For our third and final stop in Myanmar, we travelled from beautiful Bagan to the small town of Nyaungshwe by Inle Lake. It was going to take a lot to trump Bagan, which was one of our favourites of our whole 15 months of travel. The small town was quiet and dusty, and didn’t really look like much in itself. Lots of buildings were half built (including where we were staying), but there were plenty of no-fuss, authentic places to go and eat and just a short cycle away was the majestic, azure Inle Lake.
We spent one day cycling from Nyaungshwe to the lakeside, enjoying the sunshine and the Burmese countryside. We arrived at the lakeside and walked along a very long pier, to see what we could see and to see if there was a way to get out onto the lake. Although the scenery was pretty impressive, our search was rather fruitless as we couldn’t find a way out onto the water. Lots of houses are built on stilts coming right out of the water, so it can actually be quite tricky to get to the water’s edge, as there isn’t really a water’s edge! The small village sprawls out onto the lake, merging the boundary between land and water. We walked back onto dry land and sought out some food. The cycling ended up being longer than we’d expected, so we were rather peckish. We stopped off at a sleepy restaurant for some lunch before turning back. We didn’t head straight home, however, as en route we passed signs to a vineyard. On such a lovely sunny day, it would be rude to pass by it again!
We turned off the main road and cycled up into the hills. After a knackering final push up, we arrived at the vineyard. Myanmar isn’t particularly famous for its wine, but this was one of the few wine-producing regions, where it wasn’t too hot or too rainy. The views from up in the hills were very impressive and you could see right out across the lake. We drank some refreshing wine (some crisp Sauvignon Blanc, which was tasty, but not a patch on the New Zealand variety we had become used to) and rested our tired legs, before dangerously whizzing back down the hill again.
We got chatting to the woman who ran our guesthouse, and she explained that the best, and seemingly only, way to see the lake properly was to go on a boat trip for the day. We were slightly reluctant at first, as yours and boat trips can be sold to you as brilliant and the only way to experience something, and then turn out to be disappointing, overpriced and touristy. However, in this instance our guesthouse owner was right. Inle Lake is so vast that you can’t really get a sense of it unless you venture out on to it, and to venture out onto it you need someone with a boat.
The next day we were picked up in the morning by two local men, and taken out on the lake in their boat. They spoke little English, but we managed to chat to them enough to find out a bit about their community, and about life on the lake. We watched fishermen balancing on one leg off the edges of very long boats, whacking the calm water with large bamboo to guide fish into their nets. We passed women selling goods on floating shops and a few other tourists on boats like ours.
We pootled across the lake and then entered into a large floating village. We floated through streets lined with houses (which were impressively built and amazingly many included satellite dishes!), and then stopped off at some craft shops to be encouraged to buy some things. We stopped at a silversmith, where we watched how they made traditional jewellery, and I bought Grace some earrings for her birthday. We also visited a blacksmiths, a silk weavers and a paper lantern shop. Although we knew we had been taken to these places to spend a bit of money, we weren’t pressured into buying things, and it was really interesting to see some local crafts in action. We did all buy a few souvenirs, but they were inexpensive and very good quality, so we didn’t mind.
We then continued on our trip, stopping at a restaurant for lunch (Toby had some fish-head soup), and some lakeside temples. Our boat driver and navigator were really friendly and we had a great day. It was obviously an activity designed for tourists, but it didn’t feel fake and sugar coated as it often can.
Myanmar’s tourist industry is just getting going, but I hope they can retain the brilliant authenticity it has at the moment. Our time by Inle Lake was relaxing, interesting and very enjoyable, but unfortunately it marked the end of our time in Myanmar. It was such an interesting country, and is one I’m keen to return to.