Saturday, February 27, 2016

By Boat to Nyaung Shwe. First Views of Inle Lake.


Lunch was a very short affair. I think given our slow walking pace, we arrived into Tone Lé, much later than Aung had planned for. Good news was that we at least made it :-)

We said our goodbye's and thank you's to Aung. He really took good care of us these past two days.  From here, Polo took over.  I knew we had to get to Nyaung Shwe, the town where we would be based for our two days at Inle Lake.  But I didn't know,  where Nyaung Shwe is located relative to Tone Lé and Inle Lake.  We go with the flow but Polo's footwear, flip flops, was a clear indication to me that we were no longer going to be trekking.

We followed Polo along a small dirt path.  On one side was a canal and the other, fields.

The restaurant we had our lunch at.


We passed by several wooden boats and then Polo stopped walking.  As I neared him, I saw the sign posted on the bow.  It read, "One Stop Travels & Tours".  That was the name of the agency that arranged our tour in Myanmar.  I knew this was our boat.  So the rest of our day's journey would at least start off by boat.  I love boat rides!


We all slowly boarded and Bro and Ayşe were kind enough to let me sit in the front seat. Our captain fired up the engine and motored along the waterway.  Sadly, my videos all came out blurry.  My poor lens has not been the same since I dropped my camera, in Ethiopia, back in 2014 and I think the recent drop in Bangkok made it worse.  I need to send it in for repair. So, please pardon the blurry video.

The ride along the canal reminded Bro of the time we floated down a canal in Tulum, Mexico.  That was a fun experience!


Once we left the village behind, the view around us changed.  It was a much more watery landscape with stretches of green  punctuated by tall, thin bamboo rods.  The green stuff looked like vegetables but everything appeared to be floating on water.  I made a mental note to ask Polo about this once our ride was over.




Then, we left the man made canal behind and were motoring through what I describe as natural canals. Here, the captain picked up the speed.





In no time, we had made it to the open water of the Inle Lake itself and the boat captain revved up the speed.  We were flying across the water.   He did slow down at times for us to take photos so that was very nice of him.




The waters here were a hub of activity.  The Intha are the ethnic group that lives around Inle Lake. The fisherman are know for their unique leg rowing technique which frees up their hands to manage the nets they use to catch the fish with. 



The shallow bottom wooden boats are designed to allow the man to stand on the far edge of the bow without tipping the whole boat over.  Granted there is an outboard motor to provide some counterbalance but even then, as he moves about and brings fish aboard, the center of balance of the boat shifts.  It's quite sight to see!




These days, it's more common for Intha fisherman to use nets to catch their fish but there are still some traditionalists who use the bamboo cones instead.  The cone has a net around its base.  The fishing technique is to drop the cone, pointed side up, down into the water until it touches the floor of the lake.  The net traps the fish inside the cone and the fisherman spears them from an opening at the top of the cone.  Using the cone is possible only because Inle Lake is a very shallow lake.  In dry season the average water depth is about 2 to 3.5 meters deep.



I also noticed men loading up what looked to be lake grass (?) onto their boats.  There was so much stuff piled up on one of the boats, I was surprised it didn't sink!  I wondered how the guys know when the load is too heavy and I wonder what they do with that stuff??  Another set of questions for Polo.


About 10 minutes or so before arriving into Nyaung Shwe, we left the open waters and entered into a tributary of the lake which then led into a wide man made canal.  When the sight of concrete buildings came into view, I figured we were arriving into Nyaung Shwe.




Our captain skillfully docked the boat and one by one we disembarked.  From the boat dock, our hotel was less than a 5 minute walk away.  We had been booked into the Royal Inlay Hotel, a very nice hotel. 


I have to apologize to the hotel for what happened next. In my excitement at seeing my suitcase and in the rush to get out the paperwork to get us checked in, I simply walked into the lobby without thinking.  I should have taken off my red mud covered shoes at the entrance and gone with my sock covered feet.  Instead, I left behind red shoe prints all over the clean, white marble floor.  The moment I noticed people cleaning up the floor behind me, I immediately took off my shoes.  So very sorry for not being more considerate.

In our room, the first thing we all did was take a shower and do laundry.  That resulted in a second faux pas for me.  Honestly, I didn't realize how much dirt had caked up on the bottom of my hiking sandals and in the process of washing them, I actually clogged up the shower drain.  Luckily, I was able to clear it up using a spoon otherwise, I would have had to call the building engineer and that would have been doubly embarrassing considering the incident with my shoes in the lobby.


Polo had given us some recommendations for places to go for dinner but his directions were very rough e.g., to get to the Italian place, make a right when you pass the pagodas.  Ok....

We set out from the hotel.  Nyaung Shwe is a small town that primarily serves as a marina for the numerous long boats carrying tourists into Inle Lake.  In town, there's one main thoroughfare, Yone Gyi Street, that is home to numerous shops, several restaurants, a few stupas, travel agencies and a market.  But our restaurant search actually had us going in another direction.

As we walked,  we checked out a few restaurant menus along the way.  Nothing appealed to us, so in the end, we had decided we wanted to try and find the Italian place that Polo had suggested - Star Flower.   It was tricky finding the place.  Even the few locals that we stopped to ask for directions had no clue where the place was located.


As it  often happens, we were just about to give up when we asked one last person for directions and he pointed to a spot just down the street we were on.  We found Star Flower.  Outside the restaurant were a few small tables but it was too chilly to dine al fresco so we opted for a table inside instead. We got seated and started to look at the menu which was all classic Italian dishes. 


The owner came over to greet us and to proudly tell us that he learned to cooked Italian food from real Italians. He grows his own tomatoes and basil - the Italian woman who taught him how to cook sends him the seeds every year.  Then, there is his pride and joy -  a wood burning oven was imported from Italy.  He even took us to see his prized over as well as show us a few of his homegrown Italian ingredients which were kept inside a refrigerator.  After all that, how could we not order pizza?


It wasn't the best pizza by US standards let alone Italian standards but considering where we are and who's doing the pizza making, it was damn good pizza!  Nyaung Shwe is a tourist town so prices will reflect that accordingly.  For me, pizza was a nice change of pace from all the Burmese food we've been having.


After dinner, we went straight back to the hotel.  We were all tired from the past two days of walking and stuff so it's going to be an early night's out.  Tomorrow, we have a really full day of sightseeing and I want to be fully rested.

Goodnight from Nyaung Shwe!