Today we woke at six, packed, had breakfast and checked out before seven. At 0700 we clambered aboard an 11m long wooden boat which would be our vehicle for the majority of the day and then we set off through a swarm of lilies, along a canal, onto Inle Lake.
As soon as we hit the main body of water the engine was turned onto full power and we were blasting our way across the vast expanse, our first stop was a bustling market at one end of the lake, a small section was allocated to tourist stalls selling souvenirs but over 90% of the traders were selling goods for locals, for many it is where they purchased their weekly shopping. It was a realling interesting place to explore around although Harri wasn’t too keen on the meat stalls where they were selling chicken heads and feet and ducks with the necks and heads still attached.
Our next stop was Nampan, one of the largest villages on the lake and it was technically broken down into about half a dozen stops as we kept mooring next to artisan workshops which included: silversmiths, ironmongers, weavers (they weave incredible fabrics out of lotus fibres), woodworking (both bamboo and teak [for boat building]) and cheroot makers (cigarettes).
After being awed at the skills of the tradesmen and women but bored of the sales patter in the shops that were attached to them. We were taken to Phaung Daw Oo Paya, an unremarkable temple in itself but in its centre, it had five Buddha statues which men (women aren’t allowed) add gold leaf to so they now look nothing like Buddha statues and now look like golden snowmen.
We were somewhat underwhelmed by the golden Buddha statues but we thoroughly enjoyed the journey to our next stop up a canal off the lake. Due to it being the hot season the volume of the lake is lower than it normally is so the locals have effectively designed a lock system where by they block off 90% of the river flow and have just a small opening, large enough for a narrow wooden boat but no more, and it creates a small step in the river’s height, these steps were great fun to shot up. At the end of this fun ride we docked at Inthein, a small town, and climbed on the back of two motorbikes. We were taken up a hill to see hundreds of pagodas, it was honestly like a forest of temples they were so numerous. Some of them were brown or brick coloured, some were painted white whilst others were gold, the contrast, randomness and sheer scale of the place was hugely impressive, we climbed a small hill beside the pagodas to have an elevated view of them before heading back to the centre of town for some noodles and rice for lunch.
The river journey back down to the lake was equally enjoyable as the way up and every time be dropped down one of the steps it felt as if we were on a tame log flume ride. Once back at the lake we went to another artisan shop, this time it was run by some of the Kayan (Padaung) people who are also known as the long-necked ladies due to the fact they have coils/rings of metal around their necks. It was something I have read about numerous times but it was still rather odd to see these ladies in person.
Another interesting sight we saw was a floating garden which is where a lot of the Intha people (“sons of the lake”) grow crops including bamboo, all floating on the lakes surface. We wound our way through a maze of waterways before emerging at the Ngaphe Kyaung Pagoda which again was unremarkable except for it good views our of the back over the floating markets.
Here we tried to ask out boat’s captian about seeing the lake fishermen, who still use traditional methods of leg rowing (standing on one leg and using the other to push the ore, leaving their arms free to manipulate their net. Apparently this wasn’t possible and despite a phone call to our hotel (who we had booked the trip through) we still had to return back their, fortunately we were able to see one fisherman, using the traditional methods, on our way back. Once there we change and enjoyed chilling by the pool for a couple of hours.
We had the option for the hotel to book us a taki however it was prohibitively expensive so we decided we would just walk up to the main road a catch a lift from there back to Nyaung Shwe, 30km away. It wasn’t as easy as we expected, this was mainly due to the fact the majority of passing traffic were motorbikes which could only take one person and not two, although we did manage to flag down two bikers at the same time although they were unwilling to take us on the journey, we asked a few different houses whilst we walked along as to whether they would consider giving us a lift and at the fourth place they we asked they were willing to take us but for an exorbitant price, we knocked them down a couple of pounds and agreed on a price, substantially lower than what our hotel had offered, then clambered into the back of a small pick up.
When we arrived into the town we quickly checked in before going out for some dinner, we eat a pizza at a restaurant we had read good reviews about and then walked in the rain (only a 30 min shower) to a vibrant hostel for a drink, some noodles and a curry. A decent way to end the evening, after a full on but enjoyable day.