A day on the lake; of leg rowers, floating gardens and jumping cats.

Nyaung Shwe Travel Blog

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The sight of monks begging for alms remains intriguing.

Since this is just another ordinary day in our holiday, we get up nice and early again. Breakfast is at 6.30 a.m., it’s nothing special, but it gets the digestion process going. I’ve slept like a baby and fortunately my cold isn’t as bad as it was yesterday.

Today we will be on and around Inle Lake, and we will be traveling by boat. We start walking to the pier at 7.30 and by the time we get to the pagoda we visited yesterday, we encounter a group of monks that are on their way begging for alms. Although we have seen this before, it still is an intriguing sight. Once again some of our fellow travelers jump in front of everybody and everything to make the “perfect” picture, forgetting that there are people who aren’t that bold, trying to take their shots in a less disturbing manner.

One of the leg fishermen for which Inle Lake is famous.

When we get to the pier we get ambushed by women selling sun hats, I already own a hat, but as soon as I shake off one lady, the next one pops up out of thin air. This goes on until all of us are aboard a boat. The boats are long and narrow and can hold a maximum of 5 passangers, so we need 4 boats. The vessels are powered by the same “single-stroke-with-a-large-flywheel” engine as the smaller lorries and they make a hell of a racket. When the boats sail at full throttle, water splashes everywhere, creating a wall of water behind them. At top speed the wind at this early hour makes it rather chilly, but the temperature rises in proportion with the sun and soon the wind is very welcome.

After a little while of boating we see the leg rowers for which the lake is famous, trying to catch some fish.

The floating market of Ywama.
Some of them don’t seem to be fishing for the gilled aquatic animals, it looks more like they’re making a living posing for tourists. On our way to the floating market we see women row by, sitting in their narrow boats wearing their cone hats with some pagodas in the background.

The floating market is a “fifth day market”, meaning that it is held once every five days. As soon as we float onto the market our boat is surrounded by merchant vessels selling souvenirs. We say “No, thank you” about a million times with our friendliest smiles on our faces, while looking at the locals doing their groceries as if this is the most normal way of shopping in the world. On the balcony of a stilt house in the distance Trudy spots a Longneck Karen woman. This is very special, because normally the only way to see these women is in government owned villages, where the women are kept against their will to make money that goes directly to the Junta.

A silver workshop somewhere on Inle Lake.
The young woman is far away and most people in our party didn’t see her at all. That means that they won’t see these women at all, because we will not be visiting the “Karen villages”.

From the market we go to a small business that makes silver utensils, from ashtrays to necklaces. It is interresting to see how everything is made, although we’ve seen it before, but as soon as the tour ends up in the shop it doesn’t take long before we are outside again. Most of us are back in the boats again, long before the agreed time.

On our way to Shwe In Tain we have plenty of time to see how the locals live and work, from the transport of mud, to doing the laundry and the washing of the buffalo that are used as tractors on the fields.

Taking good care of your tools means washing the buffalo regularly.
When we get off the boats near Shwe In Tain it is obvious that this is one of the major tourist sites of the Inle Lake, there are loads of stalls selling souvenirs near the pier and once we have crossed a plain where children are playing a ball game in front of a backdrop of ancient pagodas, the covered main road to the entrance of the complex has an uninterrupted line of stalls on both sides. We try to avoid the tourist route by swerving through the field of pagodas, but unfortunately in the end our wanderings still end on the beaten track. In Tain is a collection of small pagodas that, for the main part, haven’t been restored yet. Slowly this changes, because the wealthier Burmese can adopt a pagoda and have it restored, they get a name shield on the pagoda and religious credit in return. Restoration works are going on as we speak and they are as drastic as we were told.

We decide to climb the hill that lies, as seen from the entrance of the complex, to the left, and from where the view of the pagodas should be beautiful.

Who needs a laundramat when you can do your laundy in such a scenery.
Trudy needs to visit the restroom, but the state the toilet is in almost makes her change her mind, it is nothing more than a wooden shack inhabited by a lot of flies having a great time. To reach the top we have to ask directions, because there are several tracks that seem to lead to the hill and we don’t know which one to choose. Luckily the friendly locals are always willing to help.

In the end we have to hurry to get back to the boat in time and we have to drink the coconut we buy on the way while walking. We are not the only ones who think we had too little time, Ad also thinks we should’ve had at least half an hour more.

Now we set sail to the restaurant where we will be having lunch.

Shwe In Tain as seen from the hill top.
On the other side of the river, near the restaurant, stands a temple that is known for its super sacret Buddha statues that are covered in such a thick layer of gold leaf, that they look like two gold balls stacked on one another. Once every year the statues are sailed around the lake in boats built especially for this occasion, that lie under a cover up roof next to the pagoda. Legend has it that, one time, one of the statues fell over board and couldn’t be found anywhere. When the procession got back to the pagoda, the lost statue was already standing on its place as if nothing had ever happened. Despite the statues and the nice story, I don’t think the pagoda is very impressive.

We cross the canal by boat again and flee from the scorching sun, into the relative coolness of the restaurant. The staff hardly speak any English, so it’s just a matter of pointing out on the menu what you want to eat, without asking difficult questions like: “Do you have Tiger Beer in a bottle instead of a can?”.

