Upon arrival, I tried (not for the first time) to rid myself of “damaged” USD at the airport money exchanger. They wouldn’t take any of my ten $5 bills. I slammed my hand down and took my money and left. Not the mellow way I wanted to start the Inle Lake leg of the trip. All taxi’s charge 25000 kyat ($32) to Inle Lake, so we shared a taxi with a nice Spanish couple (living in Hanoi) for 12500 ($16). The government charges a $5 entrance fee per person as you drive toward Inle lake. Again, I argued with the guy about the quality of my $5’s and wound up giving him a bunch of crappy $1’s.
*Lesson learned – only bring brand new fresh crisp USD. 100’s, 20’s and 1’s.
Enough about my cranky transport stories. We were dropped off in the little town area along the canal called “Nuang Shwe”. Most budget accommodations are located in this northern area. We found it quite convenient to walk around town for food, etc. and take day trips to the lake by boat. The Queen Inn is located smack in the middle of the canal, across from the town. The location is picture perfect and we were given the top deck “superior room” overlooking the canal. I cannot say enough good things about the family that owns and operates the Queen Inn. We also met several nice people from places like Italy, Brazil, Santa Barbara, Zurich and Mallorca/Chang Mai.
The Shan Hills set the backdrop. Like the Karens and Kachins, the Shan people operate somewhat independently from the rest of Myanmar. Some men were not wearing the lungyi cloths predominant in the big cities of Rangoon & Mandalay. Teenagers were a bit more free to flaunt “emo-like” styles. Villagers had their little tourist trade routines. The local economy seemed prosperous in a humble way. Budget accommodations were hard to come by without planning and prices were 2-3X that of the 2010 Lonely Planet guide.
Christie wasn’t feeling well the first day, so I walked through town in search of electrolytes and Scooby snacks. We returned to the outdoor market our second day to sample sugar cane bars and fried noodle snacks. Other unique market items were fresh tea, cheroot cigars, the largest avocados known to man, and local grains. A little boy (about 2 years old) in a dirty jumper and painted face was following us all around the market, smiling and waving. He was so cute. After the market, we stopped for a pineapple lassi and Brett had an avocado shake with lima bean soup. We spent some time admiring the gorgeous pagoda ” “, which sits at the Nuang Shwe canal bridge.
The weather at Inle Lake is surprisingly chilly at night/morning and super sunny during the day. There is a nice breeze during daytime to help keep you cool. It was like 40 degrees the morning we ventured out on our boat ride to the lake. By the time lunch rolled around, we were back to wearing shorts and tees. Definitely book your boat ride the day before. They start around 7:30am and return at 4pm. We were able to share our boat ride with our new friend Alison. The Queen Inn arranged everything for us for 15000 kyat total (10000 or $12 for two people). Alison is a kind British woman living between Chiang Mai & Mallorca. She studied Thai massage in Chiang Mai and also practices in Mallorca. Our boat driver was a nice young guy that spoke a little english. It took a bit, but he finally realized we wanted less souvenir-type stops and more local culture (village views, old temples, etc.)
Our Inle Lake journey started with a local fisherman showing off his kung fu leg-rowing technique. Each day, a different village sponsors the daily market. We spent about an hour perusing through the market with all the usual chochki’s you can imagine. Our ride then took us way south down the lake through several floating villages constructed with stilted bamboo huts. It is astonishing how entire villages exist on water. The communities manage to function on water just as we do on land. If they need to prepare dinner, they just hop in their canoe to the floating market. As we sailed through the villages, we saw people bathing, women washing laundry, children playing ball, and families gathered eating.
We stopped at a fabric souvenir shop where women were weaving silk, lotus and cotton in robotic fashion. They produced various types of scarves, lungyi’s, bags, blankets and ties. We noticed very high prices including a lotus scarf selling for $200. After lunch, we skipped the touristy “5 Pagodas” stop in favor of an impromptu visit to some old pagoda ruins. This is where we discovered several ruins with headless Buddhas. We wondered if looting had taken place or damage from a natural disaster. The silversmith workshop was interesting if you’ve never been. The problem with visiting local tradesmen is you feel obligated to buy a souvenir if you come to look. The floating gardens seemed to focus on rice paddies and spanned miles beyond the naked eye to the west.
Our itinerary ended at the “Jumping Cats Monastery”. This stop in particular was a total tourist trap. Would we find supernatural cats flying around ancient Buddhas? We walked into the Buddhist Monastery to find several buddhas, monks, sleeping cats and a gift shop. Christie ran over to grab a close seat for the pending jumping cat routine. Alison was equally as eager to view the magic show. The cat maestro walked out onto the mat where four cats were already prepped and resting. She woke the cats up with a small nudge using a special plastic hula ring. Then, in succession propped each cat up by the neck with the ring to stand and jump through. Each jump was about two feet off the ground and rewarded with a Burmese cat treat. Unbelievable!
See our Photo Album:
Inle Lake, Shan People