Thursday, August 13, 2015

Inle Lake, Myanmar, Part 1: Wooden Boat Lake Touring

It's rainy season in SE Asia!  Therefore, all the rivers run this lovely muddy brown color.  We spent the day today touring the fab Inle Lake.

Inle Lake

What It's All About:
Inle Lake is Myanmar's second largest lake - there are a handful of cities on the water that are accessible by wooden boats.  The lake itself is kind of thin and reedy - like the Florida everglades, hence the need for smaller boats.

One thing Inle Lake is known for is the traditional leg rowers - the men traditionally row the boats by standing up in the boat and wrapping one leg around the oar to push off and row.  This was historically so they could see down into the water to see where they were going, as the water is full of weeds and plants and is not usually clear.

Also, there are tons of traditional houses and restaurants that are built on stilts in the lake, as well as temples, numerous industries (silver, cheroot, weaving, etc.) that you can access by boat.  We spent the day visiting 5 or 6 different stops on the lake.

Local children rowing

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • We began our day by heading down to the docks and getting into our boats - the boats were long, thin wooden ones (kind of like a dragon boat without the dragon), and powered at the back by a small motor, which our driver used to steer and control the speed.  The motor was tiny; probably similar in size to a snowblower motor or a lawnmower motor - not that I've ever seen or noticed the size of either of these motors.  Each boat had basically a bunch of chairs stuck in them with an umbrella stashed at each one for personal use, if you wished to (the sun was insane).  Riding in the boats was great fun - it's kind of vibrate-y and it's fun watching the driver maneuver around other boats and reeds and down all the tiny inlets of the lake.

Our boat dock

Our boat zooming through the inlet


This is kind of hard to see, but this is a traditional leg rower of Inle Lake! You can see the man's leg is wrapped around the oar, which he is dipping into the water to push the boat along. It was wild

  • Our first stop on the boat trip was about 1.5 hours away (imagine being on a bouncy, vibrating wooden canoe-thing for that long - sore), to the village of Indein.  Indein is best known for its ancient pagodas (or stupas); which range from the 11th-13th centuries, to modern-day ones built much more recently.  Stupas are a kind of a structure that function as a mausoleum/shrine built by families to house the ashes of their deceased ones.

A monk collecting palm on the walk to the pagoda

And then we arrived at the Indein pagoda!  Here are all the pagodas/stupas

Inside the main temple is a gold Buddha - but only men are allowed inside

A great example of the tons of varieties of stupas at the temple. You can see the incredibly old-school, brick crumbly stupa, vs. the newer silver/gold stupas.

A section of very old stupas

L to R: Clare (England), Will (Canada), Clair (Ireland), Jo (England)

The pretty carved entrance to one of the stupas

The more money a family has, the more intricate they can make their stupas. Some had bells and jangles and windchimes on them

Additionally, the more well-off/important families get to build their stupas larger and closer to the actual temple.  The stupas are typically maintained and passed down through the generations

Super old-school, super crumbly

I liked the old ones

  • After Indein and a little lunch at a restaurant-on-stilts in the lake, we headed over to an incredibly sacred (Buddhist) pagoda on the lake called Hpaung Daw Oo Pagoda. This is the main religious site for the people at Inle Lake.  
Approaching Hpaung Daw Oo Pagoda on the right

The centerpiece of the pagoda is these four "golden blobs" - they used to be small Buddha statues gifted by a Bagan king.  Over centuries, so much gold leaf has been rubbed onto the statues by worshippers that the Buddha shapes are no longer visible, and now look like giant golden blobby things.  You can buy gold leaf and rub it on the blobs yourself, but as you can see in the bottom of the photo - ladies are again prohibited.  The 3 guys in our group got to go ahead and do it, however. #rude

  • Post-pagoda, we went cruising down to see some of the many industries that are located on Inle Lake. There were about 3-4 stops involved.

Cruising on down to visit some industries

First stop, weaving with lotus root. Did you know you can cut open a lotus stalk, and pull out some fiber-y silky thing out of the middle of it, and then weave with it?!?  Seems like a lot of work, but these women make an entire living out of it

Next stop - visiting the cheroot industry, where ladies were making cigars out of cheroot.  What is cheroot?  No idea. I'm assuming it's a root/plant of some sort??  We got to try a cheroot cigar and it tasted like smoke

Our last stop was visiting ladies of the Padaung tribe, or the long-neck tribe.  These women wear heavy brass coils around their neck as cultural tradition and a symbol of beauty. The coils were SUPER HEAVY

Traditional Padaung tribe ladies weaving

  • As we headed on the long journey home in our boats, the skies darkened and we got caught in a torrential downpour. Even the umbrellas provided at our seats in the boat couldn't save us from the sideways sheet rain. We. got. soaked.
A beautiful rainbow that appeared pre-monsoon. SHOULD HAVE KNOWN

Darkening skies

I took a photo of the other boat as it started to POUR for a solid 45-minutes. I kind of love this photo because of how miserable they all look trying to hide against the rain with their umbrellas

  • The rain slowed as we approached home (of course) - we dragged our soggy selves to a restaurant called Viewpoint to have a (well-deserved) cocktail and watch the sunset.

Soggy crew (Clare, Clair, Jo, Stephen, and I) + cocktails
Watching the sunset
Rando photo of a kitten party at the local "bar" later
  • It was, all in all, an incredibly long, but amazing day.

Fun Facts of the Day:
  • “Hello” in Burmese is “Mingalaba” (again, not spelled in any way correctly) - I remember it like “mingle” + “ahh” + “ba”, and it is a super fun word to yell out to people as you pass them by on the road.
  • No power converters needed in Myanmar for U.S. plugs. Magic.
  • In Myanmar, many women rub a local type of sunscreen on their face called tannica - it involves rubbing together a special kind of wood and water, which creates a kind of light tan paste that they usually apply on their cheeks in certain patterns.  It's quite common to see, and local women believe it keeps their skin light (since lighter skin in Asia is considered more beautiful. Which means with my sweet traveler's tan, I am a fail at beauty).  We got to try some out at one of the industry stops - a little is visible on my cheeks in the photo with the Padaung women. 

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