JIPP's WORLD

…….The World Without Boundaries

Inle Lake and the Floating Villages

Written By: jipp - Apr• 26•14

INLE LAKE – I first read about it on an in-flight magazine and my curiosity had prompted me to put it on my list of “Places I Must See before I Die”. Instead of the popular choice of going on a tour in a group, I decided to book through the hotel a tour where I could have the boat all to myself. I know, it sounds quite kiasu but USD18 sounded quite reasonable to me since I got to decide where to go and not to go and most importantly I was free to do all the camwhoring in the world. LOL!

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The boatman had Etthu for a name (“8-2, eight two – easy to remember” he told me with a grin) and he spoke quite a bit of English although limited. His introductory question had both startled and amused me at the same time. He asked if I was married or not and later how many girlfriends I had after he was convinced that I was not (married).

When I returned the question to him, he broke into a wide smile and said “Myanmar girls no beautiful. Japanese girls beautiful. I want Japanese girlfriend”. I managed to stiffen my neck and avoid giving it a nod. Damn. LOL!

It is always a good idea to embark on a cruise early in the morning. Problem is, mornings can be quite chilly in Inlay. Despite my brand-new Salomon thermal jacket (ehem!), the cold air could still find its way through to my skin and I found myself shivering in it as the boat picked up its speed.

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The boat ride began at the jetty which is more like a river that divides the town of Inlay into two sides. It was quite a long ride going to the open lake from there but the scenery was something to die for. It was not even 8am but the waterway was already bustling with traffic. The people of Inlay seem to come to their daily chores quite early in the morning.

The sun had already made its way up over the brownish mountain range and its rays had turned the lake into a sparkling blue. Of course Inle Lake is most famous for its fishermen and their rare skill of paddling the boat with one leg. I was very lucky to see them in the very beginning of my cruise. I had to ask my boatman to slow down the boat so that I could take this amazing shot. Surely enough, it turned out to be one of my favorite shots in Myanmar.

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Having spent quite a bit of my working life scavenging through the East coast of my homeland Sabah which is known for its abundance of floating villages, the floating villages at Inle Lake were not really something of a wow to me. The fact that it was a lake and not an ocean made it quite different so I was still so excited about visiting them.

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Inle Lake has to be one of the most picturesque places that I’ve ever been. It’s like everything there was meant for cameras – the boats, the houses, the people, the lake and even the mountains in the far distance.

I mean, I am not really good in photography but at Inle Lake, whatever I photographed always turned out to be not so bad – so much so that I was beginning to suspect that the fishermen were all paid (or instructed) to be at the right spots at the right times and posing without really showing it. He.

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I was first taken to the morning flea market and was instantly taken aback by the liveliness and vibrancy of the whole place. It was buzzing and bustling with a lot of bargaining going on.

It was located at a place where there was no access for vehicles other than boats so you can imagine the mad traffic at the waterways! I mean, I had never seen so many boats parked within an area no bigger than half a soccer field anywhere else before. What an overwhelming sight really.

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There was a vast variety of things up for grab, from the most commonly seen to the rarest – at least back in my home-country. I really enjoyed being at the market – to see the locals in their traditional costumes, and the way they interact with each other which was so different and cool as the Americans would call it – but of course I couldn’t stay there longer that wanted to because I had so many other places to go to within that very short period of time.

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It really was an easy-going boat ride and I left almost entirely to the boatman to decide where to go next. He took me to a silk weaving shop where I had an up-close encounter with the process of traditional silk weaving. For the record, Myanmar is one of the most prolific producers of silk in the region with most of the manufactures are located in Mandalay.

There might be plenty of silk manufacturers all over Myanmar and beyond nowadays but what made those at Inle Lake so special was probably the way they do the weaving. It is so traditional that I had to grit my teeth while watching them playing around with those colorful threads and the ancient-looking weaving machines of theirs. It definitely requires a tremendously high set of skills and a great deal of patience.

