Yesterday was not the best of days. Woke with a stomach bug which persistently affected me all day…and it was a travel day, so it was all incredibly attractive and pleasant for everyone! Had a couple of unfortunate incidences – one involving the only paper bag on the plane that WASN’T lined with plastic! And it wasn’t an ‘easy’ travel day either. The tedious part of the day involved 2 planes, and a 45 min van ride, but the adventurous fun part was a 45 min 4 seater longboat ride in the dusk/night, with only the moon to guide us – simply gorgeous!
Our arrival at our Lake Inle accommodation, Amazing Paramount Inle Resort, was so mysterious and romantic in the dark, truly quite magical. The resort is actually on an island in the middle of the lake and our rooms are on stilts that sway ever so slightly when you move around them. But all that was on anyone’s minds when we threw ourselves into our little hovercraft bedrooms, was a good night’s sleep!
We woke to the awful news of a plane crash at Heho airport (where we had landed yesterday and will fly out of tomorrow). It was an Air Bagan flight (I think they only had 2 planes in their fleet!), and we are not flying with them for any of our travels! Lucky us, but not so lucky for the 2 deceased, one of which was a motorbike rider on the road where the pilot successfully made an emergency landing. Apparently Air Bagan have the worst safety record in Myanmar – no surprises there!
Today we had a very relaxing tour of the lake and were completely captivated and fascinated by the way of life on the water. Inle Lake is the second largest lake in Myanmar with a surface area of approximately 116km2 (although it really is hard to see where the water stops and the land begins!). The area where we visited is the home of the Intha tribe, living in their stilt houses and tending their floating gardens.
Our tour began with a gentle and relaxing putter through a section of the floating gardens, which stood proudly in neat rows, divided by water, where planting, tending and harvesting are all done from a boat. The crop of distinction here is the Inle tomato, and they are shipped to all parts of Myanmar…and being connossieurs of the tomato, we found them to be a tasty product, indeed!
From there, the segue was very smooth into the floating village and the fishing village – all connected as one intricate community. The wondrous thing skimming through these still waters, was seeing how these people cope with virtually no land. Popping next door to a neighbour’s house involves jumping into a hand made boat and rowing across the sometimes only 2 feet deep stretch for a cup of tea. The kids propel themselves to school in their wooden shuttles. No one is afraid of the water, all have impeccable balance and skill at manoeuvring their craft. Of course, there are still the fast moving, lairising options with motors, but they lack the poetry and form of the others!
This is the home of the leg-rowers of Inle, and their skill really is something to behold. Not one tight hip-flexor among them! It is traditionally the men who learn this skill, but we did notice one or two young women, masterful in the leg-rowing department. One more tiny step forward for the women of Myanmar in breaking the gender barriers!
We were taken to a lotus and silk weaving factory/workshop and store in the village of Inn Paw Khon. While these stilt houses all appear to be the one village, they are in fact separate. Lotus material was a bit of a revelation to us – very like linen, but more silky, and made from the fibres of the lotus flower stalk. As much as we were smitten with the woven material, a simple scarf cost $105 USD, so we refrained – would’ve LOVED a tablecloth in lotus, though!
The blacksmith shop was next on the excursion list, and it was quite gripping watching them work, especially when 3 young guys were all pounding the hell out of one piece of metal blade with speed and precision, no hesitation, no slip ups – kind of like the gangs pounding the rivets when laying the railway tracks once upon a time. As impressive as their work was, I doubt the Australian customs officers would be impressed with us trying to bring home a handmade machete! Do you think if I mentioned they were really just recycled car suspension springs, that would help…?
The boat making shop was next in the village of Nam Pan – even less buying pressure there (a 10 metre long boat just isn’t going squeeze into the ‘oversize baggage’ category!). Although, there was still some pressure from the women and kids on the approach to the shop to sell the usual knick-knacks and souvenirs that all entrepreneurs of this type try and entice you with…or in some cases try to force on you! In the workshop itself, once again we witnessed true craftsmanship, handed down each generation with boys at their fathers’ elbows almost as soon as they can walk. This is also the village that makes the cheroots that so many locals smoke. The process of making these ‘smokes’ is a hand made one – the young girls with nimble fingers sitting for hours, rolling the tobacco between a ‘stick’ that is the core of the cheroot and the outer leaf.
Our next stop was at a much busier section of ‘town’ – the Temple with the Five Buddhas (Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda). The goal of many Buddhists in the Shan State is to make a pilgrimage to this temple, and it truly is a beautiful one – the unique statues shimmering from the gold leaf donation of the devotees. The docking area of this pagoda was particularly crowded, with boats jostling to drop off and pick up their passengers, albeit politely. Would hate to see the crowds during festival time!
The silversmith village and workshop was a relatively sophisticated set up, taking us the through the step-by-step process of transforming a chunk of silver into the many, many shiny items for sale in the glass cabinet filled showroom. Of course, there were also many women waiting for us outside in their own boats, bobbing towards us as we were getting into ours, trying to sell their version of what was on display in the shop for a much cheaper price – ‘same, same,’ we were assured.
At one of our stops along the way at a general tourist shop (carvings, weaving, the usual), we saw some of the Padaung women with the brass rings around their necks. According to some travel sites, they also live in the Inle area, but our guide said that they are actually from a different state where tourists need a special permit to visit (it’s unsafe), and they are encouraged by the money they can make from tourism, to move and work in the shops on Lake Inle. To be honest, we did feel a little odd and rather uncomfortable when our guide was encouraging us to take pictures as he was lining them up along a wall. I think it would be better to buy the weaving products made by the women, rather than encourage the ‘long-necked women’ photo-op. Especially as some guide books are saying the tradition was becoming less popular with girls, but now with tourism on the increase, it’s a way of them making money for their families.
On that bit of a down note, we headed to the Indein Temple complex on the western side of the lake. There we saw 300 year old stupas, about 50 of them. The people have only recently rescued these baby edifices (an oximoron, I know) from nature, but are of differing opinions as to what to do now that the plants have been removed. Some of them are being faithfully, historically restored to the state in which they were found, using original techniques and materials (which prevents further deterioration), while others have been completely renovated and made to look as new, including their cement render and white and gold paint. I think it’s nice to have both for all to see.
Behind these stupas was a little bamboo forest, which was a tad underwhelming – it was really just a path along a tributary with some clumps of bamboo around. Not quite the magnificent ‘forest’ I had in my imagination (which was fuelled by others we had visited in botanical gardens in various parts of the world).
Our final visit of the day was to a forest of a different kind – oodles of 400 year old stupas…1,054 of them, to be precise. A similar story was told here: they were in various states of collapse, restoration and renovation. But no matter which state they were in, they were still wonderful and interesting.
Our travel agent on this trip was Kyaw Khaing at One Stop Myanmar. He handled all of our internal flights, transfers and tours. We were very impressed with his efficiency, helpfulness, excellent advice, friendliness and price!
Just glorious! I just had to share this beautiful blog Nic. Let me know if thats not ok 🙂
Of COURSE that’s ok!! That’s what we are hoping people will do. There are still many more posts to come from this trip, so stay tuned (you might want to register for email notifications when there is an update – up towards the top of the page).