The bus ride from Bagan to Inle Lake went by fairly quickly despite it being a 9 hour journey and despite having the smallest leg room we have ever had. On the way I noticed a lorry passing by with men sleeping on top of it with blankets, any way is possible. Having arrived at 2:30am, an hour and a half ahead of schedule, there was only one taxi driver so we waited for our turn before we were taken to look for a hostel. A French couple and ourselves hadn’t booked in advance but luckily we only paid half price that night at Gypsy Inn. Generally we haven’t felt like we have been tried to be conned by locals here in Burma (apart from having to pay admission fees for entering Bagan and Inle Lake but it’s understandable as they are an UNESCO and preserved area, respectively). We are unsure whether it is because Burma is still not a main tourist attraction compared to the other counties surrounding it so they still haven’t got ‘annoyed’ at us.
We feel picture-perfect Inle Lake was on par with Bagan. The lake itself covers some 116 square kilometres, surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery. This region is home to the Intha ethnic group which translates to “Sons of the lake”, home to great fishermen and craftsmanship such as lotus, cotton and silks, silver jewellery, tobacco, boats, lacquerware and bamboo umbrellas. There were also hot springs which we didn’t go to as they looked very artificial and tofu production is common in one of the villages.
Having got in so late we had a lie in the next morning so we
rented bicycles for the day and cycled to the Red Mountain vineyard
and Maing Thauk village. The cycle was generally flat, quiet but dusty.
Red Mountain was only 20 minutes cycle away and here we saw
how grapes were grown, fermented and the resulting wine bottled.
I love my wine ;)
It provided panoramic views of the lake and mountains. The vineyard was surprisingly developed, using steel fermenter tanks etc when the rest of the land is so undeveloped but we learnt that they used French and German technology. We did not get the impression that Burmese were wine drinkers but here they produced six types of wines, red, white and rose.
On the way to Monsauk Village we cycled by a yellow sea of sugar canes where women were chopping down canes and tying them in batches using leaves. The men then loaded them on the Braman pulling carriages and took them away.
Sugar cane harvesting One lady kindly called us over and stripped a sugar
cane for us to eat
It was very interesting to see and learn that even boys begin to work at a very young age manning these carriages. In order to reach the village we walked along a long teak bridge over a canal. On the sides of the canal were wooden shacks on stilts which could only be reached by boat and floating gardens. Once at the end of the bridge we observed the village from afar before heading back as the sun was setting and we had a 40 minute cycle back. This was one of the most stunning natural landscapes I have seen to date, the rows of shacks separated by brilliantly green gardens with a red tinged mountainous backdrop caused by the sunset.
Beautiful landscape of Monsauk Village Stunning Monsauk Village
Nyaung Shwe had many hotels and a wide range of restaurant options, including traditional Shan food and authentic Italian cuisine, such as wood-fired pizzas. We dined at Red Star restaurant which offered lovely cheap food, such as tomato with peanut salad, a local dish. However, the town was still not developed as such, in between hotels you still had your local houses, shops and the town still felt very local.
Tourists are unable to rent any form of motorbike, not even an E-bike is available here and as all the villages in Inle Lake are actually on the riverside on stilts, the only way of visiting the lake is via a long-end, non-motorised boat. Gladly it was only $15 to rent the boat for an entire day. The French couple decided to share the boat with us so we were picked up by the riverside at 7:20am and it took around half an hour to reach the lake from the canal.
The local post office found in tne centre of Inle Lake
They are extremely able fishermen there and have an unusual fishing style; one leg is wrapped around an oar whilst standing at the top end of their fishing boat with a large cylindrical net ready to catch fish. The lake was busy with these leg rowing fishermen
One of the local fishermen displaying the signature pose A fisherman showing us his small catch of the day
These fisherman have become one of the most iconic images of Burma, even being on the cover of Lonely Planet. There was one fisherman to each boat but seaweed fishermen sometimes worked in twos. Ducks and seagulls swam close to the boat and funnily enough we passed a post office in the middle of the lake, also on stilts.
