Spectacularly located in a glorious setting, Inle Lake provides for a little exercise – with walking and cycling, National Geographic worthy photos of traditional Burmese fishermen, stunning views, fabulous fresh Shan state food and even wine tasting.
We arrived on the minivan from Bagan – having got the last four seats with the Japanese couple who are just a few weeks into their 18-month trip around the world. We were all ready by 0745, but it was 0830 when the van arrived, always a bad sign, it means you were getting the last and worst seats.
But the first half of the journey wasn’t so bad. Not bad roads (for Myanmar), and the driver was reasonably cautious. We dropped one person off at Kalaw, presumably to trek over the hills to Inle, and then stopped a few miles further up for a 20 minute lunch break. The Japanese ate packaged snacks. I think, SE Asia, must be really tough having come from Japan, I certainly know that coming back after just 28 days was hard work re acclimating to the roads, buses, trains and lack of Japan-clean.
So Inle Lake. We paid our tourist fee (in kyat) of US$15 (13,000 kyat) at the check point on the way in and were last to be dropped at the marvelous Zawgyi Inn, which gave us decent wifi in the quiet bungalow, a comfy bed, good breakfast and a hot shower. (get a price on this lovely hotel)
And it’s a lazy two full days we have in Nyaung Shwe, which is the main tourist town of Inle Lake – the trains go from nearby Shwenyaung – just 8 km away and that’s where we’ll head after this, to take the slow train to Thazi, then Napyidaw (or Nay Pyi Taw) – Myanmar’s capital since 2005.
On our first day in and around Inle Lake we rented bikes from a small store on the main road, with no gears, not much braking capability, with two wheels each, and we head off for a potter around the local area – there’s the Shwe Yan Pyay teak wood monastery about 3km along the tree shaded road that we drove in on.
The monastery itself isn’t that impressive, but the small temple nearby is glorious, full of dedicated Buddha’s in tiny alcoves and wonderful colored walls and tiles.
Then it’s back through Nyaung Shwe, along the canal that connects the town to the lake and we wind through a village, passing pagodas and stupa, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
And then we went wine tasting. I kid you not.
We did this in India as well. Now it’s nothing on the experience that you’ll get wine tasting in Napa or Sonoma for instance, but it’s WAY cheaper.
This is the Red Mountain Winery – where previous visitors have described the wine as leaving a lot to be desired, the cycling has been easy until we enter the property and we have to push the bikes up the hill, but tell ourselves it will be worth it for the freewheel down. Half working brakes be damned.
Our tasting of four glasses is 3.000 kyat and they do also sell wine by the glass or bottle too.
The tasting was of Sauvignon Blanc ( slightly sour apple taste), Dry Muscat, Shiraz Tempranillo and Late Harvest.
I’ve definitely had worse wine and also much better. The whites were served far too warm, as though the tasting bottle had been taken out of the fridge and just left and for me warm white wine is unpleasant.
The Shiraz didn’t really have any taste to it.
It was quite busy (and started raining too), but it’s the first wine tasting I’ve had where they took the glasses literally as I finished each wine. Perhaps they need to buy more glasses… There were also loads of flies, there’s no fans in the indoor area so it was a fight to keep them out of the wine, so we didn’t join the French group upending their fifth bottle of wine to the strains of Le Marseillais, and braved the rain to head back.
And so it was in Inle Lake that I truly embraced my Asian self. I can now report that I can competently ride a bike in monsoon rain while holding an umbrella over me. I believe that my head was the only thing not wet by the time we got back, as the spray from the road was just as bad as the rain itself!
The next day dawned with sun again, and we arranged a boat to take us on a tour of the lake, the guy from the Zawgyi Hotel (book hotel here) arranging it for us.
It might be touristy. It might be a little tacky, but it is glorious.
Riding the longtail boat down the canal to the lake itself is fun, if a little wet when other boats go by too closely.
The fishermen that we see on National Geographic photos? They’re all real.
Out there in the middle of the lake, these guys row with their leg while fishing.
I feel like I’m the middle of a Nat Geo documentary.
We don’t just stick to the centre of the lake, there are many villages dotting the edges, connected to the shore by small canals and we zip down them.
It’s a stunning day.
While we’re visiting all the tourist attractions here- the silversmiths,where we hear (in excellent English) how the silver jewelrry is made and get the opportunity to browse all the possible size options in the shop attached to the tiny workshop.
If there’s a floating market, then we missed it, seeing only a single boat of two women selling souvenirs.
There’s silk weaving. A huge workshop of incredibly complex hand (and foot operated) machines designed to weave the most glorious designs for sale to us tourists, while the operators wear clothes.. from Thailand.
We see how the longtail boats are made.
Then we’re led into another shed, where there are three ladies making the green cigars famous here in Myanmar. It’s fast work.
And the younger girl who talks us through the process can’t seem to wait to get to the part of her that involves her lighting up and offering us a smoke. We decline.
It’s here that we get to see how the paper umbrellas are made.
And some of the Karen “Long Necked”Ladies from the hill tribe.
Lunch is sadly missing the fabulous tomato salads that I’m fast becoming addicted to, but does come with an incredible view.
The tomatoes come from here. Yes that’s right, the tomatoes are grown here ON Inle Lake – and we head through the floating gardens.
It’s pretty magical. Row your boat to the garden, and pick from the boat. Brilliant. And so tasty!
Our final place to visit is the Jumping Cat Monastery, on the shores of the lake. The monastery is famous because monks taught cats to jump through hoops.
Some time back. Now the cats don’t jump. They don’t move much at all.
There’s time for a few more photos of the fishermen as we zoom past them.
Then we head back to NyaungShwe, where we bump into the Japanese couple again.
It’s quiet here in NyaungShwe right now and I like it. We’re still in the Shan State, the food is great, the town is quiet, so we have an early night. We’re getting the Slow Train to Thazi (and beyond to Naypyidaw) tomorrow.
Don’t forget to book your buses, ferries and trains – and confirm your travel. Easybook have the largest network in South East Asia!