At this point, only having spent an hour here, I already had fallen in love with the place
. Later I walked up to a cave on the side of the eastern mountain where I sat silently with a monk in his small hut as he offered me various snacks, treats, sugar, nuts, and tea. Then he took me on a quiet tour of the medium cave with several Buddhas inside. I spent the rest of the day reading The Brothers K
and eating at various eateries throughout Nyuangshwe. Star Flower restaurant in Nyuangshwe makes a delightful mojito from fresh mint grown in their garden.
The second day I alternated between riding a bike and resting and reading in the cool shade. I rode out towards the hot springs and then turned around when it seemed the torrential downpour might never stop. I worried that I would have to walk the bike all the way back if the roads became any muddier. Instead the rain let up so I detoured up to Bomping monastery on top of a hill overlooking the lake and Nyaungshwe. It was just wonderful to be there in a place where there's absolutely no tourists and no one seemed to mind or notice that I had climbed up there to silently take in the view of the valley.
I rode back into town and relished in the luxury of lunch and a luxurious restaurant called Viewpoint which is situated right at the bridge over the main canal of Nyaungshwe, the very heart of the town. It's quite bizarre to eat in such a decadent place amidst a small town in Myanmar. It's even more bizarre to have been 1 of only 3 people eating there.
My second day in Inle Lake I hired a boat to take me on a tour of the lake and surrounding villages. We first stopped by the Inn Thein Pagoda complex. On my walk up to the complex I was again the only tourist
. I had to walk for about a kilometer through a large, elaborate covered walkway corridor which is full of souvenir stands on each side. Being the only tourist (and one who never buys trinkets) amidst so many vendors it again felt surreal. The hundreds of pagodas in various states of decay are themselves surreal. I spent the rest of the beautiful day on the boat visiting pagodas, floating villages, and floating gardens and watching kids with tanika face paint ride water buffaloes, farmers work the rice paddies, and fishermen rowing with one leg while pulling in nets. I still really can't believe that entire villages live in bamboo huts built on stilts right in the lake. I also can't imagine bathing, drinking, washing and living in the same water where the toilet dumps into; one of the million things I have seen on this trip which makes me realize just how fortunate I am.
The best part of Inle Lake, though, had to be staying at the Aquarius Inn. Every time I walked into the complex they would come to the kitchen door to greet me. They anticipated and accommodated my every need, often times before I realized what I needed. When I left for the bus to Bagan at 5:30 in the morning they even packed me a boxed breakfast and stayed awake to wait with me for the taxi and to send me on my way. Just lovely.
I stepped off the all night bus from Yangon into the twilight of dawn on Monday morning in Shaungyi. From there I caught a ride into Nyuangshwe on the back of a public transport pickup. As I bumped along slowly with the other four early morning passengers, the sun rose up over the eastern mountains which the form the valley that holds Inle Lake. I watched as farmers and fishermen paddled out across the marshes in their dug out canoes, the sunrise cast pink and orange light across the water, reflecting the color of the sky. Fingers of smoke and fog lingered in throughout the valley as the light became bright enough to see into the distance. Once in Nyaungshwe, still in the light of dawn, I found my way to the other side of town and happened to fall into line with a 100 monks silently walking the street single file, collecting alms for their days sustenance.