Inle Lake, Myanmar

The bus from Yangon arrives into Shwenyaung Junction at 5.30am. It’s another 10k by pick up down a pitch black country lane to the town of Nyaungshwe. At some point in the night we stop at Taungoo where a girl gets on wearing the same Chang beer T-shirts from Thailand as I have on (Jessica, USA.) We are both filling our face with chocolate bread/popcorn at the food stop, and I are instant partners in crime. Just as well really as a) we are the only English speaking people a) on the bus or b) that we even encounter for the entire next 5 days.

We check into the Joy Guesthouse on the North shore of Lake Inle, a jumping off point for boat trips. Our double costs $7 each, and they sit us down and feed us scramble eggs, tea/coffee on a balcony as the sun comes up. Neither Jess nor I feel like sleeping. We have our mind acutely focussed on the one thing we’ve read in our guidebooks and want to do today. Get ready for this.

The Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery of Jumping Cats. (Pause to let this sink in.)

Cannot wait.

Its low season and the only other guests are a fun Dutch couple in their 50’s. The four of us hire a motorized canoe and driver for $4 apiece, and are sailing the serene waters by 8am.  The morning is spent visiting a series of workshops in the Ywama floating villages. There is a whole industry at work here on a maze of wooden stilted platoons. It’s like the floating villages of Ha Long Bay on an even larger scale. We see traditional silver making, silk weaving, textile factories, paper umbrellas making, and other souvenirs carved, chiselled and painstakingly painted from scratch. Did you know it takes 25 days to produce a few meters of silk material, and 5 for a paper umbrella? Did you also know that it’s impossible for me to write this next sentence without it being sickeningly worthy, so apologies, but here goes, it’s important.

(And yes it’s also exactly like a BBC Three episode of Blood Sweat & T-shirts.) Never before have I actually really considered where my clothes/jewellery comes from. I mean really considered it, in any meaningful way rather than reading that ethical policy blurb they always have on a poster near Primark tills. In the very basic physical sense – I never really considered the effort it takes to make paper, like, out of nothing. Blew my little mind a little.

On a lighter note, the afternoon was spent visiting some markets on one of the shores. Here we saw a few temples, nearly removed our front teach with sticky some toffee cashew nuts, and got shot at by some delightful children with toy cap guns.

The reason children were running wild on the lake and not at school today was due to a national holiday. September/October marks a huge boating festival in Inle.  We were lucky enough to watch the whole celebrations from the deck of a waterside bar; Myanmar beer in hand, feet dangling into the water in the late afternoon sun.  It was like Tickhill Gala – avec water. A procession of floats with various colours/themes lined up with at least three whole generations singing and dancing. Instead of the ‘Gala Princess’ bringing up the rear was a huge floating golden duck. And to this I say, why not.

So, where the hell are these jumping cats, I can hear you thinking in anticipation. Well, this is where it all starts to go a little pear shaped. The cat’s, it turns out, were cute, if not rather an anticlimax. Some nun had taught them (possibly with the aid of catnip) to jump through a plastic hoop. Yeah, that was it. Worse of all, by this point in the day it was about 4pm, and an almighty storm broke just as we set off to leave. The four of us huddled under umbrellas praying we wouldn’t sink whilst simultaneously marvelling at how awesome the sky looked, frantically taking photos. Tourists.

Then the nightmare begins. Up until this point our guide had been pretty sound. It’s a 22kmsx10kms lake to navigate after all, add to that the rain and dusk. But he must do this every day, he knows it like the back of his hand right? Of course.

I thought this too right up until the point where he runs us straight into the thick reeds and wedges us stuck in what now is 6pm moonlight. We giggle for a while; ‘lost on Lake Inle’ it’s a funny story yada yada. And then reality kicks in. None of us have any food, none of us have any warm clothes, and all of us desperately need to pee.

Surely logic tells you that if one finds themselves abandoned mid giant lake you simply motor to the edge and find land. Even in pitch black you can spot city lights in the distance. Or at a last resort you even turn back to where you came from and spend the night at the Monastery (would have been an even better story.)Except the only English words we manage to draw out of our driver are ‘Battery?’ And ‘Gas,’ which we interpreted as ‘there is a situation’ with either/both. He does however have a flashlight (which he really should have utilised to dodge the bloody patch of reeds in the first place,) and one single paddle which, bless him, he eventually uses to de-wedge us back into open water.

I should have pointed out that by this point it’s stopped raining. It’s muggy, constellations of stars are out in the crystal clear shy, and except for the fact that we are stranded on a lake in the middle of the Burmese night, we all agreed we’d be having a delightful time. After 30 mins or so, it turns out we are not the only boat either. We see torch flashes and hear shouting relatively close.  Looks like the storm has thrown everyone off course. You know I’m going to say it, but it really is EXACTLY like the lifeboat bit in Titanic, except in more pleasant 25c heat and thankfully without any corpses. We do hit rock bottom however, when one by one we have to pee over the side of the canoe. You don’t know, you weren’t there! We actually seriously all thought we were spending the night. Jessica has the funniest Blair Witch style video of us all saying our goodbyes, threatening to swallow our memory cards so that just in case we make it out of here our awesome storm pictures make it to facebook intact.

Three hours later than planned (Yes three hours!) and eventually we make it to the right waterway canal back to Nyaungshwe by following the sound of Monk’s singing. Really. All the lovely staff from Joy have been scowering the banks worried about us and rush us back to our cosy guesthouse. Here is the real punch line: We are sat there 5 minutes before the mother of all power cuts! We all give up and go to bed laughing and exhausted. Bad luck comes in three’s right. Which segways seamlessly into my next post…

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  1. Trackback: Ngwe Saung, Myanmar | Little Anantasin

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An.an.tas.in : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

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