October 5-6, 2015
It is dusk as we are making our way through the companion town of Nyaung Shwe on our way to Inle Lake, and once we are out of the bustling little town and on the perimeter lake road, darkness has set in, making it difficult to find our lodge, Inle Resort and Spa. But once we do, it’s clear we’re in for a little serene lake luxury, and frankly, I’m not complaining.
Loving the resort but not being a big ‘resort food’ kind of gal I’m a little wary of having our dinner here, but it’s late and we’re tired, and luckily the meal is actually quite delicious, if slightly less than authentic Burmese cuisine.
Lochan and I ponder the subservient feeling of the waitstaff here, as it’s borderline uncomfortable and clearly different than the simple, friendly helpful service that seems to be the norm thus far in the country. Perhaps it is the booming and relatively new focus on tourism here or perhaps it is the remnants of by-gone colonization, but either way, it will be interesting to see how Myanmar evolves over the next decade or so.
I have to say, I’m quite happy to be here at a time when there is enough tourist infrastructure in place to be comfortable and yet the country still feels authentic and mostly untouched for me as a tourist. It’s wonderful to see the locals excited about the changes in their country before the inevitable dark spots have formed.
After a leisurely morning we set out for an afternoon on the water to see some of the sights, heading specifically for Indein Village and Pagodas at the southern end of the lake. The boat ride there is a fantastic array of sights showcasing Inle’s unique culture and heritage.
The lake itself is quite expansive and most of the other boats we see are fishermen or locals hauling their goods from one place to the next, with the occasional boat carrying sight-seers like us.
Once we are off the main lake and on to one of the canal by-ways that leads us into Indein, things get more interesting still, as we get to see village life on the lake… literally. All of the houses and shops are on stilts over the water, and the ‘roads’ are waterways. Long boats navigate slowly and easily through these narrow lanes and instead of driveways each house has a makeshift dock.
I’m not sure what it would be like to actually live here, but it has an undeniable charm as we float through, and as is always the case, the people who live here seem to have found a way to happily thrive.
Lunch break is at a cute riverside cafe and from there we take a short walk through Indein Village on our way to the pagodas. And although we haven’t traveled to many places in Myanmar yet, one starts to get a feel for the slight difference in aesthetic and cultural styles that differ from region to region particularly as reflected in their manner of dress.
We reach the pagodas and are suddenly transported back in time, and for a moment I can imagine what it might have felt like for the explorers who discovered archaic ruins that had been completely overtaken by nature and forgotten for centuries.
Unlike the other ancient ruins I’ve visited recently, this site is in, and has been for some time, an obvious state of disrepair and there seems to be no intention for restoration. And while that seems a bit of a shame, as time will eventually erode all this history to the ground, for now this overgrowth is nothing short of pure magnificence.
We ponder the fact that most of the Buddhas, who sit housed on the insides of the pagodas, have been beheaded while the rest of the statue remains largely in tact, and it seems like the work of some sort of religious vandals. The few people we ask don’t have much of an answer and so for now, these headless Buddhas are simply part of the decay.
Despite the crumbling structures, there is one centerpiece Buddha that remains very much in tact and it is stunning, not just because of its large size or its gold color, but mostly because the spire and roof of the large pagoda that houses it has completely caved in, letting the indigenous foliage take up residence as the outside slowly moves in.
In looking at this site it’s clear that nature is slowly winning this long battle and yet somehow a beautiful and harmonic convergence with these ancient man-made structures has transpired, recreating what humans have built.
Heading back up north we meander through the floating gardens, with these particular gardens growing abundant tomatoes… which of course will be mentally noted with regard to dinner choices later.
As we finally head home after several hours on the water, the sun is lowering itself in the sky, highlighting all the golden pagodas that dot the distant hillsides on either side of this beautiful lake. The only boats out now are the few late-afternoon fisherman and random tourists heading home, and the lovely stillness of twilight settles itself on the water.
We arrive back at the resort in time to sit on the veranda with a tropical drink and watch the sun set and yes, it’s as magical as it sounds.
Without much fanfare, the sun quietly sinks behind the hills while residual pink clouds reflect themselves on the water and the evening insects gear up for their nightly symphony. The sound of motorboats still reverberates far off in the distance, but somehow it only enhances the peaceful feel of this lovely place.
After a fruitful and beautiful afternoon immersed in another culture we take a little TLC time and luxuriate in the spa before dinner, and for the relatively small dollar we are spending, the scrubs, facials and massages are all pretty first class.
After hearing how expensive Myanmar was (and it is compared to some of its more seasoned Asian destinations like Thailand) I have to admit I’m pleasantly surprised at what the dollar buys here, and everything at this resort, including the spa, reflects that.
Now starving, we find our way deep into the countryside for dinner at a restaurant that also runs a cooking school, called Bamboo Hut. It’s clear this place has built a reputation based on the quality of food alone, as it is literally in the middle of nowhere and not easily gotten to… and gettingt here was about to become a very difficult endeavor, as it is getting late and cabs in this area are hard to come by after a certain hour… but we are saved by yet another monumental example of Burmese hospitality.
The resort called the restaurant to find out how late they were open, explaining that we were having trouble finding a way to get there, and before we knew it, the owner of the family run restaurant was there to pick us up himself. Yes, you read that correctly. We were the only ones in the place when we arrived and they doted on us like we were royalty, happy to have us as their guests.
We sat on a lovely outdoor patio overlooking their crop of dragonfruit plants and beyond that, a million stars on the dark horizon.
And the food? So fresh it gave new meaning to the term ‘farm to table’ particularly having just visited the ‘farm’, or in this instance the lake, where we saw the fish being caught and the tomatoes being grown. So because I can’t find suffienct adjectives, let me just say, it was beyond outstanding.
And oh, for dessert? Fresh, sweet dragonfruit just plucked from the garden. Outstanding indeed.
This morning I am a bit remiss to have to say goodbye to Inle so quickly, as I find life on this lake to be something I’d like a little more of. Alas, after breakfast on the expansive veranda we pack up and head back through Nyaung Shwe for (an absolutely delicious) lunch at Sin Yaw, comparing the grilled fish and tomato salad to last night (it proudly stood its own ground) before heading off to the tiny Heho airport that will get us off to our next stop, Bagan.