31st Mar 2015 - 2nd Apr 2015 - Burma
Inle Lake, Yangon
What do you get if you combine marshes, villages on stilts, freshwater, one legged rowers and wetlands? Well, you get Inle Lake – one of Burma’s most popular tourist attractions. Located in the Shan state, one of Burma’s more secretive states where a large part is off limits to tourists, this 13.5 mile by 7 mile stretch of water is visited by pretty much every visitor who comes to the country.
Our route there took us first to the caves of Pindaya, a natural limestone cavern home to over 8,000 Buddha statues. These Buddha’s are made out of a variety of materials, from marble, teak, cement or alabaster, are a mixture of sizes and have been donated by pilgrims all over the world. The cave has a series of passageways, each one covered head to toe with Buddha from floor to ceiling and lit up with artificial lighting. We even found a small mediation chamber to crawl into!
Once we’d arrived in Nyaungshwe, the main accommodation area for Inle Lake, it was all about getting out on the lake. We divided up into 4 man boats and were taken out for a full day on the water. It was a relaxing way to travel apart from the din from the engine on each boat. At various points on the lake, we passed the local Intha fishermen. These men are famously known as “one-legged rowers” not because they only have one leg, but because of their unique style of rowing which uses just the one leg. This then frees up both their hands to use with the nets to catch the fish.
There are a number of temples and pagodas on the lake and our first visit was to Nga Hpe Kyaung, also known as the Jumping Cat Monastery. Cats were trained to jump through hoops, although the temple is now better known for its collection of old Buddha’s. Another famous temple is Phaung Daw Oo Paya, home to five Buddha’s. The Buddha’s used to tour the lake but in approximately 1965 the boat carrying them capsized and only four could be recovered. The following morning, the fifth Buddha had miraculously reappeared and was sitting in the temple, with a small damp patch on its head. It was decided that this Buddha was special and shouldn’t leave the temple again. Therefore, only the other four tour the lake these days. We spent the majority of the day floating amongst the reeds, in between the stilt raised houses experiencing lake life at its finest. Our lunch stop was even a restaurant that was also a Burmese cat sanctuary and a fish aquarium!
The final leg of our trip was taken via a small propellered airplane back to Yangon. Here my roomie Christina and I took a wander around town stopping at the beautiful St Mary Cathedral, before heading to the Sky Bar for views from the 20th floor plus a spot of ice cream! Pai gave us all a short walking tour of the downtown area and its colonial buildings including a stop at the Strand Hotel, built by the Sarkies brothers who also built Raffles Hotel in Singapore. We had our final group dinner before our 2 week trip came to an end.