The unforgettable Inle Lake

After 3 days in Mandalay it was time to move on to my next destination in Myanmar: Inle Lake. The bus was departing at 9:30 pm from the bus terminal and, although I had left from the hotel 2 hours ahead of time to make sure that I got there on time, the intense city traffic contributed for my substancial nervous state during the last minutes in the taxi. Luck would have it that my taxi driver was a pseudo formula 1 pilot, which, with an outstanding agility behind the wheel, would invent 2 and sometimes 3 lanes on a one lane road. I think I only caught my breath again when I got to the bus.

The bus trip lasted for about 7 hours and this time without any problems along the way. I woke up with the first rays of sunshine on my face, still inside the bus. We were dropped off a few miles away from Nyaung Shwe, the town next to Inle Lake. All of a sudden, every tourist that came out of the bus were surrounded by a dozen taxi drivers that as early as 5 am were there waiting for their first passengers of the day. After some negotiation, I get in a taxi and get to my hotel after about 20 minutes. I put down my backpack and my bag, get some rest until lunch time, and go on a walk around town, already prepared to release liters and liters of sweat under the hellish heat outside.  You couldn’t see a soul out in the street, since there was nobody crazy enough to go on walks feeling like a piece of meat in the oven…! 

I eventually find an ATM to refill my kyats’ stock that was by now running a bit low, a nice restaurant and, on the way back, after the “harassment” from several boat captains that, by turns, would try to sell their tours on the lake, I end up negotiating a boat ride for the following day, at sunrise. The rendez-vous is set to 5:30 am by the boats. And there I was on time. I get on the boat, cover myself with the several sarongs I had inside my backpack to escape from the morning breeze and there we went towards the middle of the lake. On the way there I watched the first morning boats getting ready to carry tourists during the day, locals starting off their daily routine, wether fishing, wether on the fields by the lake.

After 15 minutes we arrived at the middle of the lake. Our captain positions our boat so we can watch the sunrise on the front row. Up ahead are 2 boats with fishermen that carry the famous cone shaped fishing nets. They came closer to us, rowing with one foot on the row. Suddenly they start doing the poses that you can see in all the thousands of photos taken at Inle Lake, and that made this area so famous. They weren’t actually fishing, they were waiting for the day’s first tourists to start taking the long awaited photographs. I must confess I was kind of disappointed. I was hoping to find real fishermen going about their normal daily routine. But what I did find was a staged scene just for tourists, which obviously included a tip in the end of the “show”. I don’t blame them, and I really can’t complain. It’s a way for them to make some extra money and I did end up leaving with amazing photos.

Inle Lake

The boat ride continues along the lake. The next destination is a local market by the lake’s shores. I step off the boat and head towards the people, tents and little stalls a few metres away. For 30 minutes I actually manage not to see one single other tourist around, only the local population buying vegetables, fruit, meat… The stalls are still being prepared and there I am: an attentive spectator of these people’s daily lives. I am greeted with curious looks that quickly turn away to their own affairs in the market. After some time I head back to the boat to continue our tour. 

These tours usually have a pre-set itinerary, so the next stops were a visit to a silk factory and to a tobacco factory. I did visit the silk factory but I passed on the tobacco one. It’s hard for me to visit these places and leave with buying anything. I feel kind of “obliged” to buy something, like it was expected of me to do so, and when I don’t, I feel bad about it. So we moved on to a monastery on the shore of Inle Lake. Inside, a monk was praying and there were about a dozen people sitting on a carpet in front of him listening carefully. A few minutes later, everybody stands up and goes about their business. A cat stays there lying lazily on the carpet, enjoying the rays of sunshine coming in through a breach in the ceiling. I took a walk inside the monastery and went back to the boat that took me back to Nyaung Shwe.

I had lunch on the same restaurant as the day before and checked out the bicycles rental price on some of the shops, on the way from the restaurant to the hotel. In the end of the day, after some negotiation with a taxi-truck driver, I headed off to a vineyard at the top of a hill to enjoy the sunset while tasting some of their wines and cheeses. I must confess that this was really a completely unexpected scenery for me on a trip through Myanmar! 

On the next day, in the morning, I rented a bicycle on one of the shops I checked out the day before, and went on a ride to the other side of Inle Lake. I left early but the heat was already almost unbearable. On the way there I adventured into some small villages on the shore of the lake; I practically spilled a whole bottle of water down my head after cycling up a steep hill with the blazing sun hitting me, and I visited the natural hot water pools. The return to Nyaung Shwe is made on a boat across the Inle Lake. When I enter one of the villages looking for a boat to cross over I’m approached by a man that runs to me asking if I need his services. Apparently he has a boat just a few metres up ahead that can take us to Nyaung Shwe for an interesting price. The ride was one of those unforgettable moments, as so many others here at Inle Lake. The boat went through drawn water paths in the middle of bushes by the lake’s shores and I could feel the fresh water hitting my sun heated skin. I enjoyed every single second of it, certain that I wouldn’t feel anything like it in the nearer future. 

Already on the other side of the lake, while going down the road on my bike, I see a sign with a hotel name on it pointing towards the lake. I take that road and end up on a long wood bridge that covers the lake’s shore. I ride my bike on it up to a certain point, and then I follow the rest of the path on foot. I end up getting to this amazing place with wood bungalows and one main building where the reception is. Completely out of my budget, of course… When I get to the reception I am offered some juice and these delicious cakes. Just because. I chat for a while with the hotel’s manager, tell her I have a travel blog and she ends up inviting me to stay a little longer to watch the sunset at the hotel. And it was so worth it. The sun setting on the other side of the lake, the warm colors in the sky and me enjoying every single minute of it.

I hanged around longer than I should have, and when I left the hotel the sun was already down and the existing light was starting to diminish very quickly. I had a dark road to cycle all the way back to Nyaung Shwe. I pedalled for 30 minutes non stop, as fast as my legs could handle, to try to take advantage of the little existing clarity. Half way through, the sky turns pitch dark. I always carry a small flashlight with me: I turned it on and tied it to my backpack on my back. My cellphone flashlight lighted the road ahead. It would have to do! And it did. I did eventually get to my hotel, completely exhausted. But in my mind I had the memory of one of the most special days of my trip.

The next day I got on a shared taxi towards the bus that would take me to Yangon, where I ended up meeting a girl from Namibia. After some minutes of chatting, she manages to get me excited about the idea of one day going to Namibia. The bus takes me to Yangon, my last stop in Myanmar before heading off to Vietnam. 

See you soon!

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Maria João Proença

Born and raised in Lisbon, Portugal, but in love with the world. I love sharing my travel stories, photos and videos and inspire those who are just as fascinated with exploring the world as I am.

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