July 17, 2012
The next day we took another boat trip on Inle Lake to visit some of the less touristy places. Once again, it was the things that were not on the itinerary that were the best experiences.
When we booked our boat trip at Smiling Moon we were given the options of doing a one day trip to the tourist places in the main body of the lake for Kyat 12,000. Additionally, we could do a second day trip south of the main part of the lake, where it looks more like a wide river, for Kyat 25,000. Or we could visit all those sights, both in the main part of the lake and the southern region in one day for Kyat 25,000. I did not want to smush all the sights into one day, since it would be too much to appreciate all at once. It turns out that we would have had time to visit both portions of the lake in one day, but we would have been too rushed to take our time and see where the day would take us.
There is a Five Day Market in the Inle Lake area that rotates which village it is held in each week day. The day before we had visited the most touristy market, Ywama/Taunggyi, and I did not care for it at all. There was a small selection of food, but it was mostly soveneirs with un-relenting hawkers trying to get you to buy something. This time we visited the Five Day Market in Kyauk Daing, south of the main part of the lake. I much perferred this market. It was mostly people from various villages there to buy and sell fruits and vegetables, prepared foods, and toiletries and other necessities. We bought some spongy brown bread looking stuff for 300 Kyat. It turned out to be a sweet spongy bread, probably flavored with palm sugar, which is used as dessert here. I am sure it was meant as a dessert, but we ate it right up. We had left our hotel around 6am, so we did not have time to eat breakfast at our hotel. After wandering through the market a bit more we found a lady who was deep frying some fluffy pieces of bread and decided to buy those too. Our boat driver negotiated a price for us and we got three for Kyat 300. After putting the warm fried bread into a bag the lady sprinkled them with sugar. They were like donuts! They like to fry bread here and it tastes similar to a sopapilla.
Kyauk Daing Village is the main pottery making village in Myanmar. The pottery made there is sold throughout the country. They have a little demonstration set up where you can try your hand at throwing.
After we had seen the market and the pottery demonstration, our boat driver and his son led us to a monastery. At first George and I were both thinking, “Great, another monastery.” And this one did not look too impressive from the outside. But we respectfully removed our shoes and headed up stairs. We sat down before the Buddha image with our legs tucked underneath and feet pointing behind us. As we sat admiring the Buddha image two monks motioned for us to come over to have some tea. It is common in monasteries for tea and a small snack to be offered to visitors. We went over to where the monks were sitting and poured some tea (which is pretty much a constant here in Myanmar), and the monks also offered us some battered and fried vegetables. We were a little hesitant at first, but as soon as we bit into the vegetables we instantly liked them. The Kyauk Daing village is a village of Shan people and we have found that we much prefer Shan food over Bamar food. (Bamar are the majority ethnicity here in Burma/Myanmar.) The monks talked with us for a bit, even though they only knew limited English. We hardly know any Burmese, just “hello” and “thank you.”
There was another young man who was helping at the monastery and we found that we could comminicate better with him using our limited Thai language skills, since the Shan language is very closely related to Thai. I had expected the Burmese language and culture to be similar to Thai, but it is actually quite different. After a while our boat driver came to sit with us, probably sensing that we could use an interpreter. We talked some more with his help and took some photos. One of the monks left, since he was from another monastery. We found out that the remaining monk is currently the only monk in the Kyauk Daing Monastery. He must get lonely! We were thrilled when the monk invited us to stay for lunch at the monastery. It was a wonderful experience, and on our anniversary, too! It is customary for the monks to eat first. When he was finished we were served a spread of Shan dishes, all which were delicious. It is amazing what can happen when you just linger a bit longer and make an effort to talk to the locals.
When we walked back through the market place to the boat it was completely cleared out. No more vendors, wares, or the limited number of tourists who had been there that morning. Just empty grass-roofed platforms. When the boat landed in the morning we didn’t know how we would find it again in the mass of boat, but when we left in the afternoon we had trouble finding it, since it was the only boat left on the bank of the lake.
Our next stop was a short visit to a Buddhist Temple on the edge of Inle Lake, but we are not sure what it is called.
Then we went to a home in one of the “floating villages” where they make rice alcohol. We saw the process and George tried some of the liquor. I skipped it, since it might be super strong stuff. After seeing the demonstration we were invited into the sitting room of the house. Instead of the tourist traps we had seen the day before, this was a genuine family just curious to talk and interact with us. They didn’t even have the rice alcohol there for sale. Instead, they offered us hot tea and delicious mango. We talked a bit with the help of our driver. When they heard that George is a photographer, the grandma led us upstairs in their second home to show us a photo that is almost 100 years old of her auntie and uncle. You could tell they were a very distinguished family. This family seemed to be doing quite well, as they had nice wooden furniture and staircase in their home. And one of their relatives owns the Shwe Inn Tha luxury bungalows on the lake, where we were staying for our anniversary.
Our driver offered also to take us to see a blacksmith, but we were tired and ready to check into our resort bungalow on Inle Lake for some R&R, so we called it a day around 3pm. We were dropped off at our new hotel, located on the waters of Inle Lake, which worked out well. If we wanted to get to Shwe Inn Tha from the town of Nuang U we would have needed to pay kyat 10,000 for a boat to take us. So if you are staying on the lake for a night or two, it makes sense to coordinate it with a boat tour, to save a transfer fee.
Another memorable day in Myanmar!
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