Day 11: Traveling from Mandalay to Inle Lake followed by a tour of the lake before relaxing at the Paramount Inle Resort.
With another morning of traveling, we were up around 5 a.m. and packed up. The buffet breakfast had attentive service and made-to-order eggs which was a nice touch.
We took the pre-arranged car to Mandalay airport which was a 45 minute drive.
This time we took Yangon Airways which also used an ATR-72 plane.
At Heho airport we purchased our return tickets before leaving. When we were ready to pay we found that the airline doesn’t accept Myanmar currency, which meant that we had to change our kyats back to dollars… sigh. I was definitely the only tourist at the currency exchange getting dollars.
Outside the airport, we shuffled through a crowd of taxi drivers and found a friendly guy to take us to Inle Lake in his pickup truck (20,000 kyats).
We sat on benches in the back and watched the lush scenery of mountain passes and green rice fields for the hour drive to town. We also stopped by a monastery where young Buddhists were praying.
Before entering the lake area, tourists have to register with their passports and pay an entrance fee (US$5, $10 starting 10/2013).
The driver stopped at tour office where we organized a boat tour for two days.
At the lake the boat driver wrapped our bags in plastic as we sat down in the long wooden boat. Our loud diesel engine churned and slowly moved our boat through the canal towards to the lake.
The lake was quite large and as soon as we entered, we saw the famous leg rowers and fishermen. It took 45 minutes for us to reach our hotel, Paramount Inle Resort.
The entire hotel stood on stilts over the lake. Our the boat docked and a staff member welcomed us.
As we checked in, Kayan tribeswomen weaved scarves in the seating are.
We settled into our room which from the outside looked very rustic, but was surprisingly well equipped inside. The bathroom was fully tiled with a bath and toilet over a wooden frame. If you shook the room, you could see the water in the toilette bowl move. That’s a first!
Not long after we started our day’s tour of Inle Lake with our driver.
The standard tours on the lake seem to be a typical tourist trap which means boats ferry you from place to place which are basically souvenir shops. The driver probably gets a commission based on which shops he takes us to. Though not very genuine, some of the workshops were interesting. Here is a quick summary of the ones we saw.
Kayan Weaving Shop: This small work area with a giant shop in the back had four Kayan women with impressively long necks weaving by the window. On our arrival, they stood up and posed for pictures in the front of the bamboo hut.
Silversmith: Another small workshop attached to a larger display room and store, had a man introduce himself as the owner. He took us through the process of how silver jewelry is manufactured using primitive methods by hand. He also explained that he is the third generation owner of the shop, which has workers from two families. Silver from a government mine is purchased, extracted and then made into jewelry on site. The jewelry workmanship was decent for the tools that they were using but I doubt all of it is made locally.
We stopped for lunch at Soe San Kuang Restaurant, a small establishment on the side of the canal. The decoration was basic, but the soup, pork curry rice, and omelette was surprisingly really tasty!
After lunch we both tried a betel nut chews. It had a strange bitter taste and we soon had to awkwardly spit it out.
Weaving Factory: This large multi-building factory was the biggest operation we saw. Their specialty was lotus yarn made by breaking and stretching small pieces of lotus stem over and over until the fibers could be woven into a thread. It is very strong and also quite expensive (US$75 for a small scarf).
A young girl through many rooms and floors explaining the different types of weaving processes being performed in cotton, silk, and lotus. Most of the workers were old women.
The last part of the tour is the shop. They aren’t pushy though which is refreshing for this type of tour.
Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda
We visited the large Buddhist pagoda right on the side of the lake. The centerpiece was the five golden leaf clad images of Buddha. They have been so heavily covered, they now look like large golden nuggets. Men can place gold leaves on the images, but women are not allowed to enter the center.
There is a marketplace around and under the pagoda.
Outside we spotted the royal barge with a hintha bird head used during the pagoda festival.
Cigar Factory: This stop had two workstations. One with women separating leaves into different baskets according to their size and another with two rows of women rolling different kinds of cigarettes and cigars.
The locally made cigars, known as cheroots, are with tobacco purchased from Mandalay and wrapped in locally sourced leaves. They also had variations using mint and aniseed.
We smoked some at the sampling area. They were quite flavorful!
Then we drove through a floating garden which was currently growing tomatoes. It was interesting to see the farmers tending to the vines on their small canoes.
We drove through the rain huddled under our umbrellas to the last stop of the day.
Nga Hpe Jumping Cat Monastery
The name of this monastery made sense as soon as we entered. There were dozens of cats strew about the floors and tourists crowded around to take pictures. These cats have been trained by the monks to jump through small hoop, thus the name.
There were several Buddha statues were centered in the room and the outside walkway was flanked by souvenir stalls.
Back at the hotel, we said bye to our driver who would meet us the next morning.
Christina felt a bit ill from chewing the betel nut, so we took it easy and relaxed.
Later we went to dinner at the hotel restaurant (not that we had much choice) and had a wonderful meal. The pumpkin curry and beef chilly were very flavorful.
By the time we got back to the room, the maids had already come through for a turndown service. We lowered the mosquito net and fell asleep to the occasional put put of a boat go by.