Beautiful didn’t cut it for me. I needed a new word to describe what I was seeing and nothing that I could come up with was working. We were staying in a hut on stilts in the middle of Inle Lake. Every time a boat went by the whole hut swayed, ever so slightly. While we were in the middle of the lake on a map, it didn’t feel that way as there were islands and floating gardens all around us.
The people of the lake, or Shan, paddle by picking up the floating plants and soil from the lake to enrich their crops. Inle Lake is apparently the largest exporter of tomatoes in the country. Green tomatoes, red ones, squash, cucumber, and green leafy vegetables traverse their way up bamboos sticks that hold the gardens together. Long tail boats careen by spewing their black smoke into the air and disturbing the peace with their very noisy engines. The Shan men paddle standing on one leg with the paddle wrapped around their calf, hooked behind the knee. I had thought this was just another myth or “show” for tourists, but it is the way of life here. Rain storms pass through, but always seem to remain in the distance or sitting atop the mountains that surround the lake. Capturing the depth of blues that debut at sunset are impossible to capture on film and more impossible to forget.
While we were lucky enough to stay in the middle of the lake for our last days in Myanmar, we also stayed two days in the main town, Nyaung Shwe, on the northern part of the lake. We ended up running into another couple, Shane and Arrielle from San Francisco/Los Angeles, we had befriended in Bagan. Fortunately for us we arrived just in time witness a once a year event: the annual exams for all of the monks in Shan state. As you’ll see from the pictures the ceremony was quite elaborate. We watched 4,500 monks gracefully walk down a winding path of flowers that led to the main temple in town. Monks at the front of the procession were the most advanced. Therefore, they had someone carry their “goodie bag” (for lack of a better word) for them and walked under their own umbrella. Monks of all ages and experience levels had spent the previous days having written and oral exams and taking over the small tourist town.
Our time in Inle also included another surprise, the discovery of an Italian restaurant that had fresh pizza and pasta – with real basil and mozzarella! Apparently a lovely woman from Bologna had visited the town years ago and taught 2 brothers how to use a pasta machine, a wood fire oven, and make homemade pesto. In one word…heaven.
*Traveler Tip: We recommend the Teakwood guest house in Nyaung Shwe. Be prepared for the owner to make hard sells on taxis and tours, but the breakfast and rooms are worth it. Paramount Inle Resort is well worth shelling out the extra cash for and a taxi ride out there should cost you 10,000 ryat. A day trip around the lake should be 12,000 ryat.