It was an all-day uncomfortable (I was stuck in the middle between the driver and Gordon) minivan ride from Bagan to the town of Nyaung Shwe on the Northern shore of Inle Lake. The driver stopped a few times so that we could stretch our legs and use the washroom but the absolute worst stop was for lunch. The food was pretty bad, in fact it was the worst we had experienced in Myanmar and I’ve never seen Gordon have to spit something out. We recommend bringing your own snacks if you do this transfer from Bagan to Inle Lake or vice versa.
We stayed in the town of Nyaung Shwe in a really quaint guesthouse which served an awesome breakfast every morning.
There were plenty of little restaurants with good food (Myanmar curry and Shan noodle soup are not to be missed) and you could walk everywhere. The first day we just walked around town, it had a different vibe and it was an interesting little place. Our guesthouse mentioned that it was market day so we decided to have a look. We couldn’t believe how busy it was but then we found out they only have market day once a week. It was such a colourful market, I especially loved the fresh flowers and Gordon bought me some beautiful ones (better late than never) for a Valentines present. I thought it was nice how they wrap the flowers in a banana leaf.
After the market we strolled around town and we still don’t really know what was going on but there were all these trucks that were decorated and the backs of them were filled with people all dressed up, some were even playing music.
When we made our way down to the pier, there was a decorated boat carrying a Buddha with a crowd of people looking and taking pictures, it definitely was a special day for the locals. We watched a boat full of children that went by and they were singing a prayer, it was quite something to experience all of this celebration.
We continued our walk around town and took notice of the different modes of transportation. Many people were getting rides on tractors and going places by horse cart. I really liked seeing the ladies walking out of the market carrying what they bought on their heads.
We spoke to a few boat drivers to see if could line up a boat trip for the next day but it was so unclear to us what we would see or how we would be spending the day and there was a large range in their prices, it left us a bit confused. We stopped in at a tour place that was just down the street from our hotel and booked our boat trip there. The price was good (as good as the boat drivers on the street) and the owner’s English was excellent so we knew what we would be seeing throughout the trip.
Inle Lake is the heart of the Shan People, they use this lake for absolutely everything and it was amazing to see this firsthand. We saw many fishermen and their traditional ways are really interesting, they paddle with one leg while balancing on the other, and work their nets with their hands all at the same time (I’m sure I would fall off the boat).
We passed through many little villages built on stilts over the lake. We saw ladies doing laundry, young girls washing their hair, kids swimming, men bathing their water buffalo and people pulling up weeds from the bottom of the lake which we later learned is used for the floating gardens.
We made a stop at the Thaung Tho market and Pagoda alongside the lake, it was so busy that we weren’t sure if we would be able to park the boat. They sold everything here from opium pipes to wood for cooking and everything in-between. We walked around the market and visited the Pagoda that is located there as well.
We stopped at one village to see how they do lotus flower weaving, it was fascinating how they pull the fibers from the lotus flower stems, roll them together (they are fine like thread) and then wind it onto a spool, they weave with this fibre and it looks very much like cotton.
We also stopped to visit the Paduang ‘long neck’ women and their weaving. They were lovely ladies and showed us how they could unlock their metal rings so that they can sleep at night. They had one set of metal rings that we could pick up and it was shocking how heavy these are and I couldn’t imagine having that on my neck. I recalled seeing a lady in Yangon with ring like marks on her neck and I assume it was from having one of these removed.
We had a bit of lunch at a little local place that was right across from Phaungdawoo Pagoda, so after lunch we walked over to check it out. We had to cross a very rickety bamboo bridge and it felt pretty sketchy but it got us across the water. The Pagoda houses Buddha’s which are unrecognizable because of all the gold leaf placed on them by worshipers and we have never seen any like that before. The ceiling in this temple was stunning and it’s made just like lacquerware. These Buddha’s are very highly revered, once a year in October they are put on golden decorated boats and parade around the lake from village to village.
When we got back to the restaurant our boat driver was involved in a game that scored like snooker, it was fun to watch them play for a while.
