A Day of Cruising on Inle Lake
After another adventurous Myanmar overnight bus ride we have found ourselves in the center of country at one its most beautiful lakes, Inle Lake. Our first day here we spent lounging around, recovering from the fast pace travel schedule we’ve been keeping here. We have five days planned here, one spent exploring the lake, and four spent relaxing and biking around the town, including the nearby winery. Wine, something we haven’t had in months!
Boat Tour Around Inle Lake
Although there are a few hotels on the shores of Inle Lake, the majority of the hotels, restaurants, and population resides in a small nearby town called Nyaungshwe. For our full-day boat tour, we get picked up on the canal in Nyaungshwe, and from there it takes about 30 minutes to get to the lake itself. Inle lake is a long, narrow lake, only about a mile wide and 13 miles long, and we start our tour at the very North of the it. Because we’re here in the low season, not only is it extremely hot, but we are the only two people on our boat (not including the driver). Thankfully, we are also given umbrellas to shield ourselves from the burning of the sun.
The lake is as picturesque as we expected. Mountains surround all four sides of us, and even though the lake is narrow, you can never really see the shore. The lake just flows right into floating gardens, floating villages, or natural marshes. It’s about 9 am and the lake is bustling with activities. We don’t go more than a few minutes without seeing a group of fisherman, a passing transport boat, or a building-on-stilts under construction.
Fisherman of Inle Lake
The most unique part of Inle Lake is the fishermen and their leg-rowing style. It is the only place in the world where rowing is done this way, and it really interesting to watch. It also looks extremely difficult.
The Five Day Market
Our first stop today is at what the locals call the five-day market. Each weekday the market is held in a different location around the area and all the vendors travel with it. Today the market was being held at the largest of the five locations, and the crowd of shoppers is immense. Our guide forces our boat into the crowd of boats to allow us to unload. We are the only tourists here today, and that makes the experience much more authentic. It’s a nice contrast to markets in other parts of SE Asia where all the stalls are selling goods specifically for tourists and the majority of the shoppers are tourists.
Since it’s still pretty early, Alissa and I decide to kill some time at a local tea shop across the road from the market. I am delighted to see they have samosas, and immediately order two plates worth! We also try some fried bread that rivals the taste and texture of a Krispy Creme.
The Cigar Shop
Our guide takes us to a couple of different shops that are scattered throughout the lake. Many of the shops appear to be staged tourist traps. However, watching the women in the cigar shop hand-rolling cigars is one of the highlights of the day. The ladies show us the process and all the ingredients, then let us try each flavor. One of the flavors even has banana in it! I buy a package of ten for later in the trip.
Lunch on the Lake
Our lunch is at a restaurant on stilts, over-looking one of the lake’s floating villages. I order a Chinese dish and Alissa opts for some food local to the lake, mashed rice with potato. Both are two of the best dishes we’ve had in Myanmar. The restaurant is not what I would consider a local restaurant though. The dead giveaway on whether or not a restaurant is for locals or for tourists is how good the bathrooms are. The fact that we are in the middle of a lake and the bathrooms are spotless tells us immediately that this restaurant is here for one purpose: feeding tourists. Still great food though!
Jumping Cat Monastery
Our last stop of the day is at a monastery that is nicknamed the Jumping Cat Monastery. The monks that live on this floating monastery have taught their resident stray cats some jumping tricks. It appears that they only perform in high tourist season, as all we see are a bunch of lazy cats laying around and a few monks drinking tea. The monastery is still situated in a beautiful location, and the views here are worth visiting, cat show or no cat show.
Our ride back to the village canal takes about an hour, and we are again treated to some amazing scenery. Sunset on the lake with the fisherman all around is something my camera just can’t capture well enough. If only our boat’s motor wasn’t so damn loud!