**This post will many photos I want to share therefore I ask for your patience while it loads.
Beside visiting Buddhist temples and monasteries in Myanmar, I also went for an Inle Lake Boat Tour. Inle Lake is famous for its leg rowing fishermen. A boat tour is a must if you are visiting this freshwater lake of almost 120 square km. The lake is bordered by mountains around it and is so picturesque that I have no words describe, see for yourself in the photos below.
The boat tours organized by the tour agents and hotels in the small town of Nyaungshwe usually include stops at various handicraft or cottage industry workshops (read “tourist traps!!”). My friend Elayne and I decided to roam to the jetty on the first day we arrived at Nyaungshwe to find ourselves a better deal instead.
As we got nearer to the jetty, a soft-spoken man approached me with a “Hello, boat trip?” I was planning to ignore the first tout that came along but something about him made me stop. With his limited English, we negotiated the price to 16,000 kyats (about US$15) for a full day trip. The trip include watching the sunrise on the lake, visiting the rotating market, the Indein Village and the Jumping Cat Monastery (although the cats no longer jump because the monk who trained them passed away).
The boatman requested for 5,000 kyats as deposit and with a lot of sign language and our own interpretation, we got his message saying “meet here at this spot tomorrow morning 5.30am”. Frankly, we were a bit worried that he will not show up but we took our chances :).
A little incident at the hotel made us late the next morning for the sunrise. The hotel owner who was supposed to prepare breakfast for us to bring onto the boat and most importantly open the locked gate for us to get out, did not show up. In the end, we climbed over the fences of the hotel! Definitely a first in my life!
We rushed to the jetty and saw the familiar face waiting anxiously for us. I guess he too was worried that we wouldn’t show up and he would probably have wasted his day then. We got onto the boat after climbing over a few others and we were on our way! The sun had already started rising.
As the boat went further out towards the lake, the landscape around us started to change. Open sky, mountains in the distance, vast amount of water and stilt houses were slowly replacing the concrete buildings surrounding the jetty. The air was also nice and clean, very different from the inland that is generally dusty.
Intha fishermen can be seen on the lake using their famous leg rowing skills so that they can use both hands to fish. Among the fishermen there was 1 guy who was posing with his boat for tourists. He would come around later asking for “photo money” – the result of tourism. Can you spot the difference between the genuine fishermen and the “poser” in the photos below?
After we left the “poser”, the boatman started to talk to himself and the boat stopped. We realized there was a problem with the engine. How (un)lucky were we?! First the hotel lockdown, now this! Anyway, there wasn’t much we could do; so whilst he tried to repair the engine and call for help, we made use of the time to take photos of fishermen who were fishing nearby. The video below shows how the men rowed their boats and fish at the same time.
I think they must have very strong core muscles as well as a fantastic sense of balance to do that!
Following the unexciting rescue mission from another boatman about 1 minutes later, we headed to the rotating market at Mein Thauk. Along the way, we saw more people fishing and collecting seaweed as fertilizer. Due to the sheer size of the lake, even though there were many activities going on all at the same time, it felt so clam and peaceful. Very scenic!
The rotating markets are called “5 Day Markets” because the hill tribe people rotate the Inle Lake market between five different locations over a 5-day period. The 5 markets are: Ywama, Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, Indein, Mine Thauk Market and Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery. On the day we took the boat tour, which was a Thursday, Mein Thauk was open. Our boat docked at a shop selling souvenirs with a “long necked” woman sitting on the floor weaving.
We walked to the back of the shop and saw a long stretch of “shops” set up under the shelter. This was the beginning of the Mein Thuak Market!
In the beginning, it felt really touristy with hawkers selling t-shirts, longyis, wooden carved souvenirs, etc. If you ever want to buy anything, remember to bargain! Anyway, after we managed to pushed through all the hawkers and crossed a wooden bridge, we saw locals / hill tribe people do their marketing and hold their gatherings.
There weren’t many foreigners around when we were there and the hill tribe people didn’t really bother about us either. They probably have already gotten used to having tourists visiting. The locals were selling almost everything from fresh vegetables, fresh meat, fish, to cooked food and clothing.
I was, however, a bit disappointed to see very few people in their traditional tribal costume. This was unlike that time when I was in the Lung Khau Nhin market in Vietnam. It was nonetheless interesting to see how the locals live, shop and eat.
After spending about an hour at the market, we returned to our boatman. He told us his friend would take over the rest of our Inle Lake Boat Tour because of the faulty engine. We felt bad for him but there was nothing much we could do.
We were hungry by the time we left the rotating market at about 10.30am since our breakfast promised by the hotel didn’t show. So we asked the new boatman to bring us to an early lunch. This also meant avoided the lunch crowd (yay!). The boatman came along with us on his friend’s boat, which looked exactly the same to me by the way.
The boat scooted around the lake, passing temples, stilt houses and people on their canoe-like sampan, going under bridges after bridges. It was quite a long ‘drive’ for breakfast but we enjoyed it, passing locals going to the market, going to work.
Finally when we were near the restaurant, both the boatmen suddenly jumped out of the boat and started pushing! Apparently because it was the dry season in early April, the water level was so low that boats could not motor their way through this part of the village / lake.
Breakfast / early lunch was served in a restaurant where Elayne and I were the only customers. We took the opportunity to refuel and re-hydrate ourselves for the rest of the day. It was also a good opportunity for us to walk around the restaurant and snap some photographs.