Inle Lake and the End of Our Journey in Myanmar

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The last stop.  Have you ever noticed how fast times goes when you are on holiday?  When you first arrive you think that you have so much time to see it all but when the time to leave comes you are surprised.  It happens to me every time.  Then I start to think back on what we did.  Which is always so much.  And yet I am still surprised.

And yet I am still surprised.

Inle Lake might be my favorite place in Myanmar that we visited. There is much less pressure to go go go and I enjoyed boating around the lake all day. I managed to sunburn my hand on the first day.  I forgot to reapply sunscreen after washing.  The sun hates me and doesn’t want me to have a good time.

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One of the first things that I managed to do was almost topple the boat and dunk my entire leg up to the in the lake.  Graceful.  In my defense I am four and a half feet tall.  Asking me to take a two-and-a-half-foot step onto a shaky boat is kind of unreasonable.  But since I was embarrassed and not hurt we pressed on.  Picture me riding around with one soaking leg and shoe.  Less noticeable than you might expect.

After two weeks of nothing but temples and pagodas it was refreshing to be able to see something else.  There was a five-day market where people from around the lake were making their purchases. I couldn’t quite figure out why the market is only every five days.  What benefit does that bring other than being on a different day of the week each time. 

It is a real market.  Sometimes when you go to a market in Asia it is a tourist trap and the the only thing for sale is souvenirs.  That was not the case with this market.  People were buys food for the week.  I even saw utilitarian underwear for sale which is my personal indicator that a market is authentic.   If they are selling underwear you know that real people are shopping there.  Legit travel theory…

Legit travel theory…

There are 17 villages on the lake.  Actually on the lake on floating islands or houses on stilts. It reminded me a bit of reed islands on Lake Titicaca.  Life is happening all around on the water.

Fisherman traditionally rock their teak boats with their legs on Inle Lake.  The boats used to be made from one solid teak trunk but there are less and less Teak trees of that size avalible so they have started making plank boats in a very similar shape.  You still see the told boats on the water but they are something passed down through the generations rather than a newer possession. 

One thing that was really cool was that when a boat of tourist approached some fisherman they often showed off their feats of balance by standing on one leg with the oar supported with one hand and a fishing net in the other.  I thought at first that this was kind of bait for tourists.  Be picturesque and collect some money.  After observing it a few times I am fairly confident that it is spontaneous.  No one ever pays them and after a few moments of showing off they go back to work.  I like to think that they are just proud of their skill and their way of life.  I hope that it lasts.  Tourist is mushrooming in Myanmar so fast that I imagine that soon they will be weary of tourist rather than enjoying them.

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Other than boating around the lake (which is interesting enough) we ended up doing a circit of handicraft workshops.  A silversmith, a boatmaker, a blacksmith, a cheroot workshop, and even a factory where women were making women out of lotus stems.  It was a crazyily time consuming process.  The hard and thorny stem is broken by hand ever few centimeters and when it is pulled apart there are filiments.  They stretch out the filiments and using a wet hand roll it into a thread.  This is only a few centimeters long so you have to do it again and again and again to get anything like a normal thread.  Then the thread is woven.  By hand.  It is rough as all get out but it is the most expensive fabric in the world.  We saw a simple men’s shirt for sale for 900$. 

 It is rough as all get out but it is the most expensive fabric in the world.

On our last full day we did not go out on the boat again.  We had decided to take a cooking class.  Burmese food like the people is a watershed of asia.  There are Indian, Bangladeshi, Thai, Chinese, Nepali, and Laotian influences in it.  Inle Lake is in the Shan District and Shan food is generally considered to be the best in Myanmar.  We started at an open market. A woman was selling fried tree ants (very tiny and red) as a snack in case you were wondering they have a naturally lime like flavor.

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I always like taking cooking classes and food tours when I travel.  Food is one of the best ways to get to know a culture and sharing a meal always brings you closer with people.  We learned how to make a couple of salads.  Myanmar has some amazing salads.  One of the best things that we ate the whole time that we were there was a fermented tea leaf salad.  Which does not sound delicious but definitely is.  They are big fans of using green tomatoes in salad.  There are many floating farms/gardens all over the lake and most of them are growing tomatoes.  I have never purposely had a green tomato but I was really impressed.  It has a much crunchier bite and it stays together much better than a ripe tomato.  The green tomato isn’t as sweet and lends  bit of a sour quality to the salad.  I am a far.  Then we mad a beef curry and a chicken curry.  I am not sure that I learned a whole lot aside from the actual recipe.  It didn’t really matter because the class was outside and we were cooking over coal fires.  Awesome and also terrifying. Everything turned out to be delicious.  When closely supervised by people who know what they are doing it is hard to screw up too badly.

And so our trip ended.  We flew back to Yangon for an evening departed Myanmar the next morning.  But I don’t think that this is the last time that I will visit Myanmar.  There is still so much of it to see.  The jungles of the west, the islands in the south, the beginnings of the Himalayas in the the north.   Once isn’t going to be enough.

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