Later in the afternoon we visited the Indein Pagodas. Our boat driver pointed in the general direction that we should head and we knew we had to walk a ways to the site but in typical Tammy and Gordon fashion, we got a little lost. Finally we stopped at one street corner and these two young ‘entrepreneurs’ asked if we wanted to see the Pagoda, so we assumed they were talking about the same site that we were looking for. We followed them and the entire time they were laughing and slapping each other on the back (that was our first clue that something was up with these two) but we stuck with them and hiked up a hill to an old Pagoda. They did not want me taking any photos of them or any photos at all for that matter – they might have been worried about the incriminating evidence. While at the top we were thinking this is not what Indein looks like in the photos we’ve seen, so we were pretty sure that we were led astray. Then it happened, the two ‘guides’ hit us up for money, first they asked for 5,000 Kyats which is about $7 Canadian, instead for their ‘service’ we gave them 1,000 Kyats. The old pagodas were cool to see though (we always see something good when we get lost) and from that hill Gordon spotted the site off in the distance that we were supposed to be at – there’s always a silver lining. Of course the kids ditched us at the top and when we finally made it down to the street, we saw them running out of a store with their hard earned Kyats that they made ‘guiding’ us and it made us both laugh.
Indein was fantastic and some of the pagodas are so old that there are trees and plants growing out of them. It was a place with so much character and it was fun to walk through all the old ones. The stairs on the way up to the main pagoda was lined with vendors, but we mostly walked on the outside where all of the old pagodas could be seen and we skipped the gauntlet of vendors.
On the way back to town we saw the floating gardens (they sure know how to farm in Myanmar) and it’s really incredible how the local people make use of the lake to grow things in these gardens. They build platforms on floating vegetation which they have dug up from the bottom of the lake, the platforms are secured with bamboo posts and then they grow their fruit and vegetables.
We stopped on the lake and enjoyed a beautiful sunset while watching the fishermen and then headed back to town. What an unforgettable day we had on the lake!
On our walk back to the guesthouse after dinner we stopped at this beautifully lit Pagoda in town, we were handed a decoration and gold leaf to make merit to Buddha. We spent some quiet time inside and placed our gold leaf on the Buddha, it was so peaceful and a great end to a wonderful day.
The next day we decided to rent bikes (not sure why I thought this was a good idea because I really don’t like biking) and go up one side of the lake, take the ferry across, and then go back on the other side with a stop at the winery. At first the ride was really nice, we went through a small village and admired the sunflowers while slowly making our way along. We stopped and had a fresh strawberry juice at a place that had a huge sign telling us to ‘Take a Rest’. The irritating part of our ride started soon after our rest stop. When we stopped on the side of the road to talk we were quickly asked by a local “where are you going”, “do you want a boat because I’m a boat driver”, “do you want to see the village” and on and on. When we told them politely “no thank you, we are fine” then they would just follow us or go up ahead and wait for us, and the questions would start all over again. I actually had one guy on a motorbike drive right behind my bike, telling me to stop, that the village is back the other way, and that the boat is this way, and to follow him – it drove me crazy and almost caused me to crash. Meanwhile we were riding around looking for the ferry and in Tammy and Gordon fashion we got a bit lost and we never did find the ferry (we found what we suspected might be the ferry but we aren’t exactly sure and it wasn’t a good idea to ask anyone). So it got to the point where we just told the ‘stalkers’ we were going back the same way (which was true at this point because we couldn’t find the darn ferry) and as soon as they drove away, we turned around and visited a little village without them harassing us. We saw some cool things in that village, so glad we persevered. We saw them making and drying tofu, we saw them making rice cakes, and we saw all kinds of beans and sunflower seeds drying in the sun. Then we peddled our sore butts back to town and decided the next day we would walk and definitely not stop to look at a map.
After dinner we decided to go see Aung’s Puppet Show and Traditional Dance, surprisingly it was very good and we really enjoyed it. He’s a 4th generation Puppet Master and we thought it was great that he is carrying on his family tradition. It’s a good show and only 30 minutes long with a nice serving of green tea. He also makes puppets that he has for sale and some of them are really beautiful.
On our last day we took it easy in the morning and decided early afternoon to walk to the winery. The winery itself was nice with pretty views overlooking the lake but the wine we tasted was really bad. We read that the vines had been imported from Spain and France, and that they had a French winemaker so we thought that maybe the wine would at least be decent, but it was far from that.
Late afternoon we did another walk out to a teak monastery which was really nice to see and the walk was beside the lake most of the way which was great. We saw a guy fishing with a gun type rod and reel, he would shoot it from shore and the hook would go precisely where he was aiming, it was pretty cool.
The life on this lake was fascinating and the scenery was amazing!
Where we stayed: Zawgi Guesthouse
Good eats: Sunflower, the place next door to Sunflower (name was not in English)
Written by: Tammy Hermann…Live~Love~Travel