Friday, August 14, 2015

Inle Lake, Myanmar, Part 2: Biking to Tofu Village

Our second day in Inle was a free day!  Best ever.  Our five-person crew decided to spend our day renting bikes and touring the area around Inle Lake.

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Rented some sweet bikes (complete with unadjustable/dented seats and un-grippy wheels), and rode out of town to the Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery, or Teak Monastery, for short.  It's a monastery made entirely of wood, and is an active teaching monastery for young monks-in-training.
Bike gang - Jo, Clare, me, Clair, and Stephen

The teak monastery - adorable monks looking out the window 

The best part was they allow you to sit amongst the chanting/studying monks. It's so, so cool to get to witness as a tourist

We fit right in obviously

MY FAVORITE MONK CHILD EVER. When I asked to take his photo, he grinned broadly and nodded, but first pulled his book closer so it looked like he was studying 

And then a monk rang a bell and all the monks put their books away and walked to the dining hall for lunch. They all have their own giant metal bowls to eat out of that they carry with them

Wandering the grounds. We also found a room where tiny monks were watching an English TV show that was like American Idol

Then we wandered over to the temple next door, which had a million Buddhas in it

Each Buddha represents a donor who's donated to the temple - their names are below each one

  • After the monastery, we biked about 8km (I talk in kilometers now apparently, because that's how far our guide had told us it was the night before).  And I mean biked.  We followed this dirt road for awhile, which was a complete free-for-all for scooters, bikes, people walking, and trucks going both directions - you have to constantly be alert and swerve at the right times.  Our ride took us over incredibly bumpy/gravel-filled roads (my hands are still sore from all the bouncing around we did), and small schoolchildren who shouted "Mingalaba" (hello) to us from the sides of the roads.  Need I mention that the scenery was absolutely beautiful?  Rice paddies and mountains and so much greenery, per usual.  And also incredibly hot, in direct sunlight, and biking (a.k.a. vacation work).  But loved it.
  • Stumbled across a sign that said "Viewtop Mountain Pagoda" and a flight of stairs up a side of a mountain, so we detoured and hiked up the stairs to come onto this view:

Beautiful view from the top

  • Our group guide had mentioned the day before that there was a village you could ride to that he coined "Tofu Village" because their industry was producing tofu products.  We literally knew nothing about this village (how far it was, what there was to do there, why bother traveling there, the actual name of the village, and other such non-important points), except for the fact that they did something with tofu and that we had to find it. Finding Tofu Village became the end goal.  We came across a fake Tofu Village, where a man tried to tell us his village was the Tofu Village, and led us into this strange little square with souvenirs, and then he tried to take us on a boat ride so he could charge us.  Clair and Julia decided to head back at that point, so it was just down to Clare, Stephen, Jo and I.  
  • After much asking and navigating, WE FOUND TOFU VILLAGE.  Totally missable, except for a tiny sign off the side of the road.  It was basically a small house, where a man came walking out offering us to take us on the tofu tour. Last I checked, we did not bike across a million miles of dirt roads to not see some tofu, so we followed him along. 
  • The tour involved this man taking the four of us through many different houses and buildings, where villagers were making a ton of food products to bring to market the next day.  There were 22 different food varieties in Tofu Village (I don't know why I keep typing that like it's a proper noun when it's not the actual name of the village...) - some are obviously tofu, but there was also a lot of brown sugar/rice usage.  We got to try everything they were making. It was like a crazy food tour.

This woman is deep-frying tofu

This lady was candying rice balls in brown sugar

This man was deep-frying small airy dough into little popcorn-like things

  • AND THEN. THE MONSOON OF THE CENTURY HAPPENED.  We were walking along, when suddenly the skies completely opened up and the most ridiculous downpour of my entire life happened.  It was raining so hard that the streets immediately started to turn into mud rivers (see: town with only dirt roads), and you couldn't see more than 2 inches in front of your face because there was so much water running into your eyes (even with sunglasses on).  Our tofu guide guided us to a tea shop to wait out the rain. It was hilarious because Clare asked our guide how long these storms could last, and he was like "Sometimes all day/night for over a month! You can stay at my house" and then laughed uproariously as the four of us stared at each other in horror
The rain continued without letting up (not even getting less aggressive) for about 45 min.  All we could do was sit in our soaking wet clothes, drink tea, stare out at the rain, and hope for it to stop. 

Soaked in our rain jackets and trapped in the tea house - our guide in the back

  • All's well that end's well, because the rain finally let up, and our guide seriously continued with the tour as if nothing had happened and we didn't all look like drowned rats. The tour ended back at the man's house, where he served us more tea.  After it was all over, we biked the (incredibly long, especially in our wet clothes) hour ride back to our city and our hotel.  The worst part was, here we were thinking we had just survived the Great Monsoon of 2015 and escaped being trapped in Tofu Village forever, but when we arrived back to the city we were staying in, it had barely even rained and nobody else in our tour group knew what we were talking about.  
  • Our group guide Matt did, however, inform us that the four of us (out of the entire group of 18 people) were the only ones who had made it all the way to Tofu Village. High-five.

Fun Facts of the Day:
  • All Buddhist Burmese boys go to monk school between the ages of 7-13 for up to a couple months. This is why there are so many monasteries, and so many young monk boys (identifiable by their bald heads and colored robes) running around Myanmar. After they finish their stint in monk school, they can choose to continue on as a monk for life, or move on to a life outside the monastery.
  • About 80-90% of Myanmar is Buddhist
  • While Myanmar is getting touristy, it is pretty rare to come across other tourists in so, so many places (i.e. Tofu Village!).  It is so. great.  This also means that you still encounter kids who are excited to see you and will wave shyly, and people who stare at you because you look so different from them.  Love.
  • August - October is hard-core rainy season in SE Asia. Pack accordingly.

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