We are back in Yangon and have an internet connection now. The last couple of places were an exercise in patience for sure. Had an amazing meal here again at this 5 star hotel next to ours and they will let us spend the day at their pool and spa tomorrow for $1 each.
Here is the blog of our four days at the amazing Inle Lake.
We flew from Bagan to HeHo airport and arrived at 9AM. Our drive in from the airport took just under an hour down the main road which was just over one lane wide. On either side of the road was a creek with homes on stilts and people working in the very fertile looking red soil on the other side of the creek.
We are staying in hotel that is on the outskirts of a small town. Our home for the next four nights is a bamboo bungalow overlooking fields of bamboo and sugarcane. There is a lovely pool and we are welcomed with a very much appreciated cold drink whenever we return. The hotel is only two years old and the man and woman who own it have immense pride and you feel as though you are in a five star hotel. We discuss what we are going to do for the next few days and he helped us organize our trips to take advantage of local markets and events.
What’s that noise? Oh it is silence. AHHHH. No motorcycles or honking horns 24/7.
We hop on the bicycles that are provided and explore the small town. The roads are very rough and bumpy but we manage. Lana has not been on a bike since she was 10 and did extremely well. Feeling a bit more oriented we head back to the hotel to laze around the pool for the rest of the afternoon and yet again another early night.
At 6AM we head to the top floor of the reception area for our included breakfast. The hotel only had 8 rooms but we are the only ones there at this time of the morning. He feeds us a large plate of sweet papaya and watermelon, thin crepe like pancakes (to die for) toast and egg juice and tea. We insist that this is far too much food and please give us less tomorrow. It was a wonderful start to the day however.
Our boat man met us in the lobby at 6:30A and we walk for 10 minutes to the boat jetty. A long tail boat with three wooden chairs is waiting for us. We are bundled up with four layers of clothing and he also has a blanket for us as it is very cold. Within ten minutes we see many fishermen on the lake who are the one leg rowers. They stand on the bow of flat wooden dugout canoes with perfect balance and agility. They wrap one foot around the oar and row the boat with their leg. This leaves one hand free to work the nets. It is amazing to watch.
Women and men were dragging nets in shallow water for shrimp and well as fishing for fish. We travel south on the lake and all the tourists in boats are passing us going north. This makes us very happy. Our trip will take three hours just to get there so not many tourists go to this area of the lake. We need to pick up a Pa O guide. TunTun is from a local tribe and we need to pay an entrance fee and also for his services for the day to go to this area. He is a lovely young man of 20 something and his English is excellent as well as his sense of humor. The lake is like glass and as we pass the many villages with homes on stilts they reflect in the water and the light is amazing. As we turn off onto smaller waterways we see that this part of the lake is green with water lilies and we are going though of path of only about three feet in width with the lilies on either side. We take turns with other boats coming towards us as the opening is so narrow. There are some boats like ours, small dugout canoes and larger long wooden boats carrying many goods to other parts of the lake. There are so many fishermen on the lake and most will wave and smile if we wave at them. The children especially love to wave and say hello to us. There are little villages of homes on stilts at various parts of the lake. To visit your neighbor you would have to take a boat as they are all separated by water. Under most of the homes are areas where they have minnows and when they are big enough they release them into the lake so that they keep their fish supply up. Men and women walk to the bottom of their stairs to use the washing machine, dishwasher and bath or more accurately the lake. The lake water looks very clean and is used for everything. The women wear a sarong and bathe on the stairs with their sarong on, just soaping it down. The men do the same in their longhis.
As we travel south we watch the landscape change from jungle like vegetation to where the lake is sandwiched between two large hills on either side and looks very much like Kamloops or part of the interior of B.C.
