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.

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