Our trip to Nyaung Shwe/Inle lake started with chaotic rush to the bus station in Yangon. Even we had left 1,5 hours earlier to make a trip which should have taken 30 minutes, our taxi driver had to call to the bus company and tell that we would be late. Luckily we made it to the bus only a couple of minutes late. Bus travelling in Myanmar is propably the worst in South East Asia. Even landscapes are beautiful, local people have terribly sensitive stomachs and bumpy roads cause a lot of vomiting. Many buses between the main tourist towns (Yangon-Inle-Bagan-Mandalay) are nightbuses. We arrived to Nyaung Shwe, a city near Inle Lake, in the middle of the night which is not the most practical time if you don’t have any hostel booked in advance. We relied on our good luck and luckily met a nice guy working for a guest house at the bus stop. We took a pick-up to a Palace Nyaung Shwe Guest house which was a little bit farther from Nyaung Shwe centre but turned out to be excellent and peaceful guest house.
It was our first day in Nyaung Shwe and during lunch we were already invited to a birthday party of a local restaurant keeper’s son. That’s a good example of Burmese hospitality. They didn’t expect any presents from us (we asked if there’s something we could give) they just wanted foreigners to accompany their celebrations. They offered us food and cake and didn’t expect anything back from us. We gave a ‘present’ though, later we were singing ‘happy birthday’ in finnish, english and korean with korean traveller Han and japanese Shunsuke who we met in our guest house. Locals were videotaping our singing!
On the next day we headed to Inle Lake with this same group. To me, seeing Inle Lake was one of the most impressive places during our travels. Inle lake is home for 70 000-100 000 people of an ethnic minority group called Intha. Inthas have built their village above the lake. It is said that the local Shan chief (otherwise it is Shan people living in this area) refused to grant rights to Intha to land around Inle and that’s why they started to built their stilt houses on the lake itself. Inthas’ way of life is very unique with their floating gardens and one-legged rowing system.
Our long-tailed motorboat left early in the morning. It’s not the main tourist season now when summer has just started and temperature goes up to almost 40 degrees during the daytime but there were many tourist boats though. Still the impression of Inle Lake stayed pretty serene and peaceful. Inle lake is one of the main tourist attractions in Myanmar and tourism is well developed in Nyaungshwe and Inle area.
The main income for Inthas are fishing, farming and hand-made goods like tools, carvings and other ornamental objects, scarves made of lotus and silk, silver jewellery and cheroots. Inthas have developed a lot of tourism around their lifestyle and as a tourist you will be taken to see many workshops where they produce these goods. We got to see silk and lotus weaving, scarf and cheroot making for example.
Scarves were made by long-necked women. We learned that they start to put rings to girls’ necks when they are 8 years old. They start with 10 rings. They add them (I don’t know how often) until they have reached the maximum of 25 rings. It’s Inthas tradition and they think it makes them more beautiful. Rings are made of bronze and I got to hold them…they were so heavy! Rings actually make your shoulders and collarbones go more down. That’s what gives the impression that your neck is very long.
Cheroot making workshop was our another stop. Cheroots are cigarettes produced in Myanmar. Inthas produce cheroot by wrapping tobacco mixed with anis and other flavors inside an indian cherry leaves. Natural filter is made of corn leaf.
Inthas unique rowing style evolved for the reason that the lake is covered by reeds and floating plants making it difficult to see above them while sitting. Standing provides the rower with a view beyond the reeds. However, the leg rowing style is only practiced by the men. (Wikipedia)
Atmosphere on Inle lake was just magical. It was great to see how Inthas have adapted their lifestyle so beautifully on Inle Lake. We saw schools for example, people bathing, fishing and carrying things on the lake. It felt funny…to notice that Inthas have all services they need just there, they don’t necessarily have to go to the mainland. They have succeeded to built even gardens above the lake where they grow vegetables. Imagine living so close to the nature.
Last day in Nyaung Shwe we rent bicycles and cycled to the hot springs nearby. On the way back to the town we stopped for dinner to tiny bamboo house which served as a small restaurant. We were the only customers. They had three rooms, first room for customers which had three tables and a small snack shop. Behind this ‘common room’ they had small kitchen where they cooked with gas stove and behind kitchen a small bedroom. Everything was made of bamboo. Beautifully detailed bamboo furniture were made by owner lady’s father. She told us that five men had built this house in just one week but even that she had built it with her husband it belonged to the government and that government could ask them to leave anytime.
Charming owner in her kitchen…notice the floor construction