Landing at the tiny airport in HeHo, I am both excited and sad because Lake Inle is the final leg of our Burmese adventure before we head back to Yangon. It is a cold and misty morning, and being so remote there is virtually no English spoken here. This is actually quite refreshing because it just means that we are now so far off the beaten track, that we have to resort to imaginative ways of trying to get the locals to understand what we want! After all – isn’t that part of the charm of travel?
We are in the heart of Shan State, home to the stunning Lake Inle and also to the Red Mountain Wine Estate. To take you back a bit – we tried some wine by this estate while in Bagan, and when we found out that Inle was also home to the Red Mountain Wine Estate – our natural reaction was to pay a visit to the estate itself.
We were not disappointed….although there are no vines as such, the view of the surrounding countryside is still breathtaking. There is no charge for the tour and all you get to see is the production plant and the labels, but an interesting factoid is that this is a pretty international winery. The varietals were first brought in from France, the bottles are from France, the machines that produce the wine are from Holland, the wine is aged in oak barrels from Hungary and the labels are from Thailand! We opted to do a wine tasting and got to taste 4 wines for 2000 kyats. A Chardonnay, Rose, Tempranillo and late harvest Sauvignon Blanc which give a pretty good “taste” of what is produced here. They also have a restaurant but the service was quite slow on just the wine tasting and so, we didn’t stay to sample any of their fare.
A couple of glasses of wine later, it was time to head back to the lake and make our way to our resort. We cruised along a canal until we came to the open lake. Lake Inle is probably the most picturesque area in Myanmar (second to Bagan, of course!). There was just something magical about being in a boat, surrounded by blue water and green reeds and the sky above.
Of course, you also have the famous Intha Fishermen of Lake Inle. I had only seen pictures of these fishermen in the National Geographic, with one leg on the boat and the other on a paddle, large fishing nets popping out of the boat. To see them actually rowing across the lake using one leg to paddle, casting large nets into the water – was mind boggling to say the least! What we soon realised was that the fishermen at the mouth of the lake are quite fake – as in they are not really fishing but are putting up tricks for the tourists in exchange for a few kyat – but still, my reasoning was that it takes some skill to do what they do which – then didn’t stop it from being fascinating!
Our resort was right on the lake, and given that most of our sightseeing would happen over the lake over the next few days, I just couldn’t help sitting on the deck of our villa overlooking the lake, soaking it all in with some wine and music, trusty journal by my side to pen all my musings -watching the sun go down before heading to the spa for a much needed massage!
Mist has shrouded the lake and is swirling along the surface the next morning, and I am shivering with the cold as I sit in the boat, wrapped up in a blanket on our way to Ywama Village to see the “floating market” of the Intha people. The fishermen are out and about, catching their fish for the day. I am happy to see that these are real fishermen and the fake ones are nowhere to be seen…these chaps are actually beating the water in an attempt to scare fish into their cast nets.
About an hour on the lake later, I am happy to step into a warm house where we are shown how cheroots are made. Three young girls sit in this house, rolling up fat Burmese cigars with their nimble fingers. They roll these out so fast, chatting as they go along, and it is fascinating to watch.
And from there, we make our way into the market place, swirling with activity as people bargain and buy fruit, vegetables, fish and meat for the day. The market is actually on dry land and my visions of bartering for goods on the water have now been dashed! But, it is still great to walk along the stalls and watch daily life unfold. A Shan woman is selling peanut brittle and I can’t help buying some to try – it is delicious. This is also a great place to pick up souvenirs and I buy myself a Shan Buddha for my trinket shelf back home. See – I must have been Buddhist in a past life because – I am so darn drawn to these Buddha images!!
I am almost tempted to try some delicious looking noodle soup at the market, but being cautious of holiday tummy decide against it, and we are soon back on the lake to see the floating gardens, and then onwards to the Shwe Inthein Pagoda, which is quite fascinating as it is on the lake itself and offers fantastic panoramic views of the surrounding vista. I am intrigued to notice that there has been so much gold leaf placed on the Buddha images here, they now resemble lumps rather than the Buddha images we are used to! Also, in this pagoda only men can place the gold leaf, which is quite unusual.
Perhaps my most memorable moment in Inle was our visit to the Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery and Pagoda. This is actually a working Monastery, made entirely of teak and is home to many young novice monks. We happened to visit whilst the novice monks were learning their lessons, and it was almost meditative to sit and watch and listen to the chanting.
After their lessons had ended, we wandered around and quite accidentally stumbled upon the Pagoda in the back of the Monastery. What a beautiful surprise. This is perhaps one of the most stunning pagodas we have seen in all our travels in South East Asia.
The pagoda is situated almost in a cave, with various twists and turns in it. Thousands of Buddha Images, each in their own little niches, some with candles around them and some without. Vibrant ochres and reds and blues, a burst of colour and zen at the same time at every corner turned. If the fake fishermen make you lose even a tad bit of faith, then just pop into this monastery for a couple of hours. You will fall in love with Myanmar all over again, just like I did!
If there ever was a time to visit Myanmar, now would be it. What are you waiting for? I will share our itinerary and some more information on how we arranged the trip with you in the next post but in the meantime, do drop me a line if you want to know more about our adventures in Myanmar! Thank you for stopping by!