When dollar takes over – traveling through Inle Lake

Bummer! I was sick again.

Night bus dropped us off in Nyaungshwe by Inle Lake at 5 am and all night in air-con bus made me feel much worse. I coughed like a tractor and had spikes in my throat. I had been sick so many times in the last few months that I thought I’d pass my last month of travel in peace, but no. Mild cold was transforming into a monster. I was on local syrups, lemon and ginger, but they weren’t able to do much. To the contrary, my throat turned so bad that I lost my voice. I could only whisper and needed Ale to be my interpreter.

That didn’t stop us from having fun though. I didn’t have to speak to see the lake, right? We went on a 6h boat trip around it and enjoyed every minute of the ride. First, we went to Nam Pan market, which was more authentic and colourful than any other we have seen so far. Then our boatman took us to a weaving and gold smith’s workshops, but they were purely focused on selling souvenirs and we asked him to skip all the other ones he had on the list. We went to floating gardens instead and these were insane. There were hectares of vegetables, fruit and flowers all around the lake. The lake inhabitants managed to build soil beds on water and move across the gardens on boats. We have been traveling in Southeast Asia for 5 months, but I am still blown away by their ideas. From floating gardens we moved to Jumping Cat Monastery, which was our last stop and where cats slept, stretched, hunted mice and did everything else that normal cats do, but did not jump. There were rumours that the jumping cats were dead, but I guess monks just grew bored of showing their tricks to tourists. We couldn’t care less, really – Ale was allergic to cats and I was hybernating myself in my voiceless self.

In the afternoon we went to a clinic – that’s what the owner of our guesthouse called it. The clinic was a tiny wooden hut with one hospital bed and spider webs bigger than in my grandmother’s attic. The doctor spoke English though and after quick examination (and I really mean less than 45 seconds), he gave me antibiotics and told me to stay in bed. Before I had time to ask whether antibiotics were really necessary, he was already aiming a long needle at another person waiting in line. I did go to bed as he said. Couldn’t really do much else, I felt terrible.

Two days later my voice and strengths came back and we went on another boat trip through the lake. This time we had only two things in mind – fishermen and Inn Dein Pagoda. The lake was photographers’ playground with its fishermen, stilt houses and still reflections. This was the image that Myanmar promoted to attract visitors to its biggest lake. What it failed to say is that the fishermen in skirts (longgyi) fishing with big bamboo baskets were a thing of the past and the only ones that were still doing it were two dressed up men right at the entrance of the lake. They made acrobatic moves, posed for portraits and action photos and circled around us until we stopped taking photos. When we paid them, they moved to another boat with tourists. It was still a great photo opportunity, but it wasn’t authentic. Maybe it was a few years ago, but today it’s just a dance for a dollar. Shame. Real fishermen were dressed in shorts and tank tops and fished with a net. They were too busy to smile for a photo. Yet we were on the lake just for the photos and we asked out boatman to come close to the real fishermen too.

Once satisfied with photographs, we were then taken to a canal passing through a beautiful village and lush countryside. We were going to Inn Dein – a pagoda with hundreds of mesmerising stupas. It was surely one of the most beautiful places in Myanmar. Strolling from old brick stupas to new golden ones, we wondered how much gold covered Buddhist monuments in Myanmar. A golden peak was visible from anywhere we traveled. Every little village had a pagoda or at least a stupa. Every hill, every forest, every river bank – there was always a golden peak on the horizon. They were like mushrooms after rain. Inn Dein was just one of thousands breath-taking places of worship.

Inle Lake was cooler than other parts of the country and we looked for any excuse to remain there for longer. A good one was spending a few days in a meditation centre – something we planned to do in Myanmar – and we even found the right monastery by the lake. The only ‘but’ was that we were only allowed to stay there for two days, because the meditation teacher was leaving. It seemed a little short for us, but we had a plan B. Earlier we heard of Pa Auk – a well-known forest monastery on the south of Myanmar, famous among foreigners and Burmese people alike. All sounded great apart from one thing. Getting there would take a kamikaze twenty-hour-long bus trip through night and day. We voted for going.

































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