Inle Lake is often chosen as the last destination for the journey along the border of Burma. It is located in the hill of Shan which is the living place for many local ethnic groups. Inle lake Myanmar is of 116 km square and is at the height of 880 m above the sea level. This is not the largest lake in this country, but the lake is always one of the most interesting destinations for tourists coming to this country.
I arrived at Inle Lake after an early flight to Bagan in a terrible hot summer morning. Bagan in May is strangely hot which the heat seems to come to the pores and fire people from inside. The friends I met on the way to Inle Lake are all dying wishing for the breezes to ease the heat and the cooler climate on the area of Inle Lake Myanmar.
The airplane landed at He Ho Airport. From the airport, it takes around 1 hour driving to Nyaung Shwe – the central town of Inle. While I am looking for my luggage, a couple of Canadian asked me if I want to go with them to Nyaung Shwe. We then quickly join in 1 team of 8 people and hire a vehicle to move to Nyaung Shwe. The vehicle is small and quite old which costs each of us 4000 kyat for the 1 hour tour to the town. The road from the airport to the town is narrow and difficult to travel with many bends winding through the empty hills. After the shakes of the vehicle, we worried look at the top of the vehicle and the ground to see if our luggage fell down to the ground.
Nyaung Shwe is a small town nestled on the shores of Inle Lake Myanmar. After some time of consideration, I decided to stay in a single room at Little Inn Guest House at the rate of $5 including breakfast. Little Inn is pretty with the small garden where people gather to have breakfast or relax on the swings every night to have cups of tea while admiring the stars. The Inn’s owner is really friendly and enthusiastic who showed us all the necessary information and the destinations to visit in the area. He has a cousin who is unable to speak English who was very shy and just nestled behind the door to watch for the guests and smile in an ashamed way. When I asked to be applied with some thanaka powder on my face (thanaka is a powder that all women in Burma apply on their face to make up and also avoid the sunshine), the girl said nothing and came back to her rooms quietly and then returned to the threshold with the signal of telling me to come to the room. She then helped me to apply thanaka powder on my face and she then smiled again.
After having bath, I asked James to start our discovery to Inle Lake Myanmar immediately without any short rest. We decided to hire a boat to visit around the lake. After a discussion with the host, he helped us to hire a motorboat at the price of 12,000 kyat. A while later, the boat driver appeared and led us to walk to the boat port.
The port is just about 10 minutes walking from our hostel where hundreds of boats are scattered along the river shore as it was the low season for tourist to the place. At 12:00 am the sunshine is strong that shine on the water making the water a giant mirror. The deeper we moved to the lake, the more little wooden boats can we see on the lake as well as the local fishermen with their unique ways of rowing the boat on 1 foot while their two hands releasing the net.
The boat driver took us to visit the famous floating villages of the local people on Inle Lake. We paid a visit to a household with their career of silk weaving. The people here have their silk woven from a very special material of the silk in lotus trunks. Many aged women sitting on the lobby of the house to break the lotus trunk to get the little, slim and smooth silk to weave. They are all using their hands in a sophisticated way without any machine. After some observations, we moved inside the house to see clearly the making process. The host couple immediately invited us with cakes and tea. People in Burma are very interested in drinking tea which seem to be the habit since the country was a British’s colony. We sat and talk to the host about English football as my friend James is a British and Burma men are really interested in this game. We then asked to leave the family.
We begged our boat rower to take us to buy cigar on Inle Lake as I’ve heard that it is a famous product here. We then paid a visit to a local cigar making workshop on the lake where I was overwhelmed by the fragrance of the cigar. The host of the house was so friendly to greet us and invite us with a cigar and help us to fire the cigar. While we were enjoying the cigar, she introduced and explained about the cigar of Inle Lake Myanmar. A cigar is as large as a normal cigarette which is the mixture of tobacco, tamarind, honey, banana, wine, salt, and sugar rolled by tobacco leave grown on the mountain nearby.
Having this cigar, you will find the pleasant fragrance and the sweet taste on your tongue. After a talk, we were then invited to have a cup of tea. The lake is airy and cool in the evening. I sat there admiring the boats travelling on the lake and talking to the host family. They have a shy son who are so timid that just stealthily looked at the visitors and turned his eyes away immediately. That moment shall be the great time that I will never forget when I was immersed into the simple and rustic stories of the local, the smiles, the fragrance of tea, the sweet smoke of cigar.
Besides the boat tour to Inle Lake Myanmar, many visitors also choose the trekking tour (walking with the guide) to visit the villages of Shan people or Padaung Village of a famous ethnic group with their long necks. However, we visited Inle Lake in its low season when the temperature in day time is so high, so the host of the hostel I stayed advised us not to go for this tour. After some consideration, we decided to hire 2 bikes to discover the land on our own the next day.
We rode our bikes back toward the hills to find the caves which a Japanese friend told us while having the breakfast at the hostel. For several first km, the road was not in very good conditions but was quite plain. Passing the paved roads, we met with a dirt trail with numerous slopes. The slopes were not high but long and some sections were not allow us to ride but walk and take the bike. After more than 1 hour of riding, walking and relaxing, we got lost in a village of the monks where the red color of their coats appeared everywhere. The village is the accommodation of the old monks and also the place for young little monks to practice and study.
In this village, there are two caves located deeply inside the mountain which serve as Buddhist worshiping place. At the first cave, we were invited by an old monk to visit, have a cup of tea and relax. There are 3 large Buddhist statues worshiped in the cave and some simple objects in a rustic kitchen of the monk. We sat there and did not want to leave as the atmosphere is so cool and pleasant.
After a short nap in the cave, we walked along the trail to the hill to visit the 2nd cave in the village. At the entrance of the cave, we met with an old monk living on the little house on the side of the cave. Saw us from a distance, he got his flashlight and guided us to the cave. Different from the first cave, this cave is is dark which we could not move without the flashlight. The cold feelings appeared from the dark and the rocks that made us nervous but excited.
After the interesting trip discovering the cave, the old monk asked us to visit his house for cups of tea. He looked for the old tablecloth and prepared all the thing he had on the table to offer us. Some bananas and apples were rotten a part which I believed that he has spent for many time. Some pieces of cakes are placed in a little cook. He then made some tea and poured into the small bowls and invited us. He said nothing when we arrived his house, but asked us to have foods and drinks while he stared outside to the hills in a distance. We also did not talk so much. We helped him to sort out among the little packs of tea, coffee or milk to put in different boxes. We and him sat side by side and felt the time passing. It was such a special evening which left me with various feelings.
Inle Lake area is not as crowded and bustle as Yangon, does not contain as many temples as Bagan, but it retains the foot of tourists in a different way which is gentle but attractive. On the flight leaving Burma, while seeing the smaller and smaller land lots under the wings of the plane, I was thinking about the words I need to talk about Burma to my friends; about the emaciated trails full of dirt along the country, the roads which sometimes on the vehicle, I looked outside through the doors and saw the edge of the abyss is just several centimeters from the wheels; about the old and damaged vehicles which I didn’t dare to sit next to the door due to afraid of falling out with the door; about the sound of prayer every morning resounded from the quiet space of Bagan in a new dawn or the yellow sunshine on the ancient temples in the evening; the sound of horse hoof on the small roads taking me to see the sunrise on a new morning.
How can I talk to you about the kind, gentle and friendly locals with their intimate greeting of “Mingabalar”; the people who are pretty in longyi with the charming smiles on their face applied with thanaka powder. My friend James said that, to depict about Burma, they are all the feelings which cannot be described in any words. I myself made a decision to comeback this land. Talk more about Something you may not know about Myanmar before your trip.