Travelogue: Inle Lake

After getting tired of getting endlessly sprayed with water in Yangon during the water festival, I hopped on a bus north to Inle Lake, one of the most scenic parts of Myanmar.  I’ve heard it to be one of the best places to visit in Myanmar, and it did not disappoint – I enjoyed biking around and boating around Inle Lake and its accompanying city, Nyaung Shwe.
Inle Lake - panorama Maing Thauk harbor view 2

At this point, I’ve established a routine – once I get to a new city, I walk around and find a place to stay, I rent a bicycle and cycle around exploring the countryside, see the sights!  I got a cheap hotel right near the harbor, offering great views, and enjoyed some snacks for breakfast in town.  Apparently strawberry juice is a thing, somewhat famous around Inle Lake, and it’s quite nice.
Inle Lake - view from hotel Inle Lake - snacks in town

And the area of Inle Lake is very, very nice.  From the town of Nyaung Shwe, right north of Lake Inle, I went on a grand bike tour.  The town itself is quite nice, if a bit dusty and hot.Inle Lake - market 1 Inle Lake - market 2

The harbor, filled with boats for the morning market:

I ended up biking a quarter loop around the lake – an eighth of the way down, took a ferry across the lake, and then biking back up to Nyaung Shwe.  It was quite hot, but also quite tranquil.  Sights along the bike route:

At Maing Thauk, I saw some a real ‘floating’ village.  Here, you see that all the houses are on stilts, right over the water.  There’s no land bridge between the houses and the shore, either – the houses are only accessible by boat!  So you see even small children piloting the small skiffs, which is quite impressive.
Inle Lake - panorama Maing Thauk harbor view 1

The ride across the lake was also quite nice, as I hired a boatman to take me and my bicycle across:

While on my bike tour, I visited the Red Mountain Winery.  A winery!  In Myanmar, of all places!  And whereas the winery in Battambang, Laos had really bad alcohol, the stuff in Myanmar is actually quite nice.  For only $2, you get a wine tasting of four different wines – white, rose, red, and late harvest:

Inle Lake - Red Mountain winery view 1 Inle Lake - Red Mountain winery view portrait

Here, I met a couple who were working in Singapore, but would come to Myanmar and Inle Lake every year.  From them, I heard stories of how quickly Myanmar was changing – two years ago, coming into Yangon, there were no proper taxi cabs – only vans with the entire back seats ripped out to create more room.   And of course, rising prices – every two years, prices of everything seem to double!

The views from the winery are also quite nice:
Inle Lake - panorama red mountain winery view 1

Inle Lake - panorama red mountain winery view 2

Of course, there’s also the sunset at Red Mountain Winery.  There’s nothing quite like it, sitting and watching the sunset while sipping decent wine, enjoying the breeze.   Clouds on the horizon prevented a true sunset, but it was still a great experience.  The biking trip back to Nyaung Shwe in the dark?  Not so great.
Inle Lake - panorama red mountain winery view sunset 1

Boat Trip:
Another big thing to do around Inle Lake, is to make some new friends, rent a boat (and boatman), and see the sights of the lake!  And it only costs about $5 per person!  Bright and early, we start out from the harbor.

We came across a fisherman, who demonstrated his acrobatic skills and posed with a fish – before asking for payment.

Continuing on, we landed… somewhere, and walked to check out a local morning market:

I saw water buffalo!

And on the way back to the boat, we hitched a ride on the back of a tractor, for an extremely bumpy ride.
Inle Lake - boat tour ride back from market

As part of the tour, we also stopped by a bunch of (tourist trap) workshops and shops, showcasing extremely overpriced products, but also the process of making them.

– Paper making workshop, somewhat unremarkable.
Inle Lake - boat tour paper making 1 Inle Lake - boat tour paper making 2

– Metalworking workshop, completely manual – using a set of bellows instead of having any machinery!  C’mon folks, we’re in the 21st century.

– Lotus cloth workshop.  While I guess you can make cloth from lotus fiber, I’m not sure why you would – it’s quite labor intensive, and so the finished product (at least in this shop) is extremely expensive.

– Long neck cultural display.  I’m not sure about the whole long neck thing, I understand it’s a cultural thing, but then putting it on display for tourists just seems gauche.
Inle Lake - boat tour long neck

Continuing on after the workshops, we boated by and through quite a number of temples, as well as a a floating village.

There’s also this, which at first glance seemed to be a floating town of some kind, but on second glance was a floating resort!  I can see how this kind of thing would be extremely popular (but also quite expensive) with western visitors.
Inle Lake - boat tour floating resort

Phaung Daw Oo (Hpaung Daw U?): the most important temple of the Inle Lake area.  On the outside, it looks pretty nice, if not terribly special.

The interesting stuff, however, is inside – in the center of the building, you see a platform with these 5 golden lumps, with people (only men permitted) buying and applying gold leaf. The story is, these five lumps were originally Buddha statues.  Officials once tried taking these statues away, ferrying them across the lake, but the boat sake and the statues were lost into the river.  Lo and beyond, however, as the wet boatmen returned to the temple, they found the statues right where they were before, where they belonged.  And ever since, the statues have stayed here, being covered by gold leaf by each wave of visitors.

Finally, the boat reached Inn Dein, a temple complex that was the highlight of my boat trip.  It’s a bit off the usual boat path, so I had to make a special request to visit the temple.  Completely worth it.  Navigating to Inn Dein:

Late in the afternoon, once the sun is note quite as hot, you start to see a lot of kids playing in the river:
Inle Lake - boat tour kids playing in river 1 Inle Lake - boat tour kids playing in river 2

Inn Dein itself is a temple complex consisting of a whole ton of stupas – old and new, stone, and golden, clean and overgrown.  The juxtaposition makes the entire scene quite beautiful.
Inle Lake - panorama Inn Dein

From a certain angle, Inn Dein has a lost world feeling to it:
Inle Lake - Inn Dein lost world 1 Inle Lake - Inn Dein lost world 2

An iguana, camouflaged at Inn Dein:
Inle Lake - Inn Dein iguana

And to finish everything up, sunset over the lake:

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