Last night after a frantic cycle back to our hotel from the vineyard we went for dinner at a very nice (but pricey) Thai restaurant a short bike ride from our hotel. It was called Green Chilli Restaurant. We turned up on our bikes having ridden from the vineyard and definitely felt under dressed, the first time on our trip. It’s a very romantic restaurant, quiet and relaxing and the staff were very attentive. While I wasn’t very adventurous with the menu the food was very nice and the seafood was delicious.
We also arranged our boat trip on Inle Lake, picking us up from our hotel at 8.30 after breakfast and returning later in the evening. We opted for a private boat so we could pick and choose the places we wanted to see, as we wanted to avoid most of the touristy parts and head into the villages. Total for 2 people not including the boat trip to Inn Thein was 15,000 Kyats.
This morning while having breakfast I met a man from the USA (can’t for the life of me remember his name) who was travelling alone so we invited him along to join us on our boat explaining that we were going to miss out some of the sights, but he didn’t seem to be bothered and welcomed the opportunity to venture into the non touristy parts of the lake. Our guide arrived promptly at 8.30 and we set off walking down the road to climb on board our boat. We were lucky our hotel was located almost next to the main canal that leads to the lake.
This is the point where I was a little disappointed. While I knew Inle Lake was going to be one of the most busiest places for tourists nothing could prepare me for the site of boats upon boats all lined up ready to take tourists out on the lake. While Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay were heavily visited by tourists we often had the attractions to our selves and only really saw foreigners in the evenings, but here it seemed we would have to share Inle Lake with hundreds of them! Our guide showed us to our long narrow boat with three reclining seats and our trip on the lake began…The lake is the second largest fresh water body in Myanmar and is home to 70,000 people living in the four bordering cities and on the lake itself.
The ride along the canal seemed to take forever and when we finally reached the lake we realized how vast it was. It appeared to be more of an ocean than a lake. I was thankful that I bought my fleece with me as the morning air and the breeze on the lake meant it was a rather chilly ride. I was pleasantly surprised that during our whole ride on the lake we didn’t see a single tourist boat pass us…maybe we would have some none touristy time after all….
Inle Lake Floating Market
Our first stop was the floating market. However our guide explained the market wasn’t currently floating and was based on land due to a lack of water this time of year. It took us at least an hour of crossing the lake to reach the market. When we arrived there were boats loads of tourists getting off to explore the market and I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy this stop. (I guess that all tourists head here first!) As soon as we set foot on land we were being hassled with women shoving “hand-made jewellery” (I’ll explained the quotation marks later) wooden cravings and “hand painted” stories of Buddha on palm paper in our faces. I’m not sure if they try to make these palm paper things look old on purpose to make it seem like an antique…
This market is vast and if your really interested you could easily spend over an hour or more here. I personally prefer local markets as opposed to tourist traps such as this. Over 90% of it was for tourists with only a small section of it for locals purchasing food…
We knew there was a silver merchant/jeweler in the area and was one of the stops our guide wanted to take us to but we declined. There must have been over a hundred stalls on the market selling silver jewellery, and the women all claim to of made it by themselves. (All the jewellery is the same so I would expect that it is all bought from a main dealer despite them all saying they made it themselves.) We approached a stall which was selling silver bangles and stone bracelets. In the back of our heads we knew 100% that it wasn’t going to be silver, on careful inspection the metal they claim to be silver is far too light but we stupidly bought a small “silver” bangle. The women here love to haggle with you and as soon as you ask how much they all pull out a piece of paper with a chart with numbers on in increments of 500 Kyats. You point to how much you want to pay and they either say yes or no and try the haggling game.
I will say it again we stupidly purchased a “silver” bangle from one woman and paid 5,000 Kyats for it. It was only when we got back to our hotel later today that we realized (and of course how did we convince ourselves otherwise) that it is in fact tin painted silver. So you really do get what you pay for here to beware!
And if that wasn’t enough I also rather naively purchased a small bracelet for myself. The woman told me the red beads were not plastic but were stone. They also had tiny elephant charms on them and I thought it was quite sweet. So I Paid 6,000 Kyats for it and went on my way. Since she honestly told me the elephants were not silver I thought maybe she was being honest about the stone beads since they were heavy. But again when we got back to our hotel this evening I noticed that where the beads rub together the paint from the beads had started to wear off and they were plastic after all. And to make matters worse as soon as I walked away, the woman sold the same bracelet to another tourist for half to price! Needless to say this was the last souvenir I would be purchasing in Myanmar.
