December 8, 2014

inle lake

sunrise on inle lake
just wow, my expectations weren't really high but the lake is incredibly beautiful and quiet.  perhaps just the quiet is what is so shocking in the country filled with chaos.  i ended up staying in the same place as the swiss guys and shared an afternoon boat tour of the lake with them.

they were read up enough to tell the boat driver which spots they wanted to hit.  i ran into the swiss girls from the yangon - bagan train and we make plans to meet up for dinner.  we ended the tour parked on a floating pile of plants and watched the sunset from the middle of the lake.

being on the water felt fantastic and the swiss girls and i book a boat to go back out for a sunrise.  it's just magical and there isn't another boat around.  the guest house i stayed at packed breakfast for me so we shared that out and headed to the south side of the lake to the local market which moves between five locations on the lake.

we were the only foreigners around and the market wasn't so impressive so i even wondered if we hadn't explained which market we wanted to go to.  near the market is the Hpaung Daw U Pagoda.  the pagoda houses images of Buddha that have been covered in gold leaf to the point that their original forms can't be seen.  although the monastery is open to all for veneration, only men are permitted to place gold leaf on the images.  that's why in this photo the women can only sit and watch and pray.

as we headed back out to the middle of the lake in the boat i realized why we were the only ones at the market.  boat after boat after boat filled with tourists were headed in as we headed out.  perfect timing!  

i didn't enjoy the monastery where only men can put gold on the buddhas but was surprised after a hike up to Indein to find an amazing complex of pagoda and memorials.  it was worth running the gauntlet of vendors selling junk that line the temple grounds.

in Nyaung Shwe there is a place called the French Touch and they run documentaries about Burma in the evenings.  

the third day i rented a bike [they had good off road bikes] and did a tour around part of the lake taking the ferry across to the winery.  yep, i found the one place in SE Asia where there is a winery.  it's called Red Mountain.  the wine isn't going to win any international awards but it is certainly drinkable.  more about wine in Myanmar another time.

there is plenty of touristy stuff to do and buy on the lake but easy enough to avoid.  in so many of the villages i traveled through it felt like the priority was survival and here i found a community that was thriving.  there are floating gardens with rows and rows of tomatoes and other vegetables which make their way to the local market.

there is also a 2 - 3 day trek from Kalaw to Nuang Shwe which is hugely popular.  there are home stays along the way as it's travels overland through some villages.  everyone i spoke with had a very positive experience doing this.  i was still recovering from some of the blisters from the Hsipaw trek so i did not do it.

December 4, 2014

We women foundation

as i have traveled around  the country i've made an effort to talk with the  locals and learn how the changes over the last few years are impacting their lives.  in the urban areas there is an excitement about the possibilities but in the rural areas there remains an oppressive air polluted by the violence against ethnic minorities, extrajudicial killings, land grabs and other human rights violations.

now, more than ever, it is critical to empower women to step into positions of leadership to create meaningful change.  the We women foundation is doing exactly that.  they take a holistic approach to supporting women through secondary education.  they have a pre-university program to prepare women for school and they provide scholarships to get the women through school.

please take a moment to learn more about We women foundation here.
then think about what you spend on a dinner out, a bottle of wine or a round of golf.
join me in supporting We women with a donation.

ad revenue from this blog for the month of December will be donated to We women foundation.

December 2, 2014

flight to inle lake

i'm tired of the slow trains and sad buses so i've decided to fly.  once again, i have not planned far enough ahead so after i get into Mandalay i jump on the internet to see if I can book a flight for the next morning to Inle Lake.  let's just say that didn't happen so i don't have to detail again how anything involving the internet, airlines and credit cards don't work in Myanmar at the moment.   in the morning i taxi out to the airport hoping to find a seat on a flight.  it was a bit of a gamble as the airport is an hour outside the city.  in the middle of nowhere.  when i get to the airport i find the airline i think will be safest.  i'm out of khat so I need to pay with US dollars.  what ensues is comical.  it's a $60 flight and i'm down to my last dollars which have previously been rejected by other vendors so I know this is going to be a bit dicey.  there are three airline agents crowded around the ticket counter inspecting every one of my dollars and asking for more, conferring about a tiny fold in the corner on one and a possible stain on another - holding each bill up to the light for whatever reason i don't even know.  soon there is about $250 in cash spread across the counter as they continue to debate which dollars are the best.  some other guy who i think is a porter starts to handle some money and I ask him politely not to touch my money.  it's surreal.  fifteen minutes later they eventually take the most acceptable bills and give me a ticket and the rest of my cash back.

ticket in hand I head off to find an ATM so i don't run into this problem again and tucked away in the corner I find a cafe.  with an espresso machine, air conditioning and fresh croissants.  it is quiet and there are clean comfortable chairs.  it is so vastly different from the raw hot sweaty loud dirty world that is myanmar.  it isn't until i am sitting quietly in the stillness of the cafe that i realize how overwhelming the sights and sounds and chaos of this country can be.  the moment ends too quickly as i must go to catch my flight.  

tagged with an orange circle marked HEHO i'm rounded up and sent out to a plane.  SE Asia is the only place in the world where flights routinely take off BEFORE they are scheduled and in this case we leave 15 minutes early.  crazy.

the plane isn't as scary as i've read about.  just a twenty minute flight and then i'm down at HEHO.  whatever, that's the code for the inle lake airport.   it's still another 30 minute ride to get into Nyang Shwe which is on the north side of the lake i share it with two swiss guys who are mega travelers and just arrived to Myanmar.