly there did appear a sign for dhosas, straight out of southern Indian cuisine! Hanit and Kunal who introduced me to dhosas would have been proud of my lack of hesitation. Sadly however these delicious pancakes were off the menu temporarily…plan b…samosas. 

Inle Lake is a beautiful place and has a quiet peaceful felling to it but it is close to some of the “trouble spots” in Myanmar and there is no doubt that the people have suffered at the hands of the political turmoil that has plagued Myanmar. I thought it was the most lovely of places and was so glad I went. A short flight and I was in Yangon, boarding a connecting flight to Bangkok, which in turn connected with a flight to Chaing Mai in northern Thailand.

Mandalay, Myanmar

Where the catfish play…

Mandalay

Getting off the boat in Mandalay was a mad rush of taxis and Tuk Tuks vying for our business. Of course you have to bargain and I managed to get the price down from 10000 kyats to 8000. I established that this was the normal price through a series of hand signals with a fellow passenger as he was whisked away into the crowd. At this time that is worth about $8 cad. This scrum of who will carry who and for how much is always invigorating and riding in a Tuk Tuk is a much more in the now experience that being shut up in an air conditioned taxi.

My hotel, The Royal Pearl, in Mandalay was very close to the palace grounds but based on the hallways I had a bit of a gulp when I first arrived, but it turned out my room itself was quite lovely. It was well located and walking distance to the main sights. Not the prettiest city, Mandalay for a couple of days might be sufficient unless you are able to get out into the countryside. Glad though, to have some time to walk and stretch my legs after the boat trip, I left Royal Pearl after breakfast and headed to the palace, the grounds of which are huge and surrounded by a moat. Foreigners can only enter from the east gate for 10000 kyats so it was a long lovely stroll along the broad sidewalk that skirted the moat around the palace.

But as chance would dictate my direct beeline took an interesting turn when a young guide talked me into a full day tour outside of Mandalay, across the Ayeyarwady to visit Sagaing (temples)and then return via a country market which he assured me far surpassed the beauty and grandeur of the palace and the pagodas in Mandalay. Turns out the tour was on the back of his motorbike. A little wobbly getting on the first time he said to me “Mother you are very strong”to which I replied “yes and you may call me grandmother” trying to muster all the esteemed treatment possible given my undignified lunge on to the bike. 

He was right and the tour was great and took me up into the hills that we had passed on the boat, great vistas and amazing pagodas (yes more pagodas) we spent the day whizzing up and down the hills in the fresher country air. Turns out my guide knew just enough English to talk me into the tour and not much more. At the top of Sagain Hill, which is dotted with white and gold pagodas, is the Soon U Ponya Shin Paya and the Unmin Thounzeh temples.

My guide offered me the opportunity to have an authentic Myanmar meal at a road cafe. They served a meat dish of your choice along with rice and then lifted a bug screen from an array of a dozen or more small dishes, condiments, vegetables, pickles, sauces etc. Myanmar excels in fresh veg dishes; green beans, cauliflower, squashes of all kinds, etc. There is a subtle spicing not as hot as Thailand but slightly above Cambodia. I paid “our” bill and out of the corner of my eye I saw the owner give my guide a kickback, can’t complain as the total for both of us was less than 5.00 Cad.

After tootling around the Mandalay hills for five or so hours we crossed back over the Ayeyarwady River to visit a pier/market (think Granville Island) for a short stop. By now I was mounting and dismounting like a pro and wasn’t nearly pulling my little guide over to the pavement each time.

How motorcyclists weave in and out among the traffic, traveling together like a school of fish, always close but never touching, is beyond me. The only rule seems to be if there’s a space…fill it. All in all it was an interesting and exhilarating day and my butt was glad to see the east gate foreigner entrance to the royal palace of Mandalay. 

It is a very long walk from the gate to the actual palace grounds and along the way there are army barracks for soldiers and their families. Other than that the grounds are pretty and a nice place to walk. The palace itself is rather minimalist when compared to others, like the one in Bangkok, but it’s simplicity leaves a lot to the imagination. There are a few structures that would have been reserved for the royal family and clustered around them were panabodes that would have been reserved for the retinue that served them.

Too late to climb Mandalay hill for the sunset, which apparently is the Mandalay thing to do, I returned to my hotel and caught the last of it from the rooftop restaurant of the Royal Pearl. Tomorrow an early flight to Heho, gateway to Inle Lake.