We arrived in Inle Lake in the early afternoon. The first item on our agenda was showering. It felt good to be clean and wearing dust-free clothes. We had a filling, traditional Burmese meal before toppling into bed for another early night.
Inle Lake is Myanmar’s second largest natural lake, situated in the district of Shan State, It spans 22km in length and 11km wide. Marshes and floating markets, as well as residential stilt homes fringe this vast and serene lake. Looming mountains frame Inle Lake and there’s plenty to do on land as well as on the water so we split our time evenly to discover both.
Our first full day in Inle Lake was a slow start as we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and loosened our stiff calves/shins. Our hotel provided us with bikes, allowing us to cycle around the town of Nyaungshwe freely. We scouted out Mingalar market situated in the middle of town, selling food, jewellery and clothes. After a quick pit stop for a lime juice and pastries, we made our way to Yandana Aung Pagoda.
For lunch and the remainder of the afternoon, the four of us cycled up to Red Mountain Estate for some wine tasting. The estate produces wine using the 400,000 plants have been imported from France and Spain, flourishing amid the cool climate and fertile soil. We tried 4 different kinds of wine grown on the vineyards (2 red and 2 white) along with some bread and cheese. For lunch, we ordered a bottle of our favourite red (Shiraz Tempranillo) to share and watched the sun sink behind the mountains. It was a very relaxing afternoon, but the cycling wasn’t over. Before sunset, we made our way to Maing Thauk, with bellies full of wine, a village half on land and half in the water. We didn’t have time to stay for long but made it back to the hotel just before dark.
On our last day, we spent as much of it as possible on the lake. Every morning, a fleet of slender wooden canoes fitted with long-tailed outboard motors transport visitors to the various natural, religious and cultural sights of the freshwater lake. We organised our trip through our hotel and departed on a private boat at 8am for a full day on the water.
The people of Inle Lake are known as the Intha, and some 70,000 live in the four cities bordering the lake, both along the shores and on the lake itself. Most live in simple wooden or woven bamboo houses, perched on rickety stilts, and the majority are self-sufficient farmers.
We watched local fishermen standing on the stern with one leg, wrapping the other around their oar for balance. This unique style has evolved due to the poor visibility in the lake (covered in reeds and floating plants), making it difficult to see when sitting. In addition to fishing, locals grow vegetables and fruit in large gardens floating on the surface of the lake. Most of the gardens, similar to allotments back home, appear so dense that you feel you could almost walk across them.
We were driven through the intricate network of tributaries that had been constructed by the villages living on the lake, created in the same way roads on land are formed. Some of the houses built on the water had even constructed fences for their water gardens.
We were dropped off at various craft shops including a boat making workshop, and a lotus, silk and cotton-weaving workshop making traditional longyi.
We made a final stop at the Jumping Cat Monastery (Nga Hpe Kyaung). The name is slightly misleading as none of the cats we saw were performing for us. Lonely Planet informed us that the jumping cats are ‘trained to leap through hoops during the slow hours between scripture recitals’. This new generation of lazy cats prefers to snooze in the sunshine.
We were back on land for sunset, enjoying some happy hour cocktails at a nearby restaurant/bar for our final ‘cheers’ of the trip. We ate at a delicious Nepalese/Burmese curry house for dinner. It had raving reviews on TripAdvisor and was worth the hour-long wait to be served.
Ben and Eden left Inle Lake (for Mandalay) in the morning and we said our farewells. It wasn’t too emotional as we knew we would be seeing them again when they visit us in Ho Chi Minh City, in only a couple of months time. It was just the two of us once again. We are sad to be leaving Myanmar; it’s such a beautiful country, the food is delicious, and the people are so friendly. It’s a little on the expensive side for Asia so we are looking forward to returning ‘home’ to Vietnam. It certainly feels like a familiar place to go back to and comforting knowing we will be eating and sipping coffee at our regular spots for one last time.