After two weeks of little sleep, I’ve finally been getting back in the rhythm. Despite last night’s beers (and possible drop of rum), I woke in time for sunrise feeling bright, refreshed and up for a day of exploring.
Walking to a ridge just above the lodge, I spotted a tourist toll just around the corner. ‘All foreigners must pay $7 to enter the Inle Lake region’.
Low on cash, high on ignorance, this was a charge I hadn’t been aware of. At 6.30am, there was no one manning the booth. But despite obvious temptation, I took time out to soak in the spectacular views over a traditional Shan breakfast of Mohyinga, fresh Papaya and a double dose of coffee.
Soon, joined by partner in crime Moe, we chatted until 10am and exchanged numbers in the hope of more merriment in Yangon.
Moe was re-joined by her guide, as group after group of Western folk trekking from Kalaw to Inle past by. Setting off down the red gravel track, a blissful 20kms of downhill bumpiness lay awaiting. At its end, the small lakeside village of In Dein.
The regional market, which rotates from village to village around Inle Lake, was taking place that morning. Worth a visit in its own right, the market has retained its authenticity as a meeting point for local hill tribes to exchange their wares. Amongst the most interesting sights are the truck loads of local women all standing, clasping what they can, whilst merrily smiling and laughing in brightly coloured dress.
Just 2km down the track sit In Dein pagodas; a spectacular show of devotion to the Buddhist faith of the Burmese people; each shrine a prayer in its own right; many donated by people who forego their limited wealth for their commitment to Buddhism.
Here, tens of tribes women sell identikit handmade crafts to tourists, typically cloth made using traditional methods to the highest quality. Unlike so many other developing countries, there is no persistence in their patter. A simple ‘no thanks’ is all that’s required.
However, one seller did manage to grab my attention and my kyat. Initially selling cloth, the seller delved into a bag and out popped a plastic water bottle full of syrupy liquid.
500ml of fresh honey, collected from the local forest. The price? Just 5000 / £2.50.
As a guide passed, I asked for help translating. A full bottle too much to carry, I wanted just half. With cash low, I could pay just 2000 kyat. After a little bargaining, the deal was done. A natural supply of energy food, with plenty to keep me going for the next couple of weeks.
Leaving In Dein, I searched for a road to Ywama, a little Venice, complete with picture perfect maze of pathways through gardens and over canals.
The road to Ywama was unsignposted and still under construction, albeit completely usable at the time of writing. Approaching the village, the road ends next to a monastery, where you can park up and begin navigating the maze.
Amazingly, there were no tourists at all walking the paths of Ywama and it felt as if I’d snuck in through the back door. There was, however, a fantastic canal-side restaurant for lunch, catering for folk hopping off the many passing boats.
On first appearance, the Golden Moon restaurant appeared to be the kind of place I might go to for a super special occasion once in a blue moon back home. With just 5000kyat (£2.50) left, I enquired whether this was enough for lunch without much hope. How wrong I was! Even here, I ate like a king, with the largest plate of avocado salad with the freshest fruit and vegetables, accompanied by a plentiful bowl Shan noodles.
Back down the track, I rejoined the road surrounding Inle Lake to the touristy town of Nyaungshwe, past temples and a hot spring.
Arriving in Nyaungshwe I realised my error. If moved away from the natural beauty of the mountains, the tranquility of the lake, to a busy tourist town that bares little by way of authenticity or appeal.
The cheap but very adequate rooms in Bright Hotel were offset by a bucketload of bad service. I set out, considering options for a day on the lake. Whilst there are super cheap shared tours for the masses, travelling one way, or as a man with a bicycle, is surprisingly difficult for a town so tuned to tourism. The Burmese people seldom pester, no matter how tough sales may be. But here, canal-side, a procession of vendors follow your every move. What’s more, it is not currently possible to board a public ferry from Nyaungshwe. Whilst locals point to
government controls, tourism here is a profitable business.
Opting for local food, amongst a row of overpriced western alternatives, I left uninspired for an early night, full of anticipation about what the next day held in store.