Bustling community in a truly tranquil setting
Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
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I'm starting to get worried that I won't make it through my planned itinerary before the deadline to board the Trans-Mongolian in Beijing on the 18th of December. That's about six to seven weeks away and I still plan to cover Lao, Cambodia, Vietnam and southern China, whilst collecting the necessary visas and without needing to fly anywhere, in that time. Therefore, this visit to Myanmar has become a bit of a whistle-stop tour, as my day in Inle attests.
Still, after my earnest preachings to the contrary in the Mandalay entry, I ended up taking the 10 hour bus from Bagan to Inle. What a butthead. The bus was crappier, the roads atrocious through the mountain passes, but we made it in the end and only an hour or two late. Ce la vie. My warning still stands - if you can afford to fly it's the only way to go in Myanmar.
The mission was worth it however. Queen's guesthouse adjacent the working canal was a little noisy (due to water traffic), but had great cheap beds which included a fine breakfast and equally impressive dinner. The service was second to none as well, so if you're in the neighbourhood, stay for a while and let them take care of the rest.
A German chap called Gabriel joined me on the lake on our only spare day here. We were up with the sparrows, and after a good feed, into the rented longtail to hit the canal before the $US fee collectors made the office at 6.30am. The atmosphere was serene and the scenery spectacular, so we sat back and absorbed the views - most scenes reflected on the glassy lake surface.
The fishermen are the main attraction at this time, with their unique rowing style (using an arm and a leg to save energy over long distances) and excellent balance on what looks to be very small and precarious vessels. Somehow they often row, steer and tend their nets all at the same time. Mist and cloud rolling over the surrounding hills adds to the silent ambience.
As the sun rose further we went to investigate some of the lake's many floating villages. Large fishing and farming communities have developed and built themselves substantial stilt houses in the shallower waters (most of the lake is only a couple of metres deep). One features flocks of ducks and a carpet of vibrant water lilies as we wove our way through the narrow channels and canals that accessed it. The locals went about their daily business of housework, washing the clothes and getting the kids to school. When you live on top of it, the lake is integral in all these domestic realities.
As we headed further south, more aspects of lake life revealed themselves to us. It's about 22 sq kilometres of water and villages so there is a lot to see. We were taken to the obligatory craft shops (silversmithing, parasol making, weaving etc), temple sites and markets, but it was cruising the 'streets' of the little villages on the way that was the most interesting. Just like any other town anywhere, these communities have 'roads', town halls, shops, places of worship and of occupation - it's just a lot harder to get between them as everything has to be done by boat. Still, the locals don't seem to mind, and are quite proud of their unusual way of life.
Another interesting stop along the way was to a Kaya 'long neck' village. Apparently females in the village are free choose whether they would like to don the rings or not, and if so, start at the tender age of 8 and have four rings applied every three years until they reach a total of 24 rings. They (the females and the community) consider it a sign of great beauty (although it was a male that told me this) and they also wear bands around the calves, along with their unique hill-tribe dress. If it looks a bit staged it is, I had to pay $US3 to enter the village, but hey, this whole area is awash with mainly European tourists, and the money goes directly into the village pockets (as opposed to the government), so it was worth it.
The day continued on and we had a fine lunch and beers overlooking the water somewhere around the middle of the lake. Everywhere we went there were signs of activity and commerce, confirming the theme that Myanmar has a vibrant localised economy wherever you go, in spite of the national government that does little to help the community or common person.
In the end you only need a day to cover this, unless you really want to do some serious shopping or just seriously unwind in a unique environment. I'm glad I made it here, as it was a fine way to end my Myanmarian adventures.
Next entry -> Final thoughts on Myanmar, if my computer isn't seized at the border.
Confirmed mozzie kills (so far this trip)
Although fortunately for me, they seem to prefer European blood. Lucky there is a lot of it around here... Muhahahaha...