Saturday, June 29, 2013

Day 5: Beautiful Inle (Inlay) Lake

16 May 2013 (Thursday)

The boatman (or rather boy) came to fetch us at Remember Inn. We left for the jetty at 7:30 a.m. on foot. The weather was mildly hot. Rain could be expected. Tropical storm Mahasen would be making landfall over Bangladesh today and its effect would be felt around here.

The boat boy leading the way
At a small shop near the jetty, he bought a big container of fuel and brought it to his long boat
Click to enlarge Inle Lake map obtained from Remember Inn
The route to Thaung Tho Market and Thaung Tho Pagoda was on the right and the return route on the left. Names in block letters were waypoints where we stopped. Click to enlarge.
The boat left the jetty at 7:55 a.m.

At 10:12 a.m. we reached the river mouth of Inle Lake
The scenery I was hopping to find did not materialise. I had wanted to see clear blue sky casting mirror images of the houses on stilts in calm water. It was too much to hope for. The lake and canal were choppy. The sky was for most part cloudy. Nevertheless, at certain parts of the lake, it was so picturesque. The eyes could see a vast expanse of beautiful scenery but the camera could only capture a small section of it. It was really beautiful and amazing.

He was not rowing with his leg

Reaching the end of our journey to Thaung Tho Pagoda and Market. This was our first and farthest stop from Nyaungshwe. From there, we would return and stop at other places of interest

At 9:54 a.m., we landed at the bank and walked to Thaung Tho Market

Most of the vendors had left ... it was only 10:00 a.m. and the market was already at the end of market day. If I had known that the market was closing this early, I would not have bothered coming here. It was 35 kilometres away from Nyaungshwe jetty based on my Garmin eTrex reading

Thaung Tho Pagoda was just a short walk away from the market
The lions guarding the old entrance to Thaung Tho Pagoda
Inside Thaung Tho Pagoda
Stupas at Thaung Tho Pagoda
On the way back, the weather was not kind to us. It was the effect of tropical storm Mahasen. In the distant, rain could be seen falling. We had no choice but to cancel the visit to Indein Pagoda, one of the places I have come to see at Inle Lake. I was sure that this was an excuse given by the boatman because he seemed reluctant to bring us there. Earlier, just as we were departing Nice Restaurant where we had lunch for our next intended destination of Indein Pagoda, he explained through a restaurant staff that the distant to Indein Pagoda was not far but it would take one hour one way to walk there from the jetty or two hours to and fro. I was disappointed.

At 10:50 a.m., we left Thaung Tho Market

12:10 p.m., we had lunch at Nice Restaurant
View from Nice Restaurant
View from Nice Restaurant

1:05 p.m., we arrived at Paung Daw Oo Pagoda

Strange scripts is written above the Bamar scripts
 At our last stop at the Jumping Cat Monastery (the formal name is Nga Phe Chaung Monastery), heavy rain came. As shoes were not allowed into the monastery, I had left them in the boat. Just as a boy was passing me my shoes, they dropped into the lake.

At 2:05 p.m., we arrived at Jumping Cat Monastery or formally known as Nga Phe Chaung Monastery

The cats have decided to stop jumping for the tourists. They must be fed up with the inconsiderate tourists.
Fortunately, the rain lasted a short time only. It was during the rain that I saw how beautiful the scenery was at one end of the monastery where the two rows of souvenir stalls stood. The two girls were able to return to Nyaungshwe well in time to catch their bus to Yangon at 6:30 p.m.

Rain, rain, go away ...
At 2:45 p.m., we left Nga Phe Chaung Monastery back to Nyaungshwe

The scenery at Inle Lake is changing. It will only accelerate. With more income, it can only be expected that the local people will want to build better homes, instead of building houses using woven bamboo and leaves. Houses with zinc roofing have already made their appearances and it wouldn't be long before the traditional houses disappear for good. Visit Myanmar before it turns into another Sarawak with no traditional longhouses left.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Day 4: Nyaungshwe - Mingalar Market and the Jetty

15 May 2013 (Wednesday)

Inle Lake was my next destination after Bagan. The nearest airport to Nyaungshwe was at Heho. From Heho, I would be taking a taxi to Nyaungshwe, the small backpacker town where most people stay instead of staying at expensive resorts around Inle Lake itself.

Aung Su Wint, the co-owner of Mya Thida Hotel drove me to Bagan Nyaung Oo Airport at 6:30 a.m. The fare was 7,000 Kyat. Check-in at the airport was quite fast. The flight was scheduled at 8:05 a.m. Instead of a flight delay, the flight took off early at 7:50 a.m. There were fewer than half a dozen passengers.

Nyaung Oo Airport in Bagan

A near empty Air KBZ plane
Within 30 minutes, it landed. I was surprised that it reached Heho so soon, until I saw "Mandalay International Airport" on the airside from the plane window. It looked like it made a transit stop in Mandalay, just like what I had read from some blogs. The transit stop was made without any announcement.

Anyway, the plane arrived at Heho Airport at 9:00 a.m. A woman was waiting at the exit with my name on a placard. A day before leaving Yangon, I had asked the White House owner to help me to look for accommodations in Bagan and Nyaungshwe. He helped me to make the booking with a hotel in Old Bagan and Remember Inn in Nyaungshwe, including making land transportation arrangements from Heho Airport to Nyaungshwe.

