The Miraculous Inle Lake
The ride to Nyaung Shwe embarks when entering the taxi in the ever-busy city of Rangoon. Through the roads, packed with cars, the taxi finds its way to the chaotic, but atmospheric bus-station. Shan Noodles are ordered as preparation for the upcoming visit and the gentleness of this state, almost already can be tasted.
The twelve-hour drive goes by quickly in the comfortable bus, enjoying some movies or trying to obtain the necessary hours of daily sleep. Occasionally, the bus goes for a stop and passengers are slowly crawling out from underneath their warm, fleece blanket, into the cold. After passing many corners of the green hills in this mountainous landscape and while half asleep, experiencing the marvellous Shan sunset from the soft bus chair, the bus arrives at Nyaung Shwe.
At 8.00 A.M., the Shan Noodles are more than welcome, providing energy for this bright new day. Unfortunately, this lovely meal does not compensate the little sleep from the turbulent night in the bus this time. However, it does feel great to be in a new environment, with kind people everywhere around and a balmy temperature.
The first destination is that in the form of a vast square containing 2478 pagodas; Kakku. Accompanied by one of the local guides, dressed beautifully in traditional Pa’O clothing, the mostly agricultural scenery and stories about the Pa’O people and traditions already make the 1.5-hour trip worthwhile on its own.
Entering the pagoda complex, one will rather be amazed by the structured, large grouping of the pagodas than by each pagoda individually. Furthermore, the countless donations for maintenance and reconstruction, made by people from all over the world, brings a pleasant sense of solidarity. After driving back to town, the guide, eager to tell even more about the Pa’O culture, heads back to the office.
The second attraction of the day is somewhat more close-by; Red Mountain Estate, a vineyard located no more than half an hour away by bike from Nyaung Shwe. The colourful surroundings combined with wine tasting would almost let one deem to be at a vineyard somewhere in the hills of France.
After enjoying the fine wines of this relaxing place, leisurely walking around in Nyaung Shwe provides a great continuation of the former activity and after a quick visit to the hotel, the small night market awaits. Whoever has visited a night market in, for example, Thailand, will feel at home at this spacious, though cosy plaza.
The restaurants and bars surrounding the square provide a wide variety of Western and local food & drinks alike. The rollerblade course a couple blocks away is jammed with local, young men on this misty evening, competing in a game of skills with each other or helping each other moving forward, holding each other’s as hand as support. An entertaining activity to watch and even more to join in on.
The next morning the most anticipated destinations await. After a short explanation from our guide (who was with us the whole weekend) about the fishermen’s way of fishing, a special Expeditions Myanmar boat was waiting at a small port.
The boat trip from the canal towards the lake is one that eases the mind. A somewhat noisy motor tries to interfere but easily is to be forgotten by all surrounding natural beauty. Many bird species can be seen while approaching the famous fishermen and farmers of the lake. The title ‘Sons of the Lake’, which is the translation of their Burmese name “Intha people”, undeniably fits them very well.
Crossing the lake towards one of Myanmar’s most beautiful pagoda collections, Indein Village is especially interesting for those who are looking for the older, less preserved, but unique pagodas. These ones are found on the left of the large hallway of souvenirs. After entering the village by boat, the logical path will lead to the newer, restored pagodas, while the real archaeological treasures luckily remain unseen for most of the tourist groups visiting.
Although long hallways of souvenir items sometimes are rather to be avoided, this time interest took over and half an hour later the scheduled duration of the visit had been surpassed. The Golden Kite Restaurant played an important part in this as well, with a fresh strawberry juice of natural mountain sweetness and pancakes covered with Belgium chocolate, it was hard to leave.
Returning to the virtually clear water of Inle (currently), the trip proceeded to the most important Buddhist temple of Inle: Hpaung Daw U Pagoda. 5 golden balls displayed in the middle of a large room, present a refreshing variation on the more common Buddha statues and Pagodas in Myanmar. The mysterious story that comes along with especially one of the statues, makes one wanting to unravel what exactly has occurred more than 50 years ago during their remarkable, yearly festival.
One of the traditional practices at Inle lake is weaving, a very long and precise process. A practice that stays compelling no matter how many times you come across it, perfect for a quick visit. The weavers here are very friendly, spontaneous people, who do not hesitate to share with visitors their lovely lunch; rice crackers with tea leaf salad and some sort of popcorn as a side snack, accompanied by a customary cup of tea. A short sleeve button-up from the weaver’s shop is added to the improvised wardrobe at home in Yangon and it is getting late in the afternoon, so the plan is to head out on the lake and enjoy the looming sunset.
Inner calmness can be found while the boat serenely slides over the water, watching the farmers fertilizing their floating tomato fields with seaweed, yielded from the lake in the early morning. Absorbing the gentle sunlight, the lake transforms into a glowing, pearly mirage. The sky takes on multiple, tender colours as the sun settles behind the mountain. While the boat sails back to Nyaung Shwe, a final, tranquil aura dominates the air. It is a moment in which one is peacefully concluding the day, summarizing all the new experiences encountered.
The evening that follows brings a delicious Italian pasta, a few drinks and a lot of great conversations. Unfortunately, the alarm states 6:00 A.M., so the hotel room must be found early. When thinking of all the places and activities near and at Inle Lake left untouched this weekend, a return to this fantastic destination will have to be planned soon.
The alarm is left to snooze a few times, but then breakfast awaits. The last Shan state Shan Noodles are being consumed and quick visits to the wooden monastery “Shwe Yan Pyay” and the Heho market are made on the road to the airport. While waiting to board the plane, a new friend met at Hpaung Daw U Pagoda appears. The time flies by quickly as we converse and it is time to head back to the busy life of Yangon.
- Heho Market
Inle Lake, reunion is nigh.