Inle Lake

2 Dec

The road from Bagan to the Inle Lake region is not an easy one; like most of the roads in Myanmar, it is in horrible disrepair. The average road (including the highway) is approximately one and a half lanes wide, riddled with potholes, and contains almost no discernible signs, road rules or lane markings. Although the Burmese used to use British-style road rules (drive to the left, driver in the right-hand seat), they switched in 1970 to right lane driving to throw off their imperial roots and whatnot. The fun part? No one got a new car (no one could afford one). The end result is that drivers in Myanmar have a great view of the shoulder of the road, and can barely see the oncoming traffic. The five of us hired a private van to drive us to Inle, and there were most definitely moments in which I could barely watch the traffic situation. Adventure?

To throw some entertainment into our otherwise tedious/terrifying nine-hour drive to Inle, we made a bunch of stops along the way. Highlights included a toddy palm distillery and Mt.Popa, a mountaintop temple infested by zillions of monkeys. Mt.Popa is an extinct volcano, and the temple at the top has some great views of the surrounding countryside. There are also many bizarre statues of nats, pre-Buddhist spirit guys who can either provide good luck or be kind of nasty. However, the most amusing part of our Mt.Popa stop was watching Zach tease and subsequently be attacked by the many monkeys. Enterprising ladies sell small paper packets of monkey crack (sugar possibly?) which they sell to tourists. Zach bought handfuls of these, and as a result was absolutely swarmed. We got some good photos, and Zach managed to avoid getting rabies. All in all, a successful outing.

Inle Lake was one of the most beautiful places I have traveled to in Southeast Asia. The road leading to Inle winds up into the mountains, and the air became noticeably cooler and drier as we drove. The lake itself spreads across a large valley, completely surrounded by picturesque mountains. The slopes immediately above the lake are cultivated, so they look like a patchwork quilt in different shades of greens and browns. Add to that some puffy white clouds tastefully scattered about, and the result was simply gorgeous. If I squinted just a little (and ignored the rice paddies) I could almost pretend I was looking at a pretty little lake in the mountains of Vermont. (Jen said it reminded her of Colorado; I guess we all miss home a bit even when we’re in amazing places.)

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We spent one entire day on the lake in a private boat, stopping at some of the fishing villages along the edges. The houses around Inle are all built on stilts. They hover over the water and the residents use boats and raised walkways connected by bridges to get around. Addresses are posted on pillars in the lake, and the “roads” are channels through the marsh vegetation. There are many local handicrafts and family businesses around the lake, including metalwork, cheroot rolling, and lotus weaving. The last is particularly time consuming – it takes approximately 6 months and 7,000 lotus blossoms to stretch out the fibers inside each stem and roll them into usable thread. The resulting scarves are beautiful and expensive. I am bummed that I decided not to splurge on one (oh well, I’ll just have to go back!). Although it was great seeing the various industries, the best part of the day was just cruising around on the lake admiring the stunning scenery. Most of us could have happily floated around for hours. An added point of interest were the famous one-legged fishermen of Inle. The fishermen row small boats by wrapping a single leg around one long oar, and propel the boat forward by moving their leg/hip in a kind of circular motion. It is both unique and puzzling.

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On our second day, we set out on bicycles to visit a local winery and tour the surrounding countryside (vineyards in Myanmar – who knew?). Four hours later, the winery was as far as we got. 😉 Turns out, the slopes of Inle are the perfect climate for grapevines. We sampled a flight, then shared a bottle (or 3…). Sitting in the shade with a glass of wine in hand and an amazing view to admire was the perfect, relaxing end to a vacation .

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One Response to “Inle Lake”

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  1. Mae Hong Son | The Jacksons Take Thailand - January 24, 2015

    […] of the town’s population is from the neighboring Shan state in Myanmar (the same state where Inle Lake is located), and the architecture and cuisine reflect this. The temples are Shan-style rather than […]

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