The only way to see Inle Lake is by boat. There are two standard tours, which run in the same direction every day to roughly the same timing. As we had a boat to ourselves our driver was happy to accommodate a request that we do the tour in reverse. The same as on Easter Island, this got us most of the places to ourselves, without following a parallel group of boats.
It’s currently the rainy season here, which doesn’t seem to equate to much rain, but the fear of getting wet does drastically reduce the number of other visitors.
Inn Paw Khon Village
We arrived in the stilted village of Inn Paw Khon to find it nearly deserted. The peaceful silence was only broken by the racket from the lawnmower engine strapped to the back of our boat…
I’d hoped for a calm float through a working village, but it seems that tourism has taken over here and any building by the main channel is now a display workshop or a sales outlet.The first place the driver dropped us off at was a lotus root weavers. Lotus root strands are woven together to make cloth, used to create the traditional longyi. A longyi is a cloth wrapped round the waist rather like a long skirt, worn by both men and women. It’s ideal in the high temperatures. They’re more regularly made from silk or cotton, with the lotus root version reserved for monks and special occasions. They can also be pulled up to the chest to preserve modesty whilst bathing.
We then visited a foundry. It was obvious they started the whole furnace and bellows contraption just for us, so I felt guilty not buying anything but I don’t really need a cast iron nutcracker.
Thankfully most of the sellers here are still not very pushy, although the same can’t be said of those at Bagan, later in the trip. They have started using weird outdated foreign quips though. Like ‘Asda Price’ or ‘Cheap as Chips’ in Egypt, here it’s ‘Lucky Price’. Every tourist is every seller’s first customer of the day, so they offer them the lucky price. Whether you buy or not, you can hear over your shoulder ‘You’re my first customer – lucky price for you!’The next stop was a shipwrights, although that might be overstating it. These guys built the long boats used by the leg-rowing fisherman.
“A boat is only $2000 for you – lucky price!”
The last shop of the day was a cigar factory. Our boat driver was undoubtedly on some sort of commission from all the shops he stopped at, so taking two non-smokers to a tobacco shop was a bit of a waste of all our time.
Phaung Daw Oo Paya
Just outside InnPawKhon is the Phaung Daw Oo Paya Monastery. This most holy place on the lake is home to five statues of Buddha. They are recoated daily with fresh gold leaf and four occasionally taken out and paraded round the different villages.An elderly lady somehow confused me into buying some suspiciously brown looking gold leaf, to add to the Buddha. I was a little wary of sticking a dirty brown square to the shiny yellow Buddha in front of a group of worshippers, so left it in my pocket.
Nga Hpe Chaung (Jumping Cat Monastery)
A little way round the lake from Innpawkhon village is a wooden monastery on stilts, famed for its jumping cats…
I’m not sure how this came about – I guess monks get as bored as anyone else. Unfortunately we arrived at lunchtime when the cats were more interested in eating than jumping through hoops.Still, it’s a pleasant enough monastery housing rows of Buddha statues in both the Burmese and Tibetan style.
InnPawKhon ‘Full Day’ Tour
The full day tour started at 8am and was over by around 1pm. I’m not sure if we were particularly fast, or the ‘full-day’ is a bit of marketing, but having the afternoon free we went with him back to Nyaungshwe for a late lunch.
By now the sun was at full power and I could see how all the people we’d marvelled at the previous day had managed to get so sunburnt after just a few hours on the lake.
The standard tour was interesting, is a little too commercial. The following day we went on ‘the special cruise’…