28 Jan - 05 Feb 2012 Inle Lake

Republic of the Union of Myanmar aka Burma
Nyaung Shwe
Yone Gyi Road
Inle Inn +9581209016 inleinnns@gmail.com
Spacious, clean and comfy double room in a wafer-thin bamboo bungalow, including Myanmar breakfast for two and the most friendly service, for US$ 20.- per night.

Click below for an interactive road map of the Inle Inn in Nyaung Shwe, which we would highly recommend, and for directions:

Exploring the busy village of Nyaung Shwe, the base camp for the scenic Inle Lake (22 km long, 11 km wide, 875 m above sea level and densely inhabited by many different tribes), a highly frequented must-see pit-stop on the beaten tourist track for backpackers (where the Shan and Bamar locals have already started to develop a healthy appetite for tourist money and where they are undergoing the usual development from honest villagers to touts, guides and agents, but still with some traces of genuine friendliness, politeness and decency, as opposed to their much further “developed” and more aggressive colleagues in North Vietnam's squalid tourism industry) with umpteen (i) Buddhist monasteries aka kyaung, (ii) Buddhist stupas aka paya, (iii) Buddhist markets aka zei, (iv) Buddhist guest houses and (v) Buddhist beer stations (our favourite: Thauk Kyar Kyi with ice-cold Myanmar Lager draft for MMK 600.- or US$ 0.75 per pint).

Teaming up with our friend Doreen from England, an acknowledged expert and researcher about George Orwell (“Burmese Days”, “Animal Farm”, “1984”) and hiring from reliable Thar Nge +959378936 a motorised longboat with driver (MMK 4,700.- or US$ 5.75 per person for the full-day trip from 08:30 - 18:00) thus visiting (i) the picturesque and rather touristy country market at Indein, (ii) the huge array of floating gardens/fields (tomatoes, string beans, cauliflowers, pumpkins, flowers), where marsh, soil and water hyacinths were put together to form fertile solid masses which are staked to the lake bottom with bamboo poles, and (iii) the traditional home industries of (a) lotus-stem and silk weaving on wooden hand looms, (b) knife aka dha making and (c) silver smiths.

Watching the local Intha fishermen propel their flat-bottomed boats by standing at the stern on one leg and wrapping the other leg around the oar (this peculiar and unique leg-rowing technique enables them to have their hands free for handling their cone-shaped nets stretched tautly over bamboo frames) and visiting them in their stilt villages Ywama and Heya.

Meeting the friendly Kayin/Karen hill-tribe women aka “longneck women” who work as silk weavers and living mannequins, learning about their tradition of elongating their necks by adding around them an increasing number of brass rings/spirals over the years and philosophising about the huge diversity of beauty concepts on this planet: long necks, holed ear lobes, tattooed limbs, dyed hair, pierced genitals and thousands more of creative options; you name it they do it, since beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.

"You are so beautiful
To me
Can't you see
You're everything I hope for
You're every, everything I need
You are so beautiful to me..." 
(Joe Cocker) 

Visiting the young monks-turned-models in their 18th-century CE Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung monastery which features a venerable wooden ordination hall aka thein with unique oval windows and listening to the tinkling of the wind bells from the hti, the decorative metal umbrellas which top the many bell-shaped zedi in the monastery.

Having a very pleasant and stimulating encounter with U Kon Dala, the 72-year old head monk of the 127-year old, wooden Ywa Thit Kyaung monastery, and discussing with this sharp mind (i) the semantics of current European events ("...'austerity measures' is the wrong word; you better replace it with 'return to normalcy'..."), (ii) the subleties of Buddhist philosophy and (iii) the best practice of rice cultivation.

Cycling (with bicycles hired from our guest house: MMK 1,200.- or US$ 1.45 per bike per day) along the Inle Lake’s picturesque shoreline and visiting the villages of Paung Pane, Nanthe and Maing Thauk with their tin-roofed Shan monasteries, lively country markets and atmospheric stupa ruins.

Sharing with our French friends Marie & Jean an asthmatic thoun bein (three-wheeler túk-túk) for the bumpy ride from the local pick-up stop in Nyaung Shwe to the basic but well-organised express bus stop at Shwen Yaung Junction (11 km, ½ hour, MMK 1,000.- or US$ 1.20 per person ), flagging down the punctual Man Thit Sar overnight express bus (with very comfy recliner seats) to Yangon’s Aung Mingalar Bus Terminal (about 560 km, 12 hours, MMK 15,000.- or US$ 18.30 per foreigner, pre-booked from reliable and professional Win Travel +09581209174 in Nyaung Shwe) and finishing our trip with the help of the bus company’s courtesy pick-up in front of the Sule Paya pagoda in Yangon’s downtown.

Click below for more blog posts about Burma

Click below for a summary of this year's travels
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