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.

Bagan to Mandalay by Boat

Up the Ayeyarwady River….

The boat from Bagan to Mandalay was a 12 hour treat from start to finish. The boat left the Bagan Jetty at 5:30 just as the sun rose over the river. The mists from a morning chill rose off the water but slowly dissipated as the sun rose above the plains of Bagan and shone down on the Ayeyarwady River. (I have also seen it spelled Irrawaddy but I suspect that is the anglicized version.) The river flows south through the middle of the country and the plain that it cuts through is as flat as it gets. In places, the high mud banks look like they were sliced flat with a knife and the scrubby grass that stands straight up above the banks give the appearance of a bad brush cut. In the west the plains end at the Chin State mountains and in the east at the Shan Hills.

Life along the river is vibrant; farming, fishing or the transport of people and goods keep something on the horizon to watch and wonder about. We passed all manner of vessels from scows to other tour boats and it was delightful to see whole families fishing in the river using, poles, traps and nets. Reminded me of my fishing days when the fishermen would take their families along for company and to share the work. Of course along the way we saw plenty more gold domed pagodas, a further reminder that Myanmar is a deeply Buddhist country. The settlements along the river were haphazard collections of tents and shacks where the fishermen and their families live during the dry season but relocate for the rainy season. Right now it’s “winter” in Myanmar, meaning that the temperatures plummet to the mid 20’s at night and in the morning.

On board the RV Panorama, part of the Alliance Cruise Group, there were about 32 passengers, most of them a tour group from Taiwan and the rest were Europeans except for me the lone Canadian. A woman from Slovenia told me she didn’t think Canadian’s travelled much. At first people snoozed below deck and I was lucky enough to have three seats to myself which made for a great bunk. After a nap I followed the lead of other passengers and went topside for breakfast and then out onto some really comfortable deck chairs on the stern.

The young men who were our stewards on the boat gave us a demonstration on the art of wearing the “longyi”. With a few deft twists and turns of fabric they created, hats, shorts, jackets, slings, back packs, carrying pouches and even an elephant. Then they demonstrated the use of “thanaka” a paste made from ground bark which the Myanmar wear on their faces as both a sun block and a skin cream. They even have some fancy designs that they create after the swirl of paste dries a bit and one of the Taiwanese passengers was eager to be a model.

Twelve hours evaporated and before I knew it we were approaching the mythical city of Mandalay, made famous in Kipling’s poem. Of course it bears little or no resemblance to the romantic version set out in the poem but it was impressive as we approached our dock.

There are other ways to get from Bagan to Mandalay but in my mind the 35 USD fare that included breakfast and lunch was the only way to go.