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The Magic of Myanmar- Inle Lake

By: Tanja Wessels Posted: February-01-2012 in
The Intha technique of rowing with one leg
Tanja Wessels

(Continued from last week- Part 4 Trekking into 2010)

Republished Feb 2012

It wasn’t a particularly arduous walk that we faced on our second day of trekking, but having set off at 8am it was with joy that our guide Saw’s words “not far now” were met, four hours later.

A boat was waiting for us at Inde ready to take us to Nyaungshwe where we would be staying during our Inle Lake experience. After so much land it was wonderful to see water!

The motorized long-boat snaked along a reed-lined channel, and after walking for a day and a half it felt utterly luxurious to be able to stretch my legs out and just sit back and let the surrounding environment reveal itself, in its own good time.

When the capillary like waterway reached an end we floated into an absolutely gigantic body of water full of activity, and at once I understood that Inle Lake is a little universe unto itself. I was prepared for the activity on the water, but the vastness of it took me by surprise.

Kayti and I had booked ourselves into the Aquarius Inn and the trip from Kalaw to Inle seemed faster by foot than by road, for our suitcases were not waiting for us when we arrived. But the wait for them was not a long one, and soon we were in a cosy room reunited with our luggage and taking well-needed showers.

Scrubbed and in clothing we hadn’t seen for about 48 hours, we were ready for the ritual that took place when arriving in a new town- “where is the market?!”.

Lucky for us it was just a few roads away. Nyaungshwe proved very easy to navigate, a tidy grid of streets, it’s a very lively town full of travellers and traders alike.

The marketplace was winding down for the day by the time we arrived but it was full of curious little stalls selling the beautiful, the unbeautiful and the what-on-earth-is-that?, covering the whole spectrum from edible to ornamental.

During our stroll around town we walked past a restaurant called Sunflower and our curiosity was seized upon by a very energetic little man who rushed out to win us over. He spoke very quickly and when I finally got used to his voice and could decipher what he was saying I started to notice something unusual.

“You musta come anda look in da kitchen, my food it is very real from da Italy” he enthused.

We looked at him with a raised eyebrow and were led into the kitchen where a family was sitting around a table making pasta.
By this stage of the game it was far too late to back out, so with bemused expressions we sat ourselves down at a red chequered table and listened to the animated talk coming from our host.

‘Do you have wine?’ I asked.

‘I do, I do hava da wine!’ he shouted and danced simultaneously.

Next thing we knew he jumped on a bicycle and disappeared into the night.

‘Red please!’ was all I had time to shout into the darkness.

When our food arrived we were in for the Burmese-style Italian meal of our lives. It was the best tagliatelli I have ever tasted. The sauce was very good, but not on par with the pasta. It really was out of this world. We were very impressed.

‘Do you know where we can change dollars into kyat?’ we asked at the end of our meal.

Cue enthusiasm and a bicycle vanishing into the dark again, in response to that question and before we knew it all our currency exchanging queries were swept aside.

Satiated and happy we left the restaurant, looking back with confused smiles wondering if what we had just experienced was real.

The following day we rented bicycles and explored the streets in and around town and it was a delightful experience with children coming up and throwing flowers into the bicycle baskets, then running away in fits of laughter.

As we studied a map on a street corner we heard an elderly foreign couple across the road laugh and chat to a smaller man, putting a large backpack on him. He laughed too and wiggled his way out of the oversized bag.

When he spoke the familiar bad Italian accent was carried by the wind. Restaurant manger/currency exchanger by night, and tour guide by day- our friend was proving to be a very versatile character indeed. And Nyaungshwe, a town very small in size.

By this stage in time we were very familiar with the town (and its locals) so it was time to do what we came for in the first place- spend a day on the lake.

With so much to see and do on the lake it was very early when the alarm jingle went off and we dragged our slumbering selves to the long-boat that we had booked for the day.

And what a day it was!

We stopped off at various stilt houses where all manner of workshops were to be found and saw how silk is weaved, cigarettes are rolled, and how parasols are made amongst many other things.

One of our stops was at a market and that proved to be a fantastic shopping experience with beautiful silver jewellery and embroidered wall hangings depicting scenes of Buddha’s teachings, ensuring that I didn’t leave empty handed.

And high on the list of must-sees was a visit to Nga Hpe kyaung, also known as The Jumping Cat Monastery. According to our guidebook: ‘the cats are trained to leap through hoops by the monks during the slow hours between scripture recitals’.

It is rather difficult not to get excited by the idea of monks in their orange robes holding up hoops for their well-trained cats to leap through in exchange for treats!

Of course life doesn’t always match the films we make in our heads and Nga Hpe Kyaung proved one such experience.

Don’t get me wrong- those cats were mighty cute and there were hoops, but instead of monks there was an ordinarily dressed woman seated on the floor poking bored looking cats into getting off their well fed behinds to jump through hoops.

They can’t really be blamed; the hoop-jumping routine must grow stale pretty fast.

It was a long and lovely day on the lake and by the time we returned to Nyaungshwe we decided to follow the advice we had been given by locals and head for a pizza at the Golden Kite Restaurant.

We arrived to be greeted with the words “anda how many apeople will you be tonight?” and looked at the resident pseudo-Italian in disbelief. “And which family member owns this restaurant?” we teased him.

He laughed nervously and blushed, and then sat us down for pizza, Myanmar style, which proved to be wonderful.

Like so many other things we encountered on our trip through this country.

The boat from Inde to Nyaungshwe was arranged through Diethelm Travel. For more information please visit their website: www.diethelmtravel.com/myanmar

Aquarius Inn- 2 Phaung Daw Pyan Rd aquarius3522gmail.com

Golden Kite Restaurant- Young Gyi Road tel 95-081-209327

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