Hpaung Daw U Pagoda
Our guide navigated around the narrow canals and our next stop was the large Hpaung Daw U Pagoda. We had a brief wander around the pagoda before sitting down in the shade to wait for our fellow boat traveler. As I had previously mentioned we brought with us lollipops, bouncy balls and glow sticks to hand out to children and Leo thought it would be a wise idea to hand them to a small group of 4 children sitting on the steps of the pagoda. I instantly knew this was a mistake as he was hounded within seconds by even more children and women asking for the sweets and balls for the children. He gave away all that we had, and left a few young children disappointed. What angered me the most was that as soon as we had our backs turned the lollipops we gave to the women for their small children were opened and in the women’s mouths…I guess they either forgot about their sweet young children waiting at home or they lied! Oh well…
Nampan Floating Village
I asked the driver if we could head into the villages for a while as I was getting frustrated with the deceiving locals, and even more hagglers trying to sell us fake silverware. So we steered off and spent over an hour half in the nearby village of Nampan. This was by far the most interesting part of our tour. It was fascinating to see how these people had adapted to living on the water. They use the lake for everything, washing, bathing, drinking water (purified) fishing, transportation….
Surprisingly it shocked me that the entire lake was no more than 3 meters at its deepest point. A quick peer into the water and the entire bed of the lake was covered in litter, plastic bags and fishing nets…we constantly saw boats stuck on the water because their propeller was caught up in some rubbish…it made me wonder how long this ill-treatment of the water can be continued because surely in time the fish would all die from chemicals in detergents and soups and sewage and that would be their livelihood gone….??
Just before lunch we stopped at a cigar making shop and watched as a handful of women rolled and glued small cigars together making over 500 cigars each per day…
I’m not sure what the name of the restaurant we ate at was called but I’m sure since it was full of tourists that most boat drivers drop you off here…all of the dishes are made up of locally caught river or lake fish but since I’m not a fish fan I opted for the only thing not fish and had a plateful of local fruits instead. Our bill came to 14,000 Kyats for three people including beer, water and a coke as well as two main meals.
Inn Thein Village
During lunch we decided we would take the optional tour on the boat to the village of Inn Thein after all. Inn Thein (Indein) is a small village West of Inle lake, known for its market and two groups of ancient pagoda’s. It took us almost half an hour of navigating through a small canal to get to the village. The place we were dropped off at was designed especially for tourists with stalls lining the pathway.
As soon as you start walking towards to pagodas you get stopped and asked for a camera fee (300 Kyats for each camera/video camera) and you pass through another large market under a covered walkway. It was a bit confusing as you have to walk through the market to get to the top of the hill but there were small paths leading off the sides which you could take to explore the range of derelict pagodas alongside brand new cement ones that ruin the whole feel for us…We had a brief walk around and then headed back towards to boat. I guess you could say Inn Thein is a smaller version of Bagan with all the pagodas in a smaller area and no way near as extravagant.
We headed back along the narrow canal towards to main lake where our last stop would be the floating gardens, where locals grew their produce on floating islands. We were fortunate to witness the farmers tending to their crops as they paddle through rows of crops. Never had I imagined seeing farmers tend to their crops from wooden canoes. The canoes are designed in a way that they can sit at the very edge of the canoe without falling out. We were told they mostly grow tomatoes and cauliflower and sometimes a range of beans.
It was on our way back that I finally saw the acrobatics of the locals and their unique style of paddling with one leg..It’s pretty impressive and they must have amazing balance to not fall in the water…
I really enjoyed our boat trip on Inle Lake and was sad that we hadn’t planned more time here as two days with one day on the lake was simply not enough as I could have easily of spent another full day on the lake people watching and exploring even further south..but alas tomorrow we have an early start as we fly to Ngapali Beach tomorrow at 7 am and we have been told it’s an hours drive to Heho Airport. We booked our taxi with the restaurant next to our hotel for $15 and they would collect us at 4.30 so we have plenty of time to get there and check in 🙂