Our last few days were spent in Nyaung Shwe, a small town in Shan State by Myanmar’s famous Inle Lake. Whilst still firmly on the tourist trail the pace here was a little slower giving us some time to relax and enjoy without rushing to sites.
In order to get to Inle Lake we did of course have to deal with another long and miserable bus journey. This one actually started quite promising, it left on time, had decent air con, wasn’t overloaded and the driver actually put something good on the TV! The DVD he loaded up was Myanmar rock band Iron Cross doing acoustic covers of classic rock ballads by bands such as Scorpions, KISS, Bon Jovi etc. with the lyrics in Burmese. I was loving it… But then everything came crashing down.
Despite every seat on the bus being full, we stopped to pick up about 20 extra passengers. Locals who had paid about a tenth of the price we had. The conductor lined the aisle with tiny stools and the extra passengers rammed into every free space. Luckily for me the extras rammed in against my seat were also carrying two babies and a young boy. For the next 8 hours the boy vomited constantly into plastic bags, which when full were flung out the window, whilst the babies cried, vomited, pissed and crapped themselves as babies do. To make things even better, it was suddenly revealed that our crappy Chinese bus couldn’t actually go up hills and run the air con at the same time. This resulted in the temperature inside the bus rapidly rising to 36 degrees Celsius in a matter of minutes, and staying that way for the couple of hours it took to ascend the Shan mountain range. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, a DVD went on which was a bunch of Myanmar scene kids doing covers of Nickelback songs in Burmese. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen hell now. Worst. Bus. Ever!
Once we finally arrived at our guest house, our pain was relieved by some nice cold beers on the balcony as we watched the sun set, and fires from backburning glowing across the mountains.
The next morning after a much needed sleep in, we decided to walk out to the Red Mountain Estate Winery for some tastings. The views were stunning and the wine wasn’t too bad either! Most of all we enjoyed the peace and quiet out on the deck, a rare commodity in Myanmar. The tastings progressed and we ended up also enjoying a bottle of one of our favourites which made the walk home extra entertaining.
Our second full day was the obligatory Inle Lake boat trip. Despite being a complete tourist trap, since you are mostly ferried around canals to various shops selling local crafts, it was actually brilliant. We started by heading all the way across the huge lake down to the ruins of Indein pagoda which was built in the 12th century. Whilst the stupas at the top of the hill have been ruined by restoration, those at the bottom are in an incredible state.
Next we visited a blacksmith, silversmith, lotus weaver, cigar workshop, market and others I’ve already forgotten. We also saw the floating villages and the floating gardens which are in fact massive vegetable crops floating on the lake. Though the real highlight was simply drifting about on the lake, admiring the seemingly endless mountains, observing the fisherman and other locals making their living.
It was the first overcast cloudy day we’d seen so far in Myanmar, and it actually made us feel like we were out on a loch in Scotland despite the 30 degree temperature. As the sun finally burnt through the cloud cover and I could feel it scorching my skin, or driver offered us an umbrella each… When I opened it I didn’t know whether to laugh or throw it into the lake.
One thing I love about Myanmar is the multitudes of different people and ethnicities you see as you travel around. Whilst I’d learned to spot a Mon longyi and a Karen shirt down south, around Inle it was all Shan shirts and the distinct indigo clothing/towel headdresses of the Pa’O people. We ended our time at Inle with some haggling in the local market with some Pa’O women, some great Shan food and an encounter with a cow which had decided to have a sleep in the entrance to our guest house. If we ever get back here I’d definitely like to see more of Shan State!