Yeah, you know it's alright!

Trip Start Mar 03, 2005
Trip End Apr 08, 2006

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Flag of Myanmar  , Shan State,
Monday, January 23, 2006

A number of people I'd met in my first few days in Burma had told me the highlight of their trip was Inle Lake, so despite knowing that it was probably going to be very touristy I couldn't not allow a few days in my itinerary to visit the place. The town I would be staying in, Nyaungshwe was just three hours from Kalaw, but to my good fortune I was able to secure a seat in a taxi with the two Germans I went trekking with, as well as their friend. It not only meant I would avoid an uncomfortable bus ride, but it would give me a chance to see the biggest market in the Shan State at Heho (there are some photos in the 'Kalaw' entry).

The morning I left Kalaw was very cool and as I bade farewell to my extremely wonderful and friendly Nepali hosts at the Golden Lily guesthouse I looked on dishearteningly as a big package tour began their days hike. "Nearly every dollar they spend goes to the government" my host told me. I could see these people clearly annoyed her, but whilst I felt the same way I couldn't possibly understand the ramifications for her. From my perspective, what annoyed me most about the package tourists (and all of those in Burma for that matter) was that these people seemed quiet content to basically hand their money over to the government. Myself and other independent travellers were going out of our way to make sure almost none of our money went into the junta's pocket, but seeing this large group made me wonder if the effort I was putting in was even worth it. The number of responsible tourists seemed to be far outnumbered by these package tourists surprisingly.

We arrived in Nyaungshwe around lunch time and spent most of the day relaxing on the hotel terrace and walking around the small town. It had a very nice, quiet feel to it and the river and numerous pagodas made it more interesting than the town of Kalaw. At 900m above sea level the weather was also quite a lot warmer as well. As expected, there were more facilities for tourists, but this didn't seem to distract from the atmosphere.

Initially my expectations of Inle Lake were quite low, as they tend to be when everyone talks up a place, but once we hit the serene, placid waters of Inle Lake on our small wooden boat at around 7:30am the following morning my spirits rose! After drifting through a now very untradional floating market with hundreds of souvenir hawkers we stopped at a silk weaving factory to see the famous long necked women. These woman wear rings around their necks from a very young age, and they lengthen the neck substantially. Although the tribesmen believe this makes the women more attractive, I found them grotesque! It just seemed too abnormal, and what was worse was the fact that they were basically in a zoo at the silk factory, purely on show for the tourists to take their photos. I couldn't resist however, as it really was a strange sight, but as we continued on I can't say I felt all that good!

Our next stop was at the ruins of Indein to see hundreds of ancient stupas in a field. The long covered walkway leading to the ruins would have been very atmospheric and Indiana Jones like had it not been for the literally hundreds of souvenir stalls lining both sides. This place was worse than Siem Reap! And I couldn't quite figure out why, because surely here supply far exceeded demand.

The rest of the day was spent visiting a few pagodas, including the famous 'jumping cat monastery' where some obviously bored monks had taught the resident felines to leap through a hoop about 30cm from the groud. The trip on the lake was probably my highlight though, as the scenery was really beautiful.

The following day I bade farewell to my German friends and joined my guide from the boat trip for a short half day hike in the mountains around Inle Lake. The overnight bus to Mandalay wasn't until 7pm so I had plenty of time to do a little more siteseeing and mentally prepare myself for another uncomfortable night! We hiked for around an hour up a gentle slope before we reached our first stop at two meditation caves. One contained a hermits hut made of clay bricks which I found quite interesting. We then passed on through three villages which were very different from those I saw in Kalaw as none of the children hassled me at all for gifts or money. They just went about their daily activities as if I wasn't there! Their faces did light up when they saw my camera though, and they all rushed over to see the photos I'd taken. Our last stop before heading back to Nyaungshwe was at a beautiful teak monastery where some kind monks offered us quite a large morning tea!

I enjoyed my two days at Inle lake. The lake was really stunning and the surrounding hillsides and villages really beautiful in a subtle way, but the place certainly wasn't spectacular. However it was definitely worth taking three days out of my itinerary to visit the place. In fact, Nyaungshwe was such a nice, quiet little town that I could have easily spent another few days relaxing and possibly cycling around the countryside!
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