We were up early for the flight to Inle Lake. We've missed a few of our breakfasts with such early starts. This time the hotel did us a box brekkie. We paid the bill and jumped in the taxi. It was not too long to the airport as it was quiet. We checked in and sat down to await the flight. A Malaysian chap and his wife were opposite us and he soon struck up a conversation. I went to get us a hot drink and he told Jill he liked me and she had me well trained. When I came back he got out his Samsung tablet and started to show me his photos. They fell into two categories. Pictures of meals they had eaten and pictures he had downloaded off the web. He decided he liked us so much when his flight was called he insisted on having a photo with us. Strange but sweet at the same time.
The flight was a 'free seat' one. As they don't have a computerised system they don't allocate seats. It was half empty so no problem. The aircraft does a lap of the country every morning. Yangon-Bagan-Mandalay - Heho- Yangon. We were bound for Heho.
Mandalay was nice but we were looking forward to a quieter time in Inle Lake. We had booked a taxi from the airport. The driver asked if we minded someone sharing. We said 'No'. It made it cheaper and we were soon in our hotel. We had phoned the hotel from Mandalay to book it. 'I have $50 bungalow for you' said the owner. 'New rooms $50' she added. 'That's $50 dollars a night' she confirmed. Ok we get it. When we arrived she said 'You book $50 dollar room, $50 a night yes'. As it turned out she was quite sweet but money was not going to slip past her. It was our wedding anniversary so we spent a little more.
Our room was lovely. Inle is the lake and the town is Nuang Shwe. It is small and dusty but just so different from the mania of Mandalay. We felt right at home. Because of the early flight we were here quiet early. Our host had offered us some tours. We decided to do a canoe trip on the lake. Our host made a call and an hour later a young lad arrived to take us out.
He was 17. We knew because he asked us our ages. It seems to be something they do. He was clearly new to the game and a bit nervous. His English was limited but still way better than my Burmese. He walked us to the river and went to get his canoe. In Inle they row using one leg. It's strange to watch but seems quite effective. Jill and I sat one behind the other in the narrow canoe and our man stood at the back and rowed. We weren't going out on to the main lake just along some of the inlets.
As we paddled along our boatman would lean to Jill and say 'Hello' then something unintelligible to which we would nod and say 'Ok'. First stop was a small village. He took us to a house and into a room where two girls were hand rolling cigarettes. We weren't quite sure what to say or do so we watched smiled and left. Next stop another house. He ushered us in to a room where a lady was sat on the floor breast feeding a baby. He invited us to sit down and we were offered some tea. Next a man came in followed by an elderly woman and three children. It seems we are at his house. We sit in a circle on the floor and smile a lot at each other. Fortunately Jill noticed some pictures on the wall so we asked about them. It was sweet and cringingly difficult all at the same time. His Mum and Dad looked so proud that he had brought us to visit and look he can talk to them. It seems Dad was a fisherman. It was quite humbling really. I still can't get used to how some people live.
Next he took us to another house where two more girls were making cigarettes. Ok I thought he needs to work on his itinerary. The actual canoe ride was lovely. Very serene and the scenery is lovely. Along the way we had heard some chanting from a loudspeaker. We eventually tracked it down to the monastery. That's where we were headed. As we got out of the canoe we found ourselves on the football pitch surrounded by monks playing five a side. All very surreal.
We went inside and met a chap who wasn't a monk but spoke some English. He explained the chanting was for an upcoming festival and they did it all day and night in one hour shifts. To be honest it was a bloody din but each to their own I guess.
The plan was we would stay out and see the sunset but we had sort of whisked around the sights so we headed back. I think our young man was concerned because we hadn't seen the sunset. He kept asking if we were happy. I tried to re-assure him it wasn't his fault it was cloudy and not to worry. We had actually had a lovely time. The hotel owner told us his was a very poor family and she was trying to help them. Again, very humbling.
Next day we had booked a motor boat trip onto the main lake. Our boatman again met us at the hotel and took us to the river. He was 22. He used to be a canoe boatman but had now inherited his father's motor boat as he was too old to drive it. It was like the Bangkok Long tail boats. A long wooden boat with a huge diesel lorry engine on the back. Our man spoke quite good English so off we went.
The lake is huge and in the morning it was still and the surface like glass. It is one of the most beautiful places we have been. As we moved across the lake we came across traditional fisherman. Inle is described as the land time forgot. How true that is. I can only hope someone doesn't allow a Sheraton to be built on the shoreline.
He took us to some local cottage industries in small sheds. It was fascinating. We saw people making sweets, and snack for sale in the markets. Even someone making and packing pork scratching. These are industrious people. No whingeing about where's my giro here. Next we saw the blacksmith, then the silversmith. He then took us to a textile maker. It was like walking into a Lancashire mill during the industrial revolution. They were working on hand mills with 'flying jenny's'. Small workshops producing high quality hand made products. After lunch he took us to see the long neck people as he called them. These are the women who stretch their necks with brass rings. We thought we were going to visit a village but actually they worked in a shop. They are Paduang women from the Kayen tribe. It is not unique to Myanmar and all is not as it seems. They start putting the brass rings on at about 2 years old and continue adding them each year until they are 25. The rings are heavy and although it looks as though the neck is elongated in fact it is the collar bone and rib cage that are pushed down. There are many theories about the origins of the practice. We were told it was a belief that it would protect the women from a tigers neck bite when they entered the forests. Who knows it's just weird to see.
We next went to a floating village. Actually it was more like a small Venice. Houses, hotels and restaurants on stilts in the river. Again I marvel at how people live.
The plan was again to see the sunset. Today it had started to drizzle so we headed back. We had a lovely time at Inle Lake. We flew back to Yangon for one last night before flying out to Thailand. Myanmar has made a deep impression on us. A lovely country with super people. I know they want what we have. I just hope they cope well with it. Today the Government announced it would allow the use of foreign credit cards in the country. Fingers crossed for them. Oh and I have been wearing a Longhyi which is circular cloth Sarong. All the men wear them and it very comfortable. Long hair and a skirt. Whatever next?