After we finished our awesome trek from Kalaw, we hopped on a small canoe to join the town of Nyaungshwe, on the exact opposite from us on Inle lake. The driver offers to make a few stops to see silver work, weaving and long neck ladies under an hour at no extra cost. Lauren who has already done the tour of the lake -the main attraction of the area – warns us that we will stop in shops, but we’re all curious about those long neck ladies. We know it’s going to be a way to make us buy so the driver gets a commission, but none of us wants to do the touristy boat tour anyway, so why not do a short free one. At first we see the floating gardens, pretty amazing, people cultivate veggies from a canoe on narrow strips of gardens. Those people are very friendly and wave and smile at us, we even wonder if they see many tourists… We arrive in busier parts of the lake, that look like Venice with its old wooden houses on stilts, its triangle bridges and boats… The shops we visit are nice and we’re given very interesting explanations about silver work and weaving, but it’s all so automated… Of course the end of the visit is in the shop where everything is pretty, but crazy expensive, and everyone seem disappointed that none of us wants to buy anything. We go through fishermen villages and see one of those long neck ladies waving at us from her shop while we keep going. Later we see fishermen on the lake, taking poses for us and showing off their techniques. Everyone told us that the lake was touristic and at this point, I even asked myself if they actually fish or only pose to get some cash out of it (of course they expect a compensation and the boat driver takes you close to them whether photos were taken or not). Walter was impressed by acrobatics and took the bullet for all of us by giving them a note. When we asked about the long necks, the driver simply said “no time”. Of course, that was only the bait to get us to go visit the shops, we’re all a bit pissed off but whatever. I guess we should have seen it coming but Myanmar people are so damn nice! We’re simply not used to be fooled anymore!
Walter decides to not stay more than one night in the end, while we’re quite happy to find a spotless hotel room with a nice warm shower after 3 days of trekking with no cleaning opportunity. No it’s not dirty it’s called trekking! In remote areas there is no electricity and only a bucket of very cold water on the street, so sometimes it’s just better to stay in our juice. The hotel is far away from the center and we are quite content to discover a more authentic part of town, not full of pancake restaurants and French speaking people. Yes, it’s always the other tourist who’s the problem, yes. We even find a small night food market where we have one of the best meal we ever had in the country, the local specialty “Shan style tofu noodles”. We spent the next two days exploring the surroundings of the lake and enjoying the food from the market. The first day we biked to the back country not really knowing what was there and we stumbled upon so many cool stuff! Among others, a beautiful monastery where we got to see young monks pray and have class, a stunning temple reminding me of Luang Prabang in Laos, a private visit of a sacred cave by a monk, a meditation temple etc… The second day we try to go to the other side of the lake, where there are hot springs. Unfortunately they’re expensive and are more like little swimming pools for tourists (or you can mix with locals of your own gender only), so we skip them and keep biking further away to visit cute remote villages and have a drink in a tea shop.
I really liked Inle lake, it was unusual and very beautiful. Time seems to have stopped ages ago, like in the rest of the country but also with a very relaxed vibe. I could have stayed there longer, just picking a road and biking that direction all day, meeting locals and eating street food… I loved above all being surprised at being much more impressed by the surroundings than the actual lake. I was so prepared for yet another touristic place than this was a wonderful discovery.