Working out where to head to after Mandalay, and how to get there, was confusing at best. Information on travel and accommodation in Burma is hard to come by, changes rapidly and is soon out of date. Luckily our hotel staff in Mandalay seemed pretty switched on and with their help we decided to head to Inle Lake next.
Who knows why but all night buses here seem to get to their destination at 3am! Not enamoured with arriving at an unearthly hour we paid for back seats in a shared taxi to make the 8 hour journey in daylight. Having seen the state of the mountain gravel roads we were glad we weren’t navigating these by night…. An uncomfortable journey wedged in the middle of the sweaty back seat, a chubby Burmese woman snoring on my shoulder, windows wide open to both let in the black diesel fumes and let out the drivers phlegm, a quick roadside stop to buy strings of mushrooms, topped off by being stuck behind an elephant.
Our hostel was in Nyaung Shwe, a small village on the shores of Inle Lake. We were in a gorgeous newly built room, so new that it was still pretty much in a building site with all the other rooms still being built around it.
The first day we hired bikes for a cycle round the lake. We passed through tiny villages and the odd super luxury resort surrounded by farmland and paddy fields. The whole area is very relaxing and feels a world away from the bustle of Mandalay. Half-way around we bargained with a young lad to take us and our bikes across the lake in his boat and we got a feel for how huge the lake really is, as we navigated through tall reed passages and whole villages on stilts.
Getting back to Nyaung Shwe took longer than we thought and we finally rocked up dusty, sweaty, sun burnt and hungry! There are a few tourist-focused restaurants here and we ate in a sweet family-run Nepalese place while a thunderstorm raged outside.
The next day we organised for a local guy to take us out in his boat to see some of the villages situated on the shores of the lake.
We left the boat ramp in a cloud of black smoke and passed women washing, canoes full of commuters and kids on their way to school. First stop was a visit to the floating market – a bit of a disappointment, as it was no longer floating and had obviously started to try and cash in on the tourist dollars.
We then went much further south and through an ingenious ‘speed ramp’ system to spend time at the peaceful village of Indein. Here there are over 1000 crumbling stupors on the hilltop behind the village. The money is gradually being raised and donated to restore them so there is a fantastic contrast between the gleaming white and gold spires and those that are still being swallowed by climbing trees. I highly recommend exploring here if you have a chance.
A lot of the villages centre around producing handicrafts and over the next few stops we saw silver workshops, lotus weaving (which is much more expensive than silk) and lacquerware. Interesting as it was, at times we felt like we were being led on the tourist shopping trail
On the lake, the fishermen here have a unique way of rowing using one leg. Some seemed to be collecting algae and water weeds. There were also huge floating gardens growing tomatoes, beans, and other vegetables. This area was particularly peaceful and we drifted on the still water until we came to a teak monastery.
This monastery used to be famed for its “jumping cats” but the monks have stopped these performances as it was getting too touristy. (Shame, I quite fancied seeing cats jump through hoops!)
We loved the atmosphere here at Inle so much that we decided to stay an extra day here before heading to Bagan on the bus.
Next stop —> Bagan