Inle Lake Paradise

Trip Start Mar 04, 2006
Trip End Apr 13, 2006

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Where I stayed
Remember Inn

Flag of Myanmar  ,
Friday, March 17, 2006

It's hard to believe I'm on my fourth day in Nyaungshwe. It's become my favorite place so far in Myanmar, mostly because of the amazing diversity of sights.

I spent the entire day yesterday on Inle Lake, moving from place to place as the sole passenger of a 25'-30' longboat. It's an almost magical place, where the shoreline villages are populated by a variety of ethnic minority tribes, but the lake itself is home to the Intha, who live in stilt houses, grow vegetables on floating gardens, paddle their canoes with one leg while balancing on the other, and harvest fish using a conical net designed specifically for the weed choked and crystal clear waters of Inle Lake. As a people, they've developed a way of life found nowhere else in the world, all tailored to the this specific environment. Legend has it they showed up here about 700 years ago, and brokered a deal with the other tribes to live on the lake, thus avoiding any conflict over land. No one knows for certain where they came from or why, but the only other people to speak their language, Dawai, are hundreds of kilometers away in southern Myanmar.

All lake tours follow essentially the same route and plan. Throughout the day you boat from market, to silk weavers, to silversmiths, to blacksmiths, and so on. At each stop you have an opportunity to see various things being made by hand, as we used to do, and they have an opportunity to sell you their handicrafts. It works out pretty well for everybody, though by the end of the day the sellers are getting a little less enthusiastic and you could care less about how they make mulberry paper. The magic of the place is encapsulated in the trips between the shops. You move about along the lake witnessing this unique way of life, men fishing, men, women and children tending the floating gardens, men and women collecting seaweed to build new floating gardens, all getting around by handmade canoes, and all doing it effortlessly. My Intha boatman, Myu-Myu, slowed every time I raised my camera for a shot, sometimes pointing out interesting sights to me and offering to take me closer for a better photo. He was a great guy, and though is English was a bit limited, I highly recommend asking for him if you stay at the Remember Inn in Nyaungshwe.

The highlight of the day though, are the several trips I made into the Intha villages. My-myu took me through three or four, where we would spend 15-20 minutes slowly winding our way through the villages, allowing me to see much of their daily lives. Kids swimming and playing, 4 year olds awkwardly attempting to leg row the family canoe around the village, pigs living on stilt platforms, cats napping in canoes, girls washing dishes off the front porch, chickens wandering the family floating garden, and in some cases small islands built up over the years that are now front yards. And as has been the case throughout Myanmar, it's the kids that make your day. Around every corner, they're running out of their houses to wave and shout "Hello! Hello!". You smile so much your face hurts, you take pictures constantly, and you hope at least one of them will capture even just a small part of the magic of the moment. Inle Lake and the Intha people are undoubtedly the highlight of my trip in Myanmar, I can't imagine anything else coming close.

On the way back, at the end of a long day, Myu-Myu took me to a place most boat tours pass by. It was a small Intha shrine, right off the main canal. Dilapidated with age, but still used daily for worship, it turned out to be his village shrine. We spent a short time wandering around, and he told me a bit of its history and importance to his village. It's amazing what you can learn from a man who speaks only a few dozen words of your language.

This morning I got up early and headed out on a bicycle before it got hot, planning to head further into the hills than I had a couple days before. Once I got to the hills there wasn't a whole lot of shade, so things heated up pretty quickly, and I almost turned back a couple of times. I was just about to call it a day when I rounded the bend and spotted a mix of old and new stupas off to my left, about 70 yards off the road. Looking for a photo op, I headed down the dirt track towards them, parked the bike and started walking around when I heard someone calling "You come here!" from a shaded platform 50 yards way. He repeated himself, and not quite sure what was going on, I headed on over. Resting in the shade were two Intha men, one young, one old. The young one patted the woven bamboo floor next to him and said "Come, sit.". So I did. He proceeded to pour me a small cup of green tea and offer me a cheroot. Over the next 10 or 15 minutes he continuously refilled my cup, we enjoyed our cheroots, and I quickly used up his English vocabulary digging for details on his life. His name was Supa, he has 5 kids, and is a tomato farmer. That's about all I could get, though we did agree that the stupas in front of us were old. Mostly there were a lot of comfortably awkward silences. Just three guys getting out of the sun. The old guy never said a word, though he did laugh at my attemps to communicate several times. Or maybe just at me in general.

On the ride back, I passed by a mother and her two kids, stopping about 100 yards ahead of them to take a couple of photos. Soon after, I see the little boy approaching, after running to catch up with me. Once he had my attention, he went all shy on me, but in the end I coaxed out of him what he wanted. Pretty much, just to wave and say "Hello!". It was the only English he knew, and he didn't want to pass up a chance to use it. Then his mom arrived with his sister on her back, and gave me permission to take his picture. After which she insisted I take the daughter's picture as well.

And that's about it. The rest of the day has been spent lazing about, eating chocolate banana pancakes and reading. I finished up "The Geographer's Library" and started "The Plot Against America". Doesn't it make your day to know that?

Just a couple notes. I've run into a guy at breakfast the last two days, Adam, who's 7 months into a 12 month post-graduation tour of the world. He's from San Rafael, about 30 minutes from where I live. And I would never have met him if I hadn't come to Myanmar. Or detoured from Kalaw to here. Or stayed at a different in. Ok, I'll stop that now. Nice guy, he's travel blogging on

And some ramdom observations. The Honda Dream is without a doubt, King of the Mopeds here in Myanmar. The Kango Excel seems a weak second. The horse carts in Bagan are pulled by scrawny horses, the carts here are pulled by plump ponies. If two people are riding a moped, the passenger rides sidesaddle. If more than two, they ride facing front. Yes, more than two. I've seen up to four. There are strange little tractor/pickup combo machines here (see the pictures) that are powered by single cylinder diesel motors. The same motors that power the boats, water pumps, and sturdy mid-sized trucks. Genius really, when you think about it. Water buffalo will let kids climb all over them, but won't let me within 20 feet. And yes, I know it was dumb to try. The local dogs like me, I'm the only person I've seen pay any attention to them. This raises the question, can a person get mange? Someone google that for me, please? More on animals; roosters do indeed crow at dawn. And any other damn time they want. Like dusk. And for several hours after. And when one crows, the one a block away answers, then the one a block from it, and so on. And yes, my neighbors keep chickens.

Off to Kalaw tomorrow. More soon.

P.S. For the geeks. I was just talking to the guy who owns the internet shop I'm using, asking where he learned to set all this up. We're talking three XP machines with Cd burners, on a LAN, sharing a dial up connection. He taught himself from books. Never had a class. In a town where horse carts are still a means of travel. I'm so impressed, I can't even tell ya.
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