We arrive at San Kar, which is on another large lake connected by the narrow waterway that we have just arrived one. This is a manmade lake as the government flooded the area in 1990 when they built a dam. There are some temples that are partially under water because of this and some are in the middle of the lake. The town that used to be there had to move as it is now flooded. We got out of the boat and started to walk through the village. I had to use the toilet (of course you did as my kids would say), so Tun Tun asked a local family if I could use the one in their home as they were all out sitting on the deck. They directed me to the out house at the back of the house which did the job. I wanted to show my appreciation and had some kazoos in my pack so gave the three children each a kazoo and showed them how to use them. We had a bit of fun with that .
Ten minutes of walking and we came upon a local market which only happens once a week and why our hotel owner suggested we go here today. We were the only tourists. Shan tribe people come from all over the area to sell trade and buy their goods here. The men and woman wear either red or orange cloths wrapped around their heads as a headdress and wear black clothing. We bought some produce and some wild rice from the mountains which we will take home. There was a woman making beetle nut packages which was very interesting. They put flavorings in the leaves to give it different tastes. Apparently it is like a strong caffine and the drivers chew it to keep awake. Tun Tun showed us many plants and spices for sale . They use every part of a plant or tree either for food, medicine, decoration or furniture. Nothing goes to waste. The only garbage you see is that evil plastic which is polluting the entire planet.
There were very old ruins from the 5th century all overgrown and crumbling. Walking through this and other villages we saw how they make pottery by turning the wheel with their foot, and rice wine at the distillery where Jane and Lana tried the local moonshine. Another weaving place on the lake explained how they make fabric out of lotus flowers. They use 800 stalks to make one scarf. The prices are very high because of the length of time it takes to make them but they are beautiful.
Some of the lilies are in bloom and a bright fushia pink color. According to our guide someone introduced the water lilies here a number of years ago and like our broom it has taken over. We were going through a small area off the lake and got stuck. The engine on these boats are designed so as to go on the top of the water or deeper so as not to get tangled in the weeds. We got into an area of too many plants and the boat stopped. In no time the water lilies surrounded us and wedged us in. It was like a horror movie “attack of the water lilies”. Our driver and guide had to work the boat for at least a ½ hour to free it, rocking it, trying to push it with the paddles and moving it. They could not go into the lake as the water lilies were too thick. We did get a little nervous as they were rocking it quite a bit and walking on the edges of the boat, we would lean the other way to counter balance but it felt like the boat might tip over. It would be easy to drown as you wouldn’t be able to find your way to the surface.
We did escape of course and continued on our journey. As the day wore on we peeled off layers of clothing and put on our hats and applied sunscreen. It was only around 25 degrees but felt warmer and it was very dusty walking around the villages. We only saw two other tourists the entire day which was wonderful.
A restaurant in the middle of the lake was where we had lunch and it was okay, not fantastic but did the trick.
We said goodbye to Tun Tun back at the hotel he works at and continued on for another hour back to our little town. We see many more fisherman and watch the sun go down turning the sky a beautiful red color. We had been on the water for 11 long but amazing hours. Our boatman did not speak any English but was very perceptive of our needs, slowing down for us to take pictures whenever he saw the camera come up and sometimes he just knew that we would want to take a picture of something before we did.
Our entire day cost $50 in total but we tipped both of them very handsomely for a very memorable day.
Day 3. The same driver took us onto the lake for a ½ day tour. The three of us were moving a little slower today and never went out on the boat until 8:30AM. We did not have a guide today as we were not going as far down the lake and did not require one. The lake had a very thick fog for the first hour but then the sun came through and it was another gorgeous day. The lake is so blue and once again like a mirror. Our stops today included a silversmith where we watched them make silver jewelry. Everything is done by hand and without any machinery but the jewelry was very expensive. Next stop was an umbrella making factory. We told the driver no, we did not want to go but he pulled up anyhow and we are glad that he did. The factory was run by a family from the Shan Tribe and there were some ladies there with the long necks. Two older women and two young girls. At first I was torn, do I take pictures as this encourages putting these women on display for the tourists to gawk at? In the end we couldn’t help it. I talked to the younger girls, asked them if it hurt and they said no. They start when they are 14 and stop adding rings when they are 19. They have a total of 20 rings and it does not elongate your neck but push down on your shoulder blades to give the illusion of a longer neck, or giraffe neck as they are sometimes known as. They also have gold bands around their calves. This tradition was started years ago because the prince of Myanmar at the time would travel the country and kidnap all the beautiful women for himself. The elders of the tribe decided to make their women less attractive to the price by making the girls ugly with these rings. The tradition still continnues today and the girls told us that they do so willingly in their village.
