Our plane landed and the tour guide was already waiting for us at the airport. There was a longboat ready to take us around Inle Lake after checking in at the hotel.
When we reached the boat, the scene was peaceful, probable because all the other tourists left early in the morning.
As we were getting ready to go, I noticed a little boy sitting right next to the pier, patient and in a state of contemplation.
“He’s waiting for his mom” our guide said as he pointed to a women that was washing clothes next to us.
I’ve never seen a child so calm and collected. “He will probably be a good monk one day” I thought.
The boat started to move. All in our seats and with our life jackets handy, we left the land to get into the waters.
Inle Lake was big and majestic – one of the most photogenic places I’ve visited in early memory.
Located in the Shan State in a valley surrounded by mountains, it is the second largest lake in Myanmar – after Indawgyi Lake in the north of the country.
It is home to around 70,000 people that live in villages along the lake’s shores and on the lake itself. Most of them are either farmers or fishermen, as the lake not only provides the perfect conditions to grow many things like tomatoes, but there are twenty different species of snails and nine species of fish. This makes the villages self-sufficient.
As we sat back and enjoyed the ride, we could see some of the people at work.
There were boats everywhere with fishermen catching the fish of the day. Some others were doing acrobatics with their nets and paddles to get a few kyats from the tourists.
Other boats were transporting people to their villages or carrying fresh produce to restock restaurants and houses that were further down.
In the middle of the water, there was a little structure with a Buddha inside – this was to bless and protect all people on the lake.
After the country opened its doors to tourism, not only restaurants and hotels started to pop everywhere, but one of the ways locals are capitalizing on the amount of visitors they get is by opening up their places of work and exhibiting their traditional handicrafts. In this part of the country that’s no exception and plenty of workshops and studios are open for everyone to visit. Our plan for the day was to see some of these and learn about what this region produces.
Our first stop was a visit to the lotus workshop.
Lotus is important in this part of the world not only because there is a lot of it available around the area, but also a story says that about 100 years ago, a woman from one of the villages wanted to make a robe for the Abbot at one of the Buddhist temples. She discovered that by cutting a lotus plant in half, the fiber could be extracted and used as threads. She collected enough that was able to create the gift from this resource. Now, lotus is a symbol of the possibilities in life. Not only that, but this community believes that this material removes negative energies and brings good luck.
I was excited to learn about the process and see the production in action. We got off the boat and walked into a wooden hut on sticks and above the water, where women and men were working away. Some would take the lotus plant and extract the fiber from the stem of the flower, others would add color to it and some others would create items like scarfs, sweaters and even ties.
It looked like a labor-intensive process – no wonder why it’s so expensive to buy these products! Even in South-East Asia where everything is cheaper than what we are used to in the US, you can be paying more than $100 USD for a lotus scarf.
The second stop was a cigar factory. There was a group of women, sitting on the floor working on it, trying to make as many cigars as they could, since they get paid by the amount they produce. I heard each one of them makes around 500 a day – that’s a lot of cigars to roll!
The third stop was at the wood workshop where men build the longboats used on the lake.
The forth stop was at the most important Buddhist temple in Inle Lake called Hpaung Daw U Pagoda. When you enter the building, there are five abstract sculpture in the center of the room that are representing Buddha. I say abstract because people that visit the pagoda have been putting gold leaves on top of the sculptures and little by little the Buddhas have been losing their original forms.
Each year around October, four of the five sculptures are put on a special boat to travel for 18 days stopping at different temples and 14 villages on the lake. When this celebration isn’t happening, locals come to this temple to pray and evidently place more gold leaves on top of the sculptures.
It was time to head back to town as it was getting late. As we were on our way we could see a fish boat with a group of fishermen selling the catch of the day to a merchant. Our boat was able to get close to the action so we saw the whole transaction happening.
When we arrived back to the town where we were staying, we realized our hotel was 5 minutes away from the night market. We were hungry and having dinner there seemed like the perfect plan. In my experience, there is nothing better than street food in South East Asia! Not only it is fresh for the most part but you eat like royalty for very cheap.
The market was lively, with locals and tourists enjoying drinks, food and American pop music coming out of a loud speaker. There we were, in the middle of nowhere listening to Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and of course “Despacito”.
We sat down at one of the food stalls and ordered Shan noodles and grilled fish. Strangely but amazingly they also had guacamole! The temptation was too big not to order some (Plus, it would go well while listening to Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee).
It was delicious and we ate for $4 USD each!!! Gotta love this town.
That night we slept like babies – it was a long but very productive day.
The next morning we woke up and after having breakfast at the hotel, we headed back to the pier where our same boat guy was waiting for us. This time he was taking us to another village on the lake called Indein.
Markets are one of my favorite things to visit while traveling, as it allows you to get in touch with local people, see what they make, taste different food you don’t necessary get at home and maybe do a little shopping. The first thing we tackled at Indein was their morning market. It was big, colorful and – I got to say – pretty touristy but fun.
After walking around, we heard there was a bamboo forest, so we headed that way.
We found it and had some nice lunch in one of the restaurants in between the bamboos and the lake.
Then, walking around a little bit more, we found the most magical place! A pagoda surrounded by hundreds of other ones! It was like if we were transported to a very special hidden gem. The goosebumps weren’t going away.
WOW! Right? A big highlight on the trip for me.
Satisfied about our two very intense days on the lake, we crossed Inle one more time to get to our hotel for our last night there. Not without witnessing some of the most gorgeous landscapes we’ve seen.
Bagan was next.