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.

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