These women come down from their village and according to the shop keeper are paid by the shop and do some weaving there as well as attract the tourists who will spend money on their goods. We did give each of them some money for taking their pictures which they gladly accepted. Our guide says that they work there because they need a job, just like everyone else, and do this willingly.
Another temple was on the agenda. We are pretty much templed out. As we get off the boat we see miles of vendors on either side of the road selling souveniers and food stuffs. We run the gauntlet to the ruins at the top of the hill. But we didn’t get away. All of us ended up buying some goods, helping to stimulate the economy here. These folks were not very aggressive though so it was a pleasure to look.
There are 1000 ruins here all very close together and in a great state of disrepair. They are made of brick and many have missing statues or heads of statues and lots of greenery growing on and around them. There is evidence of some restoration and even some newer ones being built.
I stopped to change the memory card in my camera and put my things on the ground, spilling out a few items in my back pack. Before I know it a bull has made his way over to check out what I had dropped and ate my banana. I am trying to pick up my things, Jane and Lana are just laughing and not helping at all, the bull is pushing me out of the way with his horns and looks as though he is going after my wallet!! I quickly grab everything and move them to a shelf on one of the ruins. Thanks Jane and Lana! That could have been a disaster.
From here we continue to a place on the water where they make cheroots, or Myanmar cigars. They add anise or other flavors to the tobacco. I don’t know anyone who smokes any more so we didn’t buy any. On the way back we went through some floating gardens where they grow miles of tomatoes beans and flowers as well as other vegetables. They are on trellis’ in the water and quite ingenious. They get plenty of sun and you never have to water them.
Our afternoon was spent around the pool reading our books. Lana and I stayed up past 10:30 tonight! Wo Hoo…
Day 4. Another huge breakfast and we start off on our journey north with our hired driver and the fancy tourist van that transported us in complete comfort for the day.
We drove an hour or so north passing small villages and towns along the way. There was a government military base, all walled with barbed wire, that seemed to go on for miles and miles. Inside were homes for all the military and their families in the Shan state, which is where we are.
The town of Taunggyi is at the top of the mountain and we are so surprised at how big it was, over 300,000 in population, and it was so clean and fairly modern. The cars are newer and in better shape, the roads and sidewalks in good repair and it seems to be a much more prosperous town. When the British occupied Burma they would come up here because it is so much cooler. We stopped at a local market and it was very different from the others we had been to. Everything was clean, well presented and fresh. The fish was so fresh it was still flapping around. Really, they were lying there still alive.
We picked up a 50 kilo bag of rice and our driver put it into the van for us. We had wanted to go to another school in Inle Lake but our hotel owner said that it would be difficult to do here and suggested one of the three orphanages in Taunggyi that he supports. The one we chose was run by three older sisters who never married and two of the sisters have died so only one left to run things. It was started by her grandmother so now third generation and they currently have 200 children there from the age of 2 and up. There were only the pre schoolers there in the morning so we left the rice and decided to come back after our trip to Kakku.
