Everything is floating! Floating gardens, floating villages and floating markets!
Inle lake was the end point on our 3-day trek from Kalaw. Being covered in dust, we were happy to finally be surrounded by water. To reward ourselves for the long walk we went a bit above-budget (by 3.-) to get ourselves an actual hotel this time, and with a pool! Ok, it felt like the roof of our bedroom could fall down on our heads at any moment, but we were happy to have a place to chill out a bit.
Inle Lake is Myanmar’s second biggest lake, with a surface of approx. 50 km2. It is rather shallow (6-7 m at its deepest point), and is famous for its floating gardens and fishermen using stylish cone-shaped nets. Our first impression of Inke Lake was: FLOATING FOOD! But the second one was: Tourists! The places we have visited so far were not crowded with tourists, but Inle Lake felt different, and one can feel it when interacting with locals. Tourism has already changed people here and within 5 to 10 years most places in Myanmar will go through the same process, unfortunately. But we can’t complain too much about this because we’re contributing to this process right now… Anyway, when staying around Inle Lake, you have several different options: bicycles, boats, tuk-tuks, etc.. Swimming is not an option, unless you’re looking for a good old algae bath. Most organised tours include visits to shops and “factories” (for umbrellas, cigars, etc.) around the lake, which we wanted to avoid, so we rented a bicycle for one day and found a boat driver to take us around for the other day (which is not difficult because every second person in town will ask you if you’re looking for a boat tour).
So for one afternoon, we drove around on our squeaky bicycles to reach a floating village. Technically it is not floating – houses are resting on long bamboo poles, which is possible anywhere on the lake because it is so shallow.
After a short coconut break, we rode to THE winery of the region. Of course we had to taste their wines and… the sunset was beautiful!
Okay… the tasting was a bit traumatic, but who are we to judge?
The next day, we woke up at 4:30 am to go meet our boat driver. We had met a very nice Belgium couple the evening before who decided to join us for the boat ride. We set off before dawn, in a mystical atmosphere, riding through the thick layer of freezing mist covering the lake. Our first encounter was with Inle Lake’s famous fishermen. It didn’t take us long to realise they were only here to pose for pictures, probably paid by the tourist association or something like that. Our driver kept repeating “fake fake” and drove us further on the lake where we met real fishermen at work. Their technique is hypnotising. One foot is used to handle the row and move the boat while they stay in equilibrium on the other foot so that both hands remain free to pull the fishing nets.
Our driver then brought us to the so-called “5-day market” that rotates between the different lakeside towns around the lake. On the way he brought us through some floating villages where we could see the lifestyle of people living there. It is incredible how much a few bamboo poles can hold. It also makes us realize how dependent on water we are. People there have their toilet evacuation directly below their houses, but still pull water from there for cooking, cleaning their dishes or doing laundry (you still see big purified water jars for drinking). Needless to say that thrash doesn’t end up in a bin either.
The market was simply one of the best we have visited in Asia. We arrived there around 7am as all the locals were arriving to do their shopping and did not meet a single tourist until we left two hours later. Different tribes that live around the lake come down for this market, so you can see a lot of different colors.
Next, we sailed (I wish), or rather rode up a river to Indein, a Buddhist sanctuary with hundred of stupas of different ages and different levels of decomposition, which gave us a nice range of colors, from brick to white through gold.
On the way back home, we stopped by at a few monasteries, including one whose name was – as usual – impossible to remember, but is commonly called “the one with the 5 fat little Buddha balls”. Indeed, 5 little statues made out of stone sit in the middle of the temple and over the years people have continuously covered them with gold leaves that they now look like 5 fat little snowmen (or rather goldmen).
As for food, we tried a few new varieties of Shan noodles, which might seem to be a bit recurrent, but we already feel like we have exhausted most of the local cuisine’s repertoire (or rather what they serve to tourists in restaurants – that’s why home-cooking remains the best!). We also tried some Indian food, which is very popular next to Inle Lake. Inle Hut, a restaurant held by Stan, Eminem’s biggest fan, is definitely worth a detour!
Thanks to our Belgium friends for sharing that boat ride with us!