We arrived in Nyaung Shwe (the closest town to Inle Lake) at the unholy hour of 3am. A jeep took us from the bus stop to our hotel, where the persistent driver wandered around yelling and knocking until he eventually woke up some staff to check us in. Being polite Canadians we had been planning on waiting outside the lobby until reception opened in 1.5 hours, but having a bed and shower after the 8 hour bus ride was pretty nice too.
It was low season and the Grand Nyaung Shwe Hotel was mostly empty, so we didn’t feel bad about checking in so early and promptly went back to bed for a few more hours. We didn’t have much planned for Inle Lake except seeing the lake, so we figured we’d just have a lazy day. Inle Lake is Myanmar’s other big tourist spot (with Bagan) and gets quite busy during high season, so there are a large number of cute little restaurants around the little town of Nyaung Shwe. We went for pizza and pasta at The Golden Kite (a nice break after so many days of rice) and organized a boat tour for the next day. With so few tourists during low season the boatmen are pretty persistent, and the first one we showed interest in basically decided he was going to show up at our doorstep the next day. The price was good, so we just went with it.
After breakfast the next morning we indeed found the boatman waiting outside our hotel for us. He passed us off to his “brother”, our driver apparently, and we were on the water by 8:30am.
To get to Inle Lake from Nyaung Shwe you basically drive down a channel for a few minutes and then you’re there. It was a bit of a cloudy morning, which was excellent for the sake of Chris’s skin. Once on the lake, we cruised across, watching all the local fishermen bang their paddles on the water (to scare fish into their nets) and employ Inle Lake’s famous standup one-legged paddling technique.
We also passed a number of lakeside tomato farms (Inle Lake exports a lot of tomatoes, as we had learned during our food tour in Mandalay) and people clearing weeds from the lake by heaping them onto boats that seemed to be barely afloat under the weight.
We eventually reached one of the little towns on the lake (not sure which one…I have a photo with an Inn Paw Khone sign, so maybe that’s it) where we stopped to look at weaving (both with silk and with lotus fibres), silver smithing, and cheroot cigar making workshops.
I believe the point of this is to buy stuff (we had read that the reason that the boat tours were cheap is because they get commission from every place they bring us to), but we didn’t, although the stuff was quite nice (sorry Mr. Boatman).
Before lunch we stopped at Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda on the lake. There are some famous Buddha images there that are covered in so much gold leaf they just look like big blobs. There is some significance there I think that I didn’t get due to not understanding the Burmese signs. We had read somewhere that they also tour around, but one of the 5 objects apparently doesn’t like touring so doesn’t anymore…No clue. Chris was mostly fascinated with the guy who job it is to continuously read…something (Prayers? Buddhist canon? Not sure.) over the speakers that broadcast throughout the whole area.
After lunch we went to a little house to see the Padaung women, who wear super heavy brass rings around their necks to stretch them. Kind of cool but mostly I felt weird standing around ogling people, especially since I think they also wanted us to buy their handicrafts.
Our last stop was the Jumping Cat Monastery. I think the cats used to perform tricks, but these days they just laze around. The monastery itself is not that exciting, but I like kittens, so.
Afterwards we headed back across the lake and said goodbye to our boatman in Nyaung Shwe. Back in town we meandered around until we found a cute little restaurant called The French Touch, where we got fancy burgers for dinner. The restaurant was playing a Burmese-made movie (one of the first independently made films after military rule ended), which we stayed to watch. It won an award at the Montreal film festival a few years back. It was about a monk who leaves the monastery to go to a hospital and learn how to heal people, and then he falls in love with a dying girl and it’s all very tragic. We learned a lot about monks though, including the fact that they also love to watch Premier League.
The next day we didn’t have much to do except hang out until the night bus back to Yangon, so mostly we wandered around, then stopped at a cute cafe and spent the afternoon drinking two pots of tea and eating some snacks. Good times!