24 January 2009

Inle Lake & Nyaungshwe

We have just spent the last 4 days staying in a town called Nyaungshwe which is about 3km from Inle Lake. If Nyaungshwe was in the wild West, and believe me it feels like it is, it would be classed as a one horse town. Conditions here are somewhat basic. It's also very quiet.

Most of Myanmar has been fairly tourist free but there's virtually no one here at all. We thought that it may have been because most people were staying at the luxury resorts on the lake. However, we bumped into a couple we shared a taxi from the airport with who had to check out of their lakeside resort because it was too quiet. They went stir crazy with the lack of human interaction so we ended up having dinner with them on Thursday night. They have been traveling on and off (mostly on) for the last 3 years on the rental from their South Kensington flat in London. We guestimated that they get more rent in one week from their one flat than we get in one month from our four properties combined.

We've spent the last two days going out on boat trips onto Inle Lake to see some of the sights. The boats, which are made from teak, are quite something. About 30 feet long but barely 3 feet wide with what looks like a giant lawn mower engine perched on the back.

The lake is about 11km wide, 22km long, nearly a kilometer above sea level and surrounded by mountains, giving the place a slightly strange Alpine feel.

Dotted around the lake are the stilt villages of the Intha tribe who are famous for their unique leg rowing. To enable them to see obstructions, weeds and fish in the lake they row their boats standing up balanced on one leg. They then wrap the other leg around an oar and propel themselves across the water. It really is quite surreal to see but also incredibly graceful. They must also have an incredible sense of balance. It's hard enough just trying to get in or out of the narrow, unstable boats without capsizing them, let alone rowing it whilst balanced on one leg.

The Intha are also famous for their floating gardens. The gardens are made on top of masses of water hyacinths out in the lake and used to cultivate fruit and vegetables. Cutting through the gardens are a series of canals that give the feeling you're in a kind of tropical version of Venice.

We also paid a visit to Nga Hpe Chaung, which translates into English as Jumping Cat Monastery. Here, for some strange reason (probably boredom), the monks have trained the resident cats to jump through small wooden hoops. And they say you can't train a cat!

The other trip we have made out was to a place called Indein which is a collection of Buddhist stupas on a jungle lined hill. A lot of the site is ruined and overgrown which made it feel like something out of Indiana Jones or Lara Croft film.

Later today we start our overland journey back to Yangon. First stop a town called Kalaw.

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