We booked our boat trip through a little travel place in town. Our guide would pick us up at the hotel at 7:30 and we would spend as long as we wanted out on the lake, go and see floating markets, and of course pagodas and finish the day with a sunset from our boat.
Sounded like a long day!
So we woke up early, and quickly discovered that our hotel had no hot water. Good thing it was freezing out. Burma is the hottest place I have ever been. Except in Inle Lake while the sun is not out. It felt close to ten degrees. In reality it was probably like 19 or 20, but still it was like blanket weather, for sure. So the shower was entertaining, to say the least. If anyone was outside our room, they for sure thought we were doing something wild and innapropriate. But no, nothing too exciting, just us trying to wash under the icy cold tap in our tub. It was a pretty awful way to start the day, but the sun came out and warmed us up as our two guides arrived to take us to the boat. At this point we weren’t entirely sure why we had two guides. Neither of them spoke more than a couple words of English… And there were only matt and I in the boat, so not like they had to keep track of us or anything. W got in our boat, and they set up some sweet wooden chairs for us, with cushions and everything, it was quite luxurious!
Then we learned that driving the boat requires one person to work the motor, and one person to sit at the front and… Give steering instructions?
When we got out onto the lake, there were fishermen everywhere. They are in these tiny little boats, balancing at one far end, standing up, pretty much doing everything you have been taught not to do in a boat. They use nets, baskets, traps and hooks, pretty much anything they can find to catch the fish. Apparently the lake is only like 12 feet deep, so you don’t need anything too elaborate to catch some dinner.
Oh right, they also do this really impressive thing while balancing on the very tip of the boat while standing. They paddle with one leg- to keep their hands free for fishing. It’s, like, super impressive. And they know the tourists are impressed, so they all turn it on as you drive by.
There are many other boats on the lake, for tours, transportation, school, etc. some of the boats were super excited to wave to tourists. They love when you wave back, but this one time I turned my camera on them, and everyone started cheering like I had just hit a home run or something, it was pretty hilarious. I’m pretty sure it was a boat of Burmese tourists, or a group travelling from one part of he lake to another. Impossible to tell!
It was a pretty cool place, I mean- in Canada, we’re kind of lake-spoiled. They’re everywhere. But around the lake there was some pretty cool stuff. There was a …. I dunno.. I don’t know what to call it. There was this place with about 1500 stupas. A stupa is kind of like a temple or pagoda- it’s a shrine to the buddha’s mind. This place was wild. Some of them were ancient, and some were brand new. It’s crazy how long they have been building them, and still going strong.
Some had the whole nature vs man thing going on, with trees growing out of them.
This one was cacti. Man vs cacti.
It was pretty crazy, and it was nice, we had the whole place to ourselves to explore. Apparently the crowds start rolling in midday. To get to this place, we had to take this tiny little river off the lake. It was sooo super awesome, they have these little teeny tiny dams built to make sure that there is enough of a river for boats to go through. In the middle of each dam is a little teeny tiny opening for boats to go through. The thing is that there is a change in water level, so in order to salmon jump up to a new level, you have to have quite a bit of speed. This is where we really gained some understanding of why it required 2 people to drive the boat. The guy in the back revs up the engine and heads full speed toward the opening, while the guy in the front waves his hands on either side of the boat depending on which side he is too close to. You rub the gunnels of the boat on either side as you go through. So one foot of misjudgement and you would likely take out the whole dam.
We stopped at a bunch of ‘workshops’ (tourist traps). Our drivers would get treats for bringing us there, like cigarettes or juice, so I get why they brought us there, but damn! We’re at the end of our travels, I can’t afford to be tempted by silver and hand rolled cigars!
One cool workshop we visited was fabric weaving- where they make scarves and longis. The weaving was cool, but the lotus fabric they made was epic. They take the lotus plant from the lake, and they cut the stalk to get the little strings out of it. (You know how celery has strings- kinda the same, but the strings are on the inside and they are much stronger).
It’s pretty insane, and it takes them 200,000 stems to make a large scarf, so you can imagine how long it takes (and how expensive the scarf would be). It’s weeks upon weeks just to remove the fibres from the stems, and then it needs to be weaver into fabric.
Our last and most awesome stop was at the jumping cat monastery. It’s a holy place where monks come to study, and they have a truckload of cats there. Apparently they used to jump through hoops, (or hoops made of your arms) and it was super impressive, because really- how to you get a cat to do something it doesn’t feel like. After talking to some people we learned that they don’t jump anymore either because the cats got hurt, or it made their guts hurt. One or the other- lost in translation. This place seriously needs a spay and neuter clinic to swing by tho, almost all of the cats were hugely preggers! Lazing around with these huge round bellies, and fresh nipples from the previous litter. I’m not sure where all the male cats were, every cat we came across was either a kitten or pregnant.