Aerial view of Heho
Heho Airport
The woman took me to the public parking area and handed me to her sister, who in turn took me to a cafe to wait for the taxi. She also ordered coffee for me. Just as the coffee arrived, the taxi or rather a private car arrived. I hesitated, not knowing whether to pay for the coffee or not, when she told me that I didn't have to pay for it.

The taxi passed through Heho town and Shwenyaung town. Finally, we arrived at Nyaungshwe. The weekly rotating market was in Nyaungshwe that day and there were a lot of shoppers. It was at the same location as Mingalar Market. The driver went past the market, crossing a canal, and drove a little further to Remember Inn. The driver told me that the fare was to be paid to him, i.e. 18,000 Kyat (1,000 Kyat = USD1.10).

The road out from Heho Airport
Road scene on the way to Nyaungshwe from Heho Airport

At the entrance to Nyaungshwe town, the taxi driver stopped and asked me to pay USD5 entrance fee to Inle Zone
Remember Inn was situated at the town entrance side of Nyaungshwe. I had asked for an ensuite air-conditioned room but was given a fan room. It was big, spacious and airy. Two Malaysian girls staying there whom I met later that evening told me that it did not have air-conditioned rooms. This could be because Nyaungshwe lies 900 meters (from my gps reading) above sea-level and is naturally cool. It was not exactly cool that day but neither was it hot. It was also not as humid as Yangon and a ceiling fan was good enough. It cost me USD15 only, cheap compared to White House Hotel.

Remember Inn is about 300 metres ahead
Remember Inn
View of the street leading from Remember Inn to Nyaungshwe
Shan Noodle
After the complementary breakfast at the rooftop, I checked with the reception for a boat to Inle Lake the next morning. It was too late to go to Inle Lake today as the time was past 10:00 a.m. already. She told me the boat would be more expensive at K20,000 per day because the weekly rotating market would be at the far end of Inle Lake at Thaung Tho Village the next day. Ordinarily, it would only cost K15,000. I asked her to help me to look for other guests to share the boat fare and she asked me to come back at 7:00 p.m. to check with her again.

Click to enlarge Nyaungshwe Town map obtained from Remember Inn

I went out to Mingalar Market. It was a market in antiquity. I also found dwarf vegetables here - potatoes, carrot, garlic and peaches. Very interesting! Those who are fond of antiques should come here and buy the ancient stuff still being used by the traders.

Mingalar Market

Weighing scales were still being used

Like in Yangon, most noodles were pre-cooked. A serving of noodle would be mixed with vegetables or whatever other ingredients or added with hot soup to prepare the various noodle dishes
Having a hair cut in an antique barber shop ...
Frying tofu using firewood
Weighing gold using a weighing scales. Can we still find this kind of scales in Malaysia?

Dwarf potatoes and carrot
Dwarf peaches ... very sour
Buying cooking oil out from drums..
Using the bare hands to handle food is the norm in Myanmar
That's my little pack of sunflower seeds ...
Buckets made from tyres

What are those pieces of wood for?
We can never find this in Malaysia
Horse carts are quite common in Nyaungshwe
From the market, I went to check out the jetty. It was on the far end of Yone Gyi Street, away from Remember Inn. Yone Gyi Street is the main thoroughfare of Nyaungshwe. Other streets look more like village roads than town streets.

The route to take to go to the jetty from Remember Inn is in red. The distant measured based on the OSM map on Garmin Basecamp is 1.2 kilometres

The pictures in sequence below show the reverse route from the jetty to Remember Inn.

The bridge leads to Yone Gyi Road. The other end of the bridge leads to green rice field and villages. The pagoda in the background is Mirror Pagoda. This area is the place to take the longboats to Inle Lake. Loitering around the place should attract some boatmen to you.
Mirror Pagoda is situated at Yone Gyi Street near the jetty. As the name suggested, the wall is plastered with small pieces of mirror making it looks very aesthetic
Yone Gyi Street - this is the main street in Nyaungshwe
Kaung Kaung Restaurant lies somewhere along the row of shops on the left while the green building on the right is the exterior of Mingalar Market

That afternoon, I didn't go anywhere. I have not had a good night's sleep since the eve of departure from Malaysia and decided to take a nap. The fan was turned on at full blast and the cool fresh mountain air was very refreshing.

At 7.00 p.m., I returned to the reception to check the status about sharing the boat. There was no one there. When the receptionist finally turned up, I inquired about it. It looked like she had forgotten. Fortunately, two young women happened to be there and after talking to them, the receptionist returned to inform me that they were going to Inle Lake but would like to return at 4:30 p.m. because they have a bus to catch to Yangon. I had no problem with that and agreed. We would depart at 7:30 a.m. the next day.

We were introduced and had some small talks about our travel experience.  They happened to be fellow Malaysians from Kuala Lumpur. They had been to every region backpacking in Asia, except for Brunei and part of China (Tibet, Xinjiang and Fujian). They have been taking buses instead of flying. They told me the road condition to Mandalay and Bagan is excellent (better than Malaysia's town roads but not as good as the highways) and they saved on accommodation cost by taking night buses. I had thought about this but the idea of travelling on potentially bumpy roads (I was not sure of the road condition before this), the long hours (10 hours or more) and being deprived of good night sleep in the buses put me off. I was still not ready to be a hard-core backpacker and here were two girls who had been travelling like this since the inception of Airasia budget airline. A day earlier, they were in Bagan, walking seven kilometres from Nyaung Oo where they were staying to Old Bagan because it "was inconvenient carrying an umbrella while riding". They were really hardy girls.