Inle Lake & the Red Mountains
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After a few days in Bagan, Alex and I flew (through the city of Mandalay) to Heho, the airport closest to Inle Lake. As we flew into the area, we noticed the mountains and soil were of a bright reddish hue. We took a 45-minute taxi ride to Nyaung Shwe, a small town a little to the northeast of the lake, where we would be staying for two nights. After checking in, we immediately went in search of lunch (of course!).
We enjoyed delicious Nepalese curries (by this point I was getting a little sick of Burmese food) down the street at Everest Restaurant before walking (an hour… by this point I was also tired of bikes, and Nyaung Shwe didn’t even have e-bikes, just the normal ones we actually had to PEDAL) to Red Mountain Estate Vineyards & Winery, set halfway up a hill. When researching Inle Lake, I was really surprised to learn that Myanmar had a winery, and that it was pretty highly rated amongst tourist attractions! The wine tasting (4 types of wine, at 2,000 kyat, or roughly $2 USD) was decent, but the view of the surrounding mountains (especially red because of the afternoon sun on the red dirt, hence the name of the winery) was spectacular. We could even catch a glimpse of the lake in the distance. Alex and I sat outside and enjoyed some dry Inle rosé (much better than the wines offered with the tasting) and a hamburger (it was GOOD!).
After walking off the burger (just a snack!), we found a dim sum restaurant (rated #3 on TripAdvisor!) for dinner. It was REALLY tasty (and I guess ‘expensive’ for Myanmar- our bill came to 15,000 kyat or $15 USD). I heard the owner speaking Chinese- turns out he’s half Chinese! By the time we left, the place was packed.
On our only full day in Nyaung Shwe, Alex and I took a private boat ride around Inle Lake. The boat sort of resembled a canoe, but with wooden chairs (and blankets! it was chilly in the morning) lined in a single row. The boat driver sat in the back, kind of like Thailand’s long-tail boat (except not as the propeller part isn’t as long). Let’s just say the boat ride was LOUD and at high speeds, our eyes couldn’t adjust to the vibration (everything looked ‘choppy’)! We started out on a narrow creek from Nyaung Shwe, before spilling into the lake. Inle Lake is the second largest lake in Myanmar, but most of it is very shallow (we could see the seaweed and plants from the boat).
We immediately saw the iconic one-legged fishermen with their conical baskets. The fishermen stand on one leg, and wrap the other leg around the oar, so that they have both hands free to fish. (One guidebook said the only thing these fishermen catch now are tourists, not fish.) Our boat driver explained that the fishermen drop a net and then use an oar to bang on the side of the boat and scare the fish into the net.
Our first stop was the huge NamPan market (the area has a five day floating market, where towns take turns hosting the market), that sold everything from jewelry to clothing to vegetables and spices. We next stopped at a silversmith and then a textile-weaving factory (their speciality was fabric made from the fiber from lotus flower stems). It was amazing to watch the ladies (and one man) using looms and weaving patterned fabric. I can’t imagine the amount of concentration that’s required! I would have forgotten which color spool I was supposed to use after two minutes! I ended up buying (way overpriced) a traditional Burmese scarf. (Support the locals, right?)
After lunch, we crossed a very precarious bridge (seriously, some of the bridges spanning the canals looked extremely rickety and the opening for boats were very narrow) to Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda (there was a sign saying that women weren’t allowed past a certain point- we saw quite a few of these signs in various temples). We also went to another factory with ladies from the long neck tribes. It was kind of sad seeing them there- they seemed like they were on ‘display’ to lure tourists to the shop.
In order to get to our next stop, Indein Village, we had to go quite a ways down a creek. We passed through man-made dams (the change in water elevation was around one foot each time) and passed by people washing themselves (and even a buffalo) in the water. Indein Village has hundreds of stupas (some gold, some whitewashed) in various states of disrepair. We saw a really cute cat sprawled out in the sunlight with one paw shielding his eyes.
Our last stop off the boat was the Nga Phe Kyaung (Jumping Cat) Monastery, a wooden monastery built on the water. Apparently the monks had trained the cats to jump through hoops during their free time, and we saw lots of cats, just none jumping. Still, I love cats, so I enjoyed the stop. 🙂 Next, we passed a floating garden (literally FLOATING). We could see the tomato plant patches swaying in the waves whenever a boat went by.
It was beautiful crossing the lake (from the southern side back to Nyaung Shwe in the north) at dusk. Alex and I enjoyed a beautiful day on the lake, and headed back to our favorite dim sum restaurant for dinner. 😀
The next morning, Alex and I explored Nyaung Shwe town a little more. We stepped into a temple, walked around the morning market, and had lunch at a cute place called Thanakha Garden. Not only did we have good food (yes, we shared another burger, but we also had a salad and fruit/avocado shakes!), but we saw a demonstration on how thanakha paste is made. The women and girls (and some boys) of Myanmar wear a beige cream on their faces, made from ground tree bark and water. The thanakha paste is supposed to be a good natural sunscreen (even though we never saw it spread uniformly… just in patterns) and is THE makeup that you don’t leave home without! It doesn’t look as good on my face because I’m a little paler than the Burmese, so the contrast isn’t as good. But, it was fun to apply and I definitely got some surprised looks from the locals! After lunch, we took a taxi to Heho, and boarded a plane to Yangon.