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The silks were definitely amazing but it was the unique fabric that was made of lotus plant fibers that caught my attention most. I mean, I do know for sure that they do make food out of every inch of lotus but never did I ever know that they could actually make beautiful fabrics out of it!

Well, of course, being part of the industry, they do sell silk and lotus (or the combination) to visitors but I’d say the prices were omaigodly crazy. I mean, I am not really a big fan of textiles so when a very small piece of cloth would cost me some USD10, I’d rather spend it on something else – say food. Heh.

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I was also taken to a shop that sells hand-made cigars. I have long stopped smoking but I do still know if a cigar is good or bad and those that they made at the shop were quite good. They had a little bit of sweet taste in them probably because of the honey that they put in them and the aroma was quite seductive. I mean, I took a single puff with the intention of tasting it but I ended up taking a few puffs before my mind got the better of me. Damn. LOL.

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After a little bit of a tour through the villages, Ethu took me to a restaurant for lunch. Again, the food did not disappoint me but I was most concerned about where they siphoned the water from. I mean, it was a floating restaurant and I tried to look for any form of piping system that could possibly channel the source of clean water from the land but I couldn’t see any.

I couldn’t help but being a little bit suspicious. It was a little bit of struggle to kick all those thoughts away before I finally managed to muster up enough courage to even force in the first spoonful and finish my meal off in the end. After all, what I don’t know doesn’t hurt me right? LOL.

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For quite so many years I’d been hearing about those women with long necks in Myanmar so when Ethu told me that he was going to bring me to see one, I was ecstatic.  But then, what I saw was quite a disappointment. Firstly, there was only one woman and I had already seen one when I was in Bagan.

Secondly, she was more like a bait that attracts visitors to come to the shop so that they might be lucky enough to be able to sell some of their overpriced stuff to these visitors. I wasn’t quite fond of the concept. What I had expected to see were ordinary women living in a village doing ordinary things at their own houses and not a woman who was paid to be a bait for tourists. But still I was mesmerized by the fact that they started ‘elongating’ their necks at the age of 9.

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Ethu then took me a place called Ngaphechaung Monastery which was probably one of my favorite among all the places that he took me to. There was something so calming and tranquilizing about being there. It used to be called the Cat Monastery (or something) because were so many cats roaming the area. Most of them had however disappeared now.

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The monastery is perched on a little island which makes it such a perfect place to find some inner peace – if that is what a monastery is all about – or probably to mediate. I only wish they did not let the place be smeared by elements of commercialization by letting a market pegged very closely to it. But if you want to buy something, you buy it from here. It is much easier to bargain here than probably any of the other markets at Inle Lake.

Ethu wrapped up the tour by bringing me to the floating garden as he described it – before I found out it was actually a floating farm. Still, it was one of the wonders at Inle Lake. It’s amazing how they plant and grow all kinds of vegetables on a lake despite the lack of land and soil in the area. Ethu stopped the engine and let me enjoy the atmosphere and the tranquility of the surrounding. Yippie!

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He told me how he never went to school and that he ‘inherited’ the job from his father who was also a boatman. He proudly told me how he picked up his English from the tourists that he had had on board.

“Out of the USD18 that is paid for each tour, I’d get USD4 while the rest will go to the boat owner” he said bitterly. That probably explained why he looked so stunned when I gave him USD10 in addition to the money that he’d probably earn from my half-day tour with him.

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Back at the hotel later, I took a quick shower before re-packing my things and offered my good bye to the hotel staff. They had been very good to me – especially the receptionist – from the moment I entered right to my very last step out the hotel compound.

The bus fare that I paid had included the pick-up transfer from the hotel to the bus station at Nyayung Shwe – although it was not really a bus station but more like a bus stop on the side of a road. It was from there that I embarked on what would later become the longest bus ride that I’ve ever been on in my entire life.

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12 hours. Or nearly. It was quite an experience but believe me, you wouldn’t want to experience it twice. At least not in the near future. I let out a big sigh of relief when I stepped out of the bus to mark the end of a long torture.

I was back in Yangon – the capital city of Myanmar.

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