Asia / Burma

Inle Lake. Bitter-sweet symphony.

The good news is… Lake Inle has much more to offer than the con-fishermen! Now, as their dirty little secret has been revealed (what? really? You haven’t read my last post? It’s HERE) The Wildest Tales’s camera is slowly zooming out to focus on the full-size experience. I want to show you around. Much to my surprise, we enjoyed the “around” more than the lake itself!

We rent bikes to cycle around the lake (impossible unless you are a true cyclist). Our first stop is a cave-temple 5 km from our hostel. It ain’t no Olympic distance but damn, it’s up the hill. I don’t really like cycling so it’s a perennial mystery to me (and Mario) why I’m the one insisting on renting bicycles every time we travel. We got to the cave but then I realized I’d forgotten my torch so we could only go as far as the daylight allowed us. Shame! A tip for you my fellow travelers: You can find plenty of similar temples nestled in caves in Burma, one of the most beautiful is not far from Kalaw (Shwe oo Min Paya).

When you travel light and one day you realize all your clothes are dirty…
Entrance to the cave-temple we’ve visited.
Inside the temple. 

Back on the bikes and after about 10 minutes I hear a loud BOOM! Mario has got a flat tire!! We have to go back to our hostel to get it fixed. Great. Oh well, I’m sure we we’ll manage to do it quickly…

It turns out that the bike shop is closed. The owner disappeared so we are grounded. After 2 hours of our forced break I’m quite pissed off. I walk in to the shop next door and ask politely where the heck is the guy from the bike shop. I’m lucky that the girl behind the till is a star and she calls his mobile immediately. The block shows up 10 minutes later, relaxed and smiling and without further ado (because what is 2 hours of waiting!?) he gives Mario a new bike.

Next stop – forest monastery. Once we realize it’s again kill-me-up-the-hill path, we ditch our bikes and walk up. The monastery isn’t impressive and the forest is full of mosquitoes so we run away from there pretty quickly. On the way down the hill, intrigued by the sounds of music coming from the golden pagoda on the top of the hill, we have a sudden change of heart and decide to snoop around.

Live music always makes a good bait. Someone is clearly having fun so we follow our instincts and let the sound lead us. We need to walk up the hill again but the view is pretty cool and there is a group of local teens playing various instruments! 

On our way back we stop in a random village. These people must be celebrating something as they are gathering together in the main square of the village talking and playing music. Suddenly a man starts performing some kind of martial arts and soon some young guys follow him. It’s fascinating. We observe the show for like an hour and get to our hostel when it’s already dark outside. Our stomachs are growling! Along with David and Airi we go for Indian food (to the restaurant LP guide was gushing over and yes the food lived up to the hype!).

One of the most beautiful sunsets in Burma.
Local teens having fun.
Now we talk FIESTA!
A Burmese man performing some sort of martial arts.
These kids are fit!

Yesterday was ace but all good things must come to an end. We are now on a boat with 15 different co-prisoners on a so-called “classic Inle tour” which is a nice euphemism for “hopping from one souvenir shop to another”. We visit silversmith workshop (in other words “a jewellery shop”), weaving fabric manufacture at Paw Khon (clothes made of lotus flower? yes!) and a cigar factory. Cheerots – as this is how they call them in Burma are a big thing among tourists these days. Local crowd prefer to smoke regular cigarettes. Although lunch has been included in the price it was literally the worse food I had in Burma – the spiciest tea leaf salad ever… burnt twice. Don’t ask. :p

So why did we sign up for that tour? you may ask. The reason why we did it was to visit Indein village known for its market and two groups of ancient pagodas. There is over 1000 of them and unfortunately as many souvenir shops. Nevertheless it is totally worth visiting. One of many beautiful places in Burma.

Our final stop is the Jumping Cat Monastery, famed for its, uh, jumping cats — except the cats no longer jump, so… it is just a fairly average pagoda.

And then there is this shady floating shop run by some women from the Karen tribe – the long neck tribe you can meet also in Thailand.

These ladies, not the souvenirs they were selling, seem to be the major tourist attraction. It does feel like visiting a zoo. Take me out of here!

Inle Lake was indeed a bitter-sweet symphony. We had a lot of fun but there were also some shady and unethical moments. Definitely skip the boat trip. The best about Inle is the opportunity to see the local people in their (quite unusual) habitat. The brave kids going to school by boat or the (real) fishermen at work. I try to be positive and think that their life gets a bit better thanks to tourists, but I have some serious concerns about the future of this beautiful place.

The art of making cheerotes.
Weaving – the Burmese way.
Indein village is famous for its stupas.
When it’s windy you can enjoy a delicate lulling sound of a myriad of bells. It’s beautiful! BTW notice my sun burnt feet!
Time to go back and plunge into the chaos of a big city – next stop Mandalay!