Our night bus, which by no means was a “sleeper” bus, arrived around 7 am to the town along Inle Lake, Nyuangshwe. We shared a taxi with a British journalist living in Yangon. He initially came over for a short period of time and decided to stay. It’s been three years. Having slept very little on the very windy road, we decided to nap for a few hours before renting bikes with another girl from our bus.
Refreshed, we hopped on decent looking bikes ($1.00) and rode to the west side of the lake. The town has obviously been gearing up for more and more tourists. There is lots of construction and lots of foreigners, bus loads. On our way south, we ran into an American who has been travelling around the world for the last 8 months. She tagged along as we continued down around the lake. It is a pretty flat ride and the roads are decent. But my bike was not cooperating. I stopped along the road to put air in the tires twice on our way down. Lots of bike pumps readily available. Must be a common occurrence. Little villages and a hot springs line the lake on this side. The road is mostly shaded with a particularly scenic tree-lined section.
Riki and I turned around a bit before the last viewpoint, as I wasn’t too keen on taking the bike any further with so little air in the tire. We stopped to eat lunch and the other two caught up to us. It wasn’t long after we left our lunch place that my tire just completely gave. Riki, the true gentleman, offered to stay behind with me as I tried to hitch a ride back to town. We walked along for quite awhile, waving at all the passing trucks. Most were already full and didn’t give us a second look. A guy who had a boat offered to take me for $8 back to town, but I declined and finally told Riki to go a bit ahead and let me see if I could flag down a ride alone. Not ten seconds later, a big red dump truck comes rumbling by. The driver and his other passenger speak no English, but he helps me hoist the bike up onto a pile of dirt in the back and I hop into the cab. I pass Riki and the other two girls and get let out on the opposite side of town from our hotel. I walk the bike back and arrive just before the others.
The hotel staff swear they can fix the bike, but we opt to not risk it and hire a tuk-tuk to take us up the east side of the lake to the local winery, where they have 4 samples for $2. The view was beautiful and we watched the sun set over the lake, or at least until it disappeared behind the haze above the lake. The wine was alright, though the red was borderline undrinkable. This is not a country known for its wine and its the first wine I’ve had since Christmas, so I may not be the best judge.
That evening we met up with the British journalist from the taxi and his girlfriend, a French journalist for dinner. They had interesting things to tell us about Myanmar and about the projects they are working on around Inle Lake. The area around the lake has been changing rapidly and the water level has dropped. We had already arranged for a boat tour the next day and were excited to see all the spots they mentioned.
Very early the next morning, our boat driver met us at the hotel and walked the four of us to the pier. We boarded a long, thin canoe with a motor on the back and set out for our “special” tour around the lake. We must have left before most people because there were many boats waiting for passengers. Our first stop was a silversmith and we watched as they made little elephant rings. The jewelry was pretty, but we weren’t really in the market for anything. Other boats of tourists were arriving as we left and we continued onto the “floating” market, which only floats in October apparently. And maybe not even then if the water level keeps going down. It was full of touristy stuff and we were unimpressed with it. The villages are a lot more built up then I had imagined. Hundreds of people live in wood huts over the water, or on land built up in the water. There are intricate walkways between the houses in some places, others are only reachable by boat. Our next stop was an umbrella shop, which we cruised through and then a cigar rolling shop, which was fascinating. Ladies sit on the floor with a flat basket of tobacco in their lap. They have stacks of leaves and a stick and they roll little cigars so, so fast. They use corn husks for filters and some are flavored like licorice and honey. We also saw a weaving center, where they make cloth out of lotus silk, as well as imported silk and cotton.
Another stop was a recommendation from the French journalist, who happened to be there at the same time. The Inthra Heritage House is a complex of nicely maintained buildings, that just so happens to run a Burmese cat sanctuary of sorts. Of course we had to see that. They also have a restaurant and some other buildings that we didn’t explore. But we went to see the cats. And it was incredible. They have 35 beautiful cats that have their own island and little huts to lounge in. It felt kind of like a little kids’ playplace.
From there, we headed back towards town, through the floating gardens, also incredible. They have tiny canoes that they use to get between the rows of built up earth. We saw flowers, vegetables, and even vines growing up trellises.
One of the villages we went through felt so much like a normal town. The “streets” were laid out in a grid with giant floating bamboo, just like curbs. The biggest downside to these places I think is the bathroom. Little outhouses sit just off the raised house. Not much privacy, but also, 20 feet away, the women were bathing and doing laundry in the lake water. Not much sanitation, either.
Our last day was a rest day. Time to catch up on blogging, buy our bus tickets to Mandalay and eat as much avocado salad as possible. And by avocado salad I mean guacamole. But served with rice chips. And so cheap.