I arrived nearby Inle Lake at 4:30am and got a cab with fellow passengers to town. After paying the $10 entrance fee into the lake area I spent over an hour driving around looking for cheap accommodation that apparently does not exists. All the single rooms were fully booked and I ended up at Gypsy Inn for $15 a night, the cheapest I could find. Located on the bottom floor behind the main structure, my room had pink walls and was empty except for two metal single beds. The shared bathroom was outdoors.
On top of Inle Lake lays the small town of Nguangshwe, where all the guesthouses, restaurants and life is. The town is brown and dusty with local businesses and a central market. I woke up late after my early arrival and took a walk through town. I had lunch inside the market- fish curry which she spent thirty minutes making fresh in front of me. The fish was like a tilapia and the curry wasn’t curry at all. After lunch I bought a papaya (which ended up being the best one I’ve had in SE Asia so far) and then I walked back to the guesthouse. There is absolutely nothing to do in town. Nearby town there’s a winery, hot springs and pagodas but that’s a day trip in itself that no one has raved about.
The next morning I took my Inle Lake boat tour with two older Dutch men and one young Malaysian boy, whom I met on my bus from Bago (and who stayed in my hostel.) Our boat pulled out of the town at 6am just in time to see the sunrise on the lake. The first two hours of the tour were the best. It was before the other tourists were out and we were able to see the lake in its true nature. Moving down the inlet we saw local women doing laundry and washing dishes in the lake. In the main lake area we saw fisherman retrieving their nets, and others changing their fish traps. However, they didn’t seem to be retrieving much of anything- one fish here and there.
We circled around local water villages on the west side of the lake. All the houses were on stilts in the water which reminded me of our Fire Island houses. Long small boats are the method of transportation here. We saw kids being taking to school and adults working in their home. Many of the homes had attached farms (also piles in water) with pigs and chickens. We then stopped at a lotus textile shop, a silver smith shop, a boat making shop, and a blacksmith shop to watch the locals at work. The experience was very touristy as expected.
We were dropped off for lunch at one of the many tourist restaurants on the water. I had the Inle Special Fish, which was decent but not nearly as good as the grilled fish I get on the street. The dish was oily and overpriced.
The bonus stop on our tour was Indein. The town is famous for it’s market and pagodas. The market was all tourist shops; however, the Shwe Inn Tain pagoda’s were beautiful and plentiful. Handfuls of old ruins and handfuls of new pagodas standing right next to each other. The old crumbling clay next to new fresh clay, cement and gold. The old ones are very detailed while the new ones are more simple. I wandered through trying to capture images of all the different types in one shot.
On the way back we stopped at a floating garden. Here rows and rows of crops lay floating on the water. Our boat guide jumped onto them so we could see them move and they truly were floating. It’s winter so we didn’t see much growing but it was cool to float by patches of grass that waved with the water.
After the garden we stopped at a monastery for a few minutes. I ended up spending most of my time there watching locals eat different foods from banana leafs. A group let me try whatever it was they were eating- it was pickled spinach in some type of dough. Acidic but not bad.
Then we headed home. There was a boat zooming next to us that had about 20 seagulls flying on top of it for at least 10 minutes. The people on the boat were throwing pieces of bread into the air. One of the Dutch men on my boat decided to throw pieces of banana into the air and soon all the seagulls were on top of us. It felt surreal but I was also terrified they were all going to poop on me.
We saw the sunset just as we were pulling back into town. A full day on the boat- sunrise to sunset. I left an hour later on an overnight bus to Bagan.