The lake was fairly shallow and you could see the plants under the clear water. Our first stop was the floating village but either the tide was too low and so this was not possible or we were not actually taken to the floating market as we were directed to market stalls on land, some which were built on stilts. We were disappointed that we didn’t get to see a floating market as this was part of the tour and we had been wanting to see one during our travels. These markets sold products such as magnets, soap holders and cutlery made from mother of pearl, puppets and lacquerware plus vegetables and meat for the locals.
Our next stop was the pagoda which was like any other we had seen so we walked up and through it quickly and then spent the rest of our time walking around the market instead.
We stopped by a lotus weaving factory in Inn Paw Khone village where we were showed the entire process from pulling the strands of fibre one by one out of the lotus stem to the scarves displayed in the shop. Each stem produced one strand of lotus fibre, the stem was cut with a knife and the fibre pulled and joined to the previous strand. This was an incredibly lengthy process just to produce one scarf. At this factory scarves were also weaved 50% lotus and 50% silk which was bought from Mandalay.
One of the scarf weavers smiling away Display of lotus and silk scarves at the shop
Bark from Mango, Jack fruit and Inle Lake trees dyed scarves an orange, green and brown colour respectively, when boiled in water for three hours. It came to our surprise how pricey these scarves were! A scarf 1.60m x 30cm required 6000 lotus stems and was priced at $260! Yes they may be able to be used in the summer and winter seasons and it takes 45 days to produce but nevertheless it seemed quite expensive for the country we were in.
Tobacco manufacturers One of the many baskets full of tobacco
After this we walked round the back of the shop on a dodgey bamboo walkway to the silver smiths hut. It was a little disappointing as they didn’t actually show us how they melted the silver which is the coolest part as I’ve previously seen this done in Northern Thailand. A local lady briefly described the process and we watched a silver smith make silver hollow spheres for a necklace. This was a fairly brief visit and we were taken for lunch after at 11:30am, quite early for us.
The long wooden boats used for tours and fishing boats are also made locally. It was quite shocking to see how men sawed each piece of wood from a big chunk of wood. A man would stand on top of the elevated chunk whilst another man stood underneath it and they each pulled a large saw towards them in turn. No safety precautions whatsoever. It takes approximately one month to build a long tail boat priced at $2500 and only five days for a fishing boat priced at $800.
Unfortunately the guide was young and didn’t speak much English so it was hard to communicate with him but we thought he would automatically take us to all the areas of Inle which were mentioned on the tour brochure. This was not the case so we explained to a local woman where we wished to visit and she translated it to our guide. He took us back to the first village where we docked by the side of the canal and were made to jump into the bushes up to the pathway.
Cigarettes were another product they produced locally and
these were made by women sat on rugs with a basket of
tobacco in front of them. One of the ladies gave us an introduction with free herbal tea whilst we watched the skilled ladies making them. There was sweet tobacco and hard tobacco and they used leaves to roll the tobacco in and another dry leaf as a filter, using sticky rice paste as glue.
Children playing football in the canal, showing how shallow it can be in certain areas
and why boats need to take care during these months
He led us to an establishment where women were sat on the wooden floors making bamboo umbrellas. They were more interested on their mobile phones than us so we just sat and observed and once we got bored we moved on next door to visit the Long Neck women weaving. To think women still continue this tradition is bizarre. There was a teenage girl working in the shop who had several gold rings round her neck and it was hard to think that in years to come she would be subjected to this elongation of the neck.
One of the Long Neck women weaving
Our last visit was to a monastery, one like no other we had visited, called the Jumping Cat Monastery. Cats walked leisurely around and lay beside locals and monks praying. They were well taken care of here.
Lady praying surrounded by monestry cats
By around 3pm we headed back to our guesthouse, passing by the floating gardens growing tomatoes which are probably not floating but seem so as they have small canals in between them. That afternoon we sat by the reception and just used the wifi until we were picked up for our bus to Mandalay at 6:30pm