Having walked quite a long way in the last couple of days it was perfect to spend an afternoon on a boat gently floating around a lake. Inle Lake is the second biggest lake in Myanmar at just under forty five square miles and it is fresh water and very nutrient rich. It provides a living for many people from fishing, boat building, weaving from the sap of the lotus flower stems (more details later in the post) and growing fruit and vegetables in large floating gardens. It also boasts a number of fish and snails that are not found anywhere else in the world. It isn’t very deep at around ten feet give or take a bit and depending on if its rainy season when it will rise considerably.
As you can imagine reflections are everywhere made even more stunning by the clear bright blue skies and bamboo houses on stilts. I found the weave patterns fascinating and was very drawn to these homes on the water. On a beautiful sunny day in the dry season it looks magical but I would hazard a guess that its another story in the rainy season!
Below is our boat and guide for the past couple of days Cam. It was such a delight to have him around and learn about our surroundings from an expert. The boats are traditional for this area and indeed much of Asia.
We did the touristy thing and went to visit a range of floating workshops packed full with souvenirs of every description. Parasols are a big thing in this area and are displayed in a vivid array of colours. Silver is also a major craft with a whole selection of delicate pieces to choose from. I was on my best behaviour in the silver place as I had spent my money on a silver project in Vietnam a few weeks previous so really didn’t need to be buying anything else!
A new craft I learnt about was the art of creating thread from the sap of the lotus flower stem. It was totally fascinating watching as four lotus flower stems had a piece cut and then the sections pulled apart to form a string of sticky gooey stuff that then was rolled together with the previous piece and in time grew into a big bundle of yarn. This can then be used in weaving fabric for a whole range of things. This is such an appropriate and direct skill which takes the lotus flowers that grow everywhere, even just outside the door of this workshop, and then create a very durable thread from it.
A slightly stranger experience was meeting these three Kayan ladies. It seems to be their job to sit and be photographed by tourists (I am well aware I am one of those). It all just seemed a little forced and out of place some how. In fact much of the afternoons experiences did. If you have ever seen the film ‘The Truman Show’ then you might understand what I mean. Everything seemed carefully and beautifully staged. Everything was in its right place extremely clean and tidy and most things looked a bit to perfect something didn’t quite ring true. One of my friends who I was travelling with commented on this feeling and we compared it to the floating villages in Cambodia which I had visited only a couple of weeks before and my friend had been to a year before. The Cambodian version is clearly much poorer than here but it had a very visible ring of truth to it. People clearly did actually live and work there and as a visitor I was seeing a snapshot of a real life. Here on Inle Lake it felt much more like a stage set, all be it an interesting one but there was little evidence of family life as we floated around.
The confirmation of this feeling came on our final journey back across the lake to home. We had all seen pictures of the Myanmar fishermen on this lake with their fishing basket nets and read about this fascinating way of fishing. As we meandered along in the distance we saw one to two of these fisherman and our boat was steered nearer to one of them so we could take a picture. The nearer we got the more elaborate his moves became almost like a choreographed dance. Other than a tiny fish (which seemed more like a prop) there was no evidence that he had actually caught anything. It became clear that his sole purpose was to entertain us tourists and he wanted to be paid for the show afterwards. We were very impressed by his moves but a little disappointed that this was clearly not real life at all but a carefully constructed show. Maybe there is nothing wrong with that but for some reason and I can’t quite put my finger on it it was a little odd.
Beside all of that the scenery as you can clearly see is stunning. I was blown away pretty much everywhere I went in rural Myanmar. We had read in the guide books that the best of the country was to be found outside of the cities and that was so right. If you go to Myanmar you should go to Inley Lake for sure and I would love to know your thoughts.
At the end of this day we had to say goodbye to Cam which was very sad as we had really enjoyed having him with us. As we continued back to our home for the next couple of nights Cam threw some food out from the boat behind us and attracted a whole flock of seagulls who then followed us most of the way across the lake!