We were huddled under blankets on little chairs on the longtail boat, which was speeding away from the town and out into open water. The early morning mist was rising off the lake and shrouding the surrounding hills, partially obscuring their shapes.
There were a few other boats passing us, with occupants similarly wrapped up against the early morning chill. In fact it was freezing, so we were very thankful for the blankets. It wouldn’t last too long though, as soon the sun would rise higher into the sky and the temperature would rise with it… but initially those blankets were very much needed.
We were on our way out onto Inle Lake, a huge freshwater lake situated in the middle of Myanmar. It is a very popular tourist destination and we were initially thinking of skipping it and going elsewhere. That didn’t work out however (due to transportation issues) so we ended up heading to Inle instead…. and I’m very glad that we did.
My time in Inle was definitely a mixed bag. We stayed in Nuang Shwe which is the place most people use as the jump off point for tours of the lake. I wasn’t sure what to expect, having heard that it was majorly touristy, but I was very pleasantly surprised and really liked it. I was also learning that ‘majorly touristy’ did not have the same meaning in Myanmar as it did in other places, such as Thailand!
Yes, there were definitely more tourists around than in other places we had visited, but it was in no means overwhelmingly busy. I think this may have changed a bit though, as we witnessed so much construction work going on, not only in Nuang Shwe but in many of the other places that we visited. There seemed to be big new hotels being thrown up in many places.
We spent about 4 days in Inle as I got sick when we arrived. We both succumbed to the flu type lurgy that seemed to be inflicting numerous travellers we met, having first come across it in Bagan. My partner fell first and then it was my turn at Inle. I spent a day in bed, huddled under blankets as it was so cold, before I felt well enough to venture out. I was left with a hacking, phlegmy cough (too much information?!) which didn’t shift until we reached Thailand.
I also then started to suffer from stomach issues, which most travellers succumb to at one point or another! Not much fun at all though, especially when you are due to board a night bus to Yangon – a nice 11 hour journey to contend with…..but that’s another story!! Oh the glamour of travel!
BUT before I had to endure that, we had a few days to spend at Inle. We had one full day on the water (another very long day trip!) and I had wanted to explore a bit further afield, but we ended up spending the rest of the time just pottering around because I wasn’t too well. Despite that, I came to really like Nuang Shwe, it was a lovely little town.
We organised our boat trip through a little travel agency in the town and arrived bright (well not quite!) and early to meet our guides for the day. I was dosed up to the eyeballs on Fluza (Myanmar’s miracle answer for colds!), so was feeling pretty ok as I clambered over boats to get to the one that would be ours for the day.
I did find getting in and out of those boats quite a challenge for the whole day and was convinced I would find myself experiencing the lake at close quarters before the day was out!
So, off we sped, under the blankets to try to fend off the cold, out into the lake. We weren’t entirely sure what we were going to see, but we did know that it would entail a few stops at various joints where we could buy stuff… it wouldn’t be a day trip if that didn’t happen!
We sped out away from the town and soon came across a gaggle of the famous fishermen of Inle Lake, who have mastered the art of paddling with one leg whilst they fish. They are dressed in their traditional outfits, with nets, etc, and present an opportunity to capture one of those iconic photos associated with Myanmar. It does come with a fee though and I didn’t feel up to trying to capture the perfect photo that day!
We travelled onwards and throughout the day we visited the market, the weavers, the cheroot makers, the jumping cat monestry, the Buddhist temple complex at Indein – it was another very full and very long day! I did enjoy the trip, but I was literally sick and tired and a whole day was a bit too much.
But you definitely can’t go to Inle Lake and NOT see the lake. There is so much to take in and my favourite part of the day was mooring up on a secluded part of the riverbank, clambering out of that damned boat again and up the steep, muddy riverbank and onwards to a village.
We weren’t too sure where we were going, but we followed our guide along the path and through the undergrowth. We wove our way discreetly past a few dwellings and then onwards towards the main village. We found that our guide had moored well away from the centre of the village and therefore avoided all of the general hubbub that was there.
We were ushered towards a bridge and off we went to explore what was Shwe Indein. We first found our way to the ancient ruins at the bottom of the hill – a fantastic array of old and crumbling stupas.
Then we made our way up the hill past all of the stallholders towards the breathtaking views at the top. There weren’t many other people around up there when we arrived and at one point, it was just us and the tinkling of the bells that topped the hundreds of stupas that surrounded us.
The colours of the restored and newer stupas were amazing, set against the clear blue sky it was literally dazzling to look at them all.
It was so peaceful it was difficult to leave! But leave we had to and we eventually returned the way we had come to find our guide.
We started to make our way back to town, and made one last stop to take in the sun setting behind the hills. Our guide found a spot, cut the engine and let us sit, taking in the scene before us.
As soon as the sun started to drop behind the hills, the temperature also dropped along with it and we grabbed the blankets to huddle under once again.
I was pretty ready for the day to end by that point, I needed some more medication and my bed. However, despite not being well (and able to breathe properly!) it was a great day and included some more magical Myanmar moments that I will always remember and treasure.