Sunday, 14 June 2015

Myanmar: Inle Lake

*WARNING - This is a long blog post so be sure to have a cup of tea to accompany you!*

After a short stop in Kalaw where Sam and Rebecca booked and began their hike to Inle Lake (blog post coming soon), Sophie and Sarah decided to go on ahead. It was only a short minibus drive (just over an hour). We stayed at the Four Sister Inn which was run by a couple who were really friendly and helpful, breakfast on the balcony was also included that came with amazing views of the surrounding mountains which were always covered by mist in the mornings, it was so beautiful!

On our first day, our main priority was to find somewhere to book a boat tour for the next morning so we could see Inle Lake how it was meant to be seen! It turned out that the couple who ran our hotel had a friend who took tourists on his boat to show them the best parts the lake had to offer. After a brief meeting with the man to discuss what we'd see and where we'd be taken, we finally booked it for around $8 each (USD). During the afternoon, we decided to walk around the town to get some lunch which was swiftly replaced with amazing strawberry milkshakes and home-made brownies at a cute local cafe. We even met a group of English 60 something women who were travelling Myanmar together and had stopped for a cup of tea and cake - how predictable are the British, eh!?

After lunch, we continued our stroll around the town to discover it was just pagoda, after pagoda which we weren't too impressed with as many of them were run down and not well looked after, so we took yet another break in an internet cafe to do some hostel bookings ready for our Northern Thailand adventure in a few days. We also tried to book our bus tickets to take us to the Mae Sai border the day after our boat tour, only to be informed that the land was closed to tourists so the only way we could leave Myanmar was to book a flight to a town called Tachileik ($100 USD!!), then walk a short distance to the land border crossing! We spent hours trying to find a cheaper way to leave but after many dead ends, we gave in and finally booked the flight.

The next morning, we were up at 7am ready to enjoy our breakfast with a view before being collected to start our boat tour of Inle Lake. We rode in the boat for around 45 minutes before we arrived at our first destination, Ywama Village. Nearly all the homes and buildings are constructed on piles driven into the lake bed which means the residents travel around by canoe but there are also numerous bamboo walkways and bridges. Ywama is part of a 5-day rotating market cycle of Inle (the marker appears in different locations on the lake each day). There is no main street or square which makes it quite unique, but it wasn't long before we got sucked into the local market which takes place on the grounds of a pagoda complex. We spent at least an hour eyeing up the hand-crafted jewellery and garments that were being sold along with some delicious looking fruit and vegetables. However, much of the commerce takes place on the water as merchants, their small boats loaded with handicrafts and produce, do business with locals and tourists. We also met some very cute dogs that were wandering around greeting all the tourists with the world's cutest little faces (see pictures below and you'll agree!). The village is also home to a monastery and a stupa, weaving, metal smithing, wood carving and umbrella workshops. There are also many floating gardens where farmers plant crops like tomatoes and cucumbers on floating mats of vegetation anchored in place with bamboo poles.

On the way to the next location, we noticed our boat was gradually slowing down even though we weren't approaching a village or building which concerned us. After about 5 minutes of wondering what was going on, it eventually came to a stop and we were told that we had officially broken down in the middle of the lake in the blazing sun! Thankfully, a passing boatman stopped and let us join the people on his boat so we could complete our tour.. it was quite entertaining trying to pass over the chairs, blankets and our belongings while floating on the water haha!

Next up was a weaving factory that only use cotton produced by cotton spiders, which they weave themselves using old fashioned machinery to make scarves, cardigans, ponchos etc. We were greeted by a young girl who showed us the different machinery and equipment and answered our questions about the garments the women were producing before us. It all seemed so complicated but it was quite peaceful to watch the women work and see pieces being created right in front of us. It wasn't long before we were taken to the gift shop where Sophie decided to buy two scarves, one for herself and one for her mother. Sarah almost bought a poncho for herself but resisted when she realised how little room she had left in her rucksack!

After another short ride along the lake, we arrived at the local boat-builders and cigar makers.. weird combination haha. The lady informed us that an average fisherman boat can take up to 2 months to complete and cost around $600 (USD) which is probably the reason we saw so people with leaky boats and repairing them the cheapest way they could. We quickly popped into the cigar makers afterwards but were greeted by a room full of smoke as some tourists were testing the product before purchasing, we swiftly left after a small coughing fit! Again we were taken to the gift shop where the boatman also crafted some items out of left-over wood such as bowls, magnets, wall hangings, key chains and plates. 

We quickly drove past the Phaung Daw Oo pagoda giving us enough time to quickly snap a few photos of it before being taken to visit the Kayan tribe. In the late 1980's and early 1990's due to conflict with the military regime in Myanmar, many Kayan tribes fled to the Thai border area. According to a 2004 estimate, there are still 130,00 living in various places in Myanmar and Northern Thailand. Women of the Kayan tribes are well known for wearing brass coils that are placed around the neck, appearing the lengthen it. They first start to wear them around five years old then the coil is replaced by a longer one and more turns are added. The weight of the brass pushes the collar bone down and compressed the rib cage which gives the appearance of a stretched neck (the neck is not actually lengthened). There are many different reasons why the women wear these coils, but the tribe we met wore them to resemble to a dragon, which is an important figure in Kayan folklore. To see these women in real life was quite unsettling and made Sarah feel ill to the point where she had to leave and sit outside for a while, it really is a strange sight!

Lastly, we were taken to Nga Phe Kyuang which is a wooden monastery built on stilts on Inle Lake, just north of Ywama village. It's name means the 'Jumping Cat Monastery' because the monks used to train the cats to jump through small hoops, unfortunately they don't do it anymore due to laziness apparently haha! Upon arrival, Sarah felt a lot worse and had to run to the toilets to be ill.. it was at this point that she felt she hit an ultimate new low in life. Being sick.. in a squatter toilet.. in a monastery.. with no shoes on. Come on, that's pretty bad right? Needless to say, we didn't spend much time there as Sarah continued to get worse throughout the day due to sunstroke.

Here are some (many) photos of our time in Inle Lake, enjoy!

The incredible view at breakfast
Sunset view from our hotel balcony
Here we go!

Small rice fields in Ywama village

This cutie was trying to seduce us I think haha!
Ywama local school - assembly time!
Ywama village
Ywama village market
Met this gorgeous puppy strolling around the village, he was so happy!
Sophie attempting to walk along the floating gardens, HELP!

Growing cucumbers in the floating garden
A local leg-rowing fisherman
Of course our boat would break down.. onto the next one!
The local homes

Before the garments are completed..
.. and after! So colourful and pretty :)
The local boat maker
They also sold little trinkets for tourists to buy which were all handmade by the local people
They even sold hand-carved and hand-painted bowls, it was so hard to resist!
Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda
How the locals get around!

An elder member of the Kayan tribe
A younger tribe member not wearing as many coils as the elders
The coils - they were incredibly heavy!
The amount and weight of the coils each girl has to wear at certain ages
Nga Phe Kyuang (Jumping Cat Monastery)
Home time!

The Happy Wanderers

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