The golden snowballs in the centre of the photo are super-sacred Buddha statues covered in inches of gold leaf.
The food is alright, nothing more, nothing less.

Now we boat to a weaving mill, where raw silk is spun and woven. The noises of the weaving-looms are all around and the brightly coloured fabrics shine beautifully in the sunlight. Of course there is a shop where the finished products can be bought, but the prices are in US dollars and almost at a European level. Haggling is not allowed, there are fixed prices on all the items. This, like the silver workshop, is one of the shorter stops of the day.

Next stop is a smithy, where four men with sledge hammers are hammering red hot iron into the shape of their desire. It’s incredible to see how they can do this at this speed without getting their hammers in a knot.

A weaving mill on Inle Lake, only to be reached by boat.
It may be obvious that the ladies are outside way sooner than the men, this was the other way around at the silk weaving mill.

Now there’s one more workshop on todays programme, a cheroot factory. Here the traditional Burmese cigars are made by hand. Female hands, that is, and they are lightning quick. I watch at least 15 cigars being made and I still haven’t figured out how they do it. The ones who fancy a smoke are welcome to light a complementary cigar, but Trudy and I politely decline the offer. Instead we have a look at the rest of the goods that are made here, like ashtrays, cigar boxes and so on.

On our way to the Nga Phe Kyaung, better known as the Jumping Cat Monastery, we cut through the world renowned floating gardens.

These blacksmiths on Inle Lake had a tremendous sence of rythm.
The gardens float due to the hollow roots of the water hyacinths. Water hyacinths are used to hold the soil together on which the vegetables are supposed to grow. The layer of floating material can get up to one metre thick and can be moved around the lake if necessary.

The Jumping Cat Monastery has lost much of the luring magic it used to have. Nowadays the shows where cats jump through a small hoop aren’t done by the monks anymore, but by a young boy that is hired for the task and the shows are done several times a day to please the tourists. All in all the show we attend takes less than five minutes. So even in monasteries tourism does its damage. The building itself is still quite nice to see, but don’t think too much of the statues inside, they are not as old as they look. The pedestals on which the Buddhas sit are about a hundred years old, the statues aren’t that old.

These ladies made cheroots faster than I could look...

This was the last stop on the programme and from here we go back to our hotel in Nyaungshwe to do some necessary things, before we go to have dinner in Sunrise Restaurant. Very small, very simple, very good. There are traditional Shan dishes on the menu, as well as Italian food and pancakes. I choose the latter.

At 8.30 p.m. we go to Aung’s Puppet Theatre to see a show with Burmese marionets, the way it used to be popular before the introduction of tv and dvd. Nowadays these shows are for tourists only, it is a rarity to see a local visiting a puppet theatre these days.

Taking care of the crops on the floating gardens on Inle Lake.
Although the shows are meant for tourists it is still worth while attending one, the puppeteers are real artists, the music is cheesy, the way they do it hard to fathom. All in all it’s a laugh. The marionet I like most is the chinlon player, kicking a ball from limb to limb, even using his head now and then. We are the only two visitors and after the show Mr. Aung tells us that he hasn’t performed at all the last three days, simply because there were no visitors. Business is slow and he tries to make some extra money by selling marionets to the few visitors that he still gets. The entrance fee is no reason not to go, only 2000 Kyats each.

When we walk back to the hotel we see Wim and Ad in the Unique Superb Food Restaurant, chatting with some Dutch folks we haven’t seen before. We join the conversation for a while and it is past 10 when we get back to our room.

The very touristic show in the Jumping Cat Monastery.

We take a shower in total darkness, because the light in our bathroom once again refuses to work.

tvillingmarit says:
Great blog Ronnie, reminds me of my visit to the floating village in Cambodia.
Posted on: Oct 08, 2008
glennisnz says:
I see from the photo that there really were cats trained to jump, I must get training my two, I can make money from this tip, I imagine!
So very much is packed into your days, how I envy you both. Reminds me of my coach tour through india, with guides you get to see every possable thing on the route, and at the best possable times, not only that, youhave things explained in your own language too.
Posted on: Oct 05, 2008
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The sight of monks begging for alm…
The sight of monks begging for al…
One of the leg fishermen for which…
One of the leg fishermen for whic…
The floating market of Ywama.
The floating market of Ywama.
A silver workshop somewhere on Inl…
A silver workshop somewhere on In…
Taking good care of your tools mea…
Taking good care of your tools me…
Who needs a laundramat when you ca…
Who needs a laundramat when you c…
Shwe In Tain as seen from the hill…
Shwe In Tain as seen from the hil…
The golden snowballs in the centre…
The golden snowballs in the centr…
A weaving mill on Inle Lake, only …
A weaving mill on Inle Lake, only…
These blacksmiths on Inle Lake had…
These blacksmiths on Inle Lake ha…
These ladies made cheroots faster …
These ladies made cheroots faster…
Taking care of the crops on the fl…
Taking care of the crops on the f…
The very touristic show in the Jum…
The very touristic show in the Ju…
Mr. Aungs puppet show is meant for…
Mr. Aungs puppet show is meant fo…
We came across lots of these ancie…
We came across lots of these anci…
As peaceful as this may look, the …
As peaceful as this may look, the…
This Longneck Karen woman is the o…
This Longneck Karen woman is the …
Nyaung Shwe
photo by: TrudyNRonnie