Inle Lake, Myanmar, is one of the country’s busiest tourist spots. People can take a room on or around the lake at several hundred dollars a night, but the backpackers and tourists with more limited funds will head for Nyaungshwe and get a room there. There’s a river that connects Inle Lake to Nyaungshwe and at Nyaungshwe there are many boats waiting to take the tourists from there to the lake. That was the way I went.
I’m not one for early mornings. I have them at work and so, for me when I am away from home I am loathe to start the day in the wee hours, but if you want to catch a sunrise, well, there’s no choice. Sunset would have done me, but as a solo traveller I had joined a couple to cut the costs of hiring the boat down. We booked in a little tourist shop, of which there are many in Nyaungshwe, and at a total of $15 for the whole boat until around 4pm, we’d done pretty well. They were leaving in the evening, and so had to be back a couple of hours before sunset.
So I was there at 6am at the tourist place. 20 minutes later they rocked up. We were walked down the main road to the river and shown our boat and captain. The boats are all longish, thin boats that take around 4 people, but when the water is higher I was told they take up to six. We were just three so plenty of space. We had life jackets and cushions, and the boat also came with umbrellas for people to keep the sun off. Off we went towards the lake, the sun was still behind the mountains. But the boat wasn’t going very fast and was clearly making a lot more noise than the other boats. Suddenly, it wasn’t going either! We floated over to the side of the river by some rice fields, and if by magic a man who our captain seemed to know appeared.
The hose connecting the engine to the fuel supply had a big bloody hole in it! We had been leaking fuel profusely and were now out of it! They made running repairs as the sun climbed slowly over the mountains. Our sunrise over the lake was not to be. The boat got going again and at least picked up some speed, although the volume remained far too loud for me! We hit the lake and fortunately the colours of sunrise were still filling the sky. Myanmar is without a doubt one of the dustiest places on Earth, and they were burning off vegetation like crazy there too so the hazy sky was perfect for creating an orange glow.
No sooner were we on the lake itself (about 15 minutes by boat from Nyaungshwe) than a boat approached us, belonging to a fisherman. He had these wonderful nets shaped like an elongated dome over wood, but although he was a fisherman by trade, he knew how to make a few kyats on the side. He stood on one leg and posed in various positions for our photos. Then he showed us a little fish he had caught, still alive. Then he waited for a tip. Which, yes, he got. I mean, thanks to him I had a number of good photos.
The boat zoomed along the lake, there were plenty of others out and about too. We passed a number of restaurants and hotels on stilts and built into banks, some looking slip shoddy, others looking pretty damned comfortable. The colours and scenes were pretty nice, it was early morning and the orange glow was present, if fading.
Our first proper stop was to see the ‘long necked women’. In a village. So, expectation was that we would end up exploring a floating village with people living in traditional ways. WRONG. The village was waterfront, but built on land mostly. Where were we taken to? A souvenir shop! Yep. It’s all pretty touristy! It was huge and to be honest, the prices were not cheap. Bartering got us a couple of… ‘deals’. There were three women with bronze metal circling around their necks. A little information in English but nothing that said WHY, and no-one with enough English to talk about this custom and speak on the women’s behalf. They posed for photos, and that’s why I felt I should buy something from the shop.
Off to the market then. The Nan Ba market obviously also sees a lot of tourists. There were two sort of jetties of land that boats pulled up on, and we walked along this jetty with dozens of souvenir stalls vying for our customarage. The market itself was more for the locals, partially undercover with very nice toilets.
There was all manner of food, necessities and bibs and bobs for sale, not to mention little restaurants for the locals. It was a hive of activity and in some ways, bar the souvenir stalls, was probably the most authentic part of the whole day.
It was all interesting and a great day out though, and clearly the lake survived these days on tourism. The day wasn’t even half done, and I was happy enough. Strip away the stuff for the tourist, and I was still have a relaxing day on the lake in a boat. Thus endeth part one. More coming in the next week or so! Until then – May the journey never end!