Again we had to pay a fee and pick up a Pa O guide for the trip to Kakku. The fee is $3 each and the guide is $10 for the day. His name is long so he said to call him Mr. A. He is around 40 years old and very warm and friendly with a great sense of humor. On the drive, south now, he tells us a lot of information about the Pa O people and the area. It appears to be an area rich in agriculture, the road is one lane paved, but with major pot holes, and bright orange red soil on either side. He says the soil is not good for growing things as it is rich in iron, but none the less the fields are green and lush with many crops growing. We see groups of four or more women with their large conical bamboo hats squatting in the fields tending to the garlic and other crops. We can imagine that they spend the day chatting and perhaps gossiping while they work. There are rolling hills of green fields and everything is neat and tidy. You can tell that they take great pride in their homes and surroundings. We get out to walk a bit, we need to move around after sitting so long, and find that the temperature is much cooler up here.
Mr A took us to his village and we walked down a path to the pagoda (temple). Each town and village has to have a pagoda and a monastery as all the boys have to do a stint as a monk. A lot of our guides and drivers only lasted a couple of weeks because the monks only eat twice a day, breakfast and lunch, and as boys they got too hungry. Each of them had joined around age 10 but came home after a couple of weeks. The minimum requirement is one week but you can stay as long as you like. The pagoda is large and in great shape with more being built. There are small bells at the top and the wind was blowing so the sound of the bells tinkling was very magical. All the carvings are done by hand and we watch as one young man is cutting away some wet cement to create some very ornate decorations on a newly built pagoda.
Beside the pagoda was another temple and we were invited inside to sit and have tea with the head monk and another monk. Neither spoke English but it was a wonderful opportunity none the less.
Next stop Kakku. This a group of 2,278 temples and we only saw one other tourist there which was great. They are all very close together and all have bells on top which were ringing because there was a wonderful breeze. It was so peaceful and quiet except for the sound of the bells. Mr. A said that sometimes tourists come and the wind does not blow which is a disappointment to them, but we are very blessed as it is a windy day. The temples were built in 3000 BC by a king in India and then more and more thereafter. They are in very good condition because they were not discovered by the Western world until 1990. Because there weren’t any real roads here the British and Japanese never found them during their occupation. The carvings were incredible and we loved this place, different from the others that we have been to.
In Myanmar everything is made by hand, there is no machinery for much of anything which keeps everyone working. One machine could put 10 people out of a job and they want to keep it that way. If you build a house the foundation is all dug by shovel and carvings and printing all by hand. Driving back we saw where they were working on the road and there was about a 15 foot area and a man running with a square bucket with holes in the bottom full of hot tar, tarring the road.
We say goodbye to Mr. A and then head to the market again to buy some books. The woman who runs the orphanage was saying how expensive it is to send the kids to school and keep up with new exercise books and pens etc. Jane and I went into a stationary store and bargain with the shop keepers for exercise books for different grade levels. In the end they gave us a couple of extra packages and we were able to buy 120 exercise books for the kids at the orphanage.
When we arrived back there was a man around our age from Belgium who had come with gifts and what we suspect was a healthy donation from his friends. One of his good friends is a dentist and he comes once or twice a year to do dentistry there.
We are shown to a building at the back of the main one, which our hotel owner built for them, and she calls some of the children to come inside. We had around 35 children from age 3 to 16 and played a Bingo Numbers game. Again we had a lot of fun as did they. Our driver was right in there with us and he was having fun too. This orphanage was so well run, the kids were clean and happy and the woman running it was very loving and kind to all. She says she never turns away a child and is the only one who will take babies or kids with disabilities. She follows the Christian faith. I would love to help out more but it is impossible to send money here, you would have to bring it in personally.
Our drive back is around an hour and a half and take the opportunity to talk to our driver to find out more about Myanmar. He was saying the taxes in Myanmar are so expensive for vehicles and people opening shops, all going to the military. The van we were driving in cost over $250,000 after the price and all the taxes were paid. It was probably a $50,000 van at home.
We spend our last night in Inle Lake at a terrible restaurant unfortunately. The food at our hotel is the only great food we have had here. Now we are back to Yangon for our last days in Myanmar. What a wonderful trip, each area having its own charm.