I left Bagan (Myanmar Diary #2: Bagan) early in the morning and took the bus to Inle Lake. I didn’t take the night ride because I wanted to do at least one trip during the day to enjoy the view and I think that was a wise decision. The road that goes from Bagan to Inle Lake crosses the mountains and is bumpy, but the driver was going so slow that I didn’t feel sick. Even if it took 8 hours, I was so busy watching the landscape that it didn’t feel that long. I did the trip with Shwe Man Thu bus company, which was ok: aircon, decent seats and a lunch stop half way.
I spent 3 full days in Inle Lake and I was lucky enough to assist at 2 festivals.
One was the Thadingyut Festival, also called light or full moon festival, which takes place in the whole of Myanmar and celebrates Buddha’s descending from heaven after rebirth. The festival is celebrated on the full moon day of the Burmese Lunar month of Thadingyut, at the end of the buddhist lent and it last for 3 days: the full moon day and the one before and after.
For this celebration people light candles outside their home, in the street and in the temples.
The second one was the Phaung Daw Oo Paya Festival during which the 4 Buddhas of the paya are transported in the pagodas of the villages around the lake. It’s also called 4 Buddhas festival and it last for 18 days.
Day 1: Tour of the lake
The main purpose of the day was to assist the 4 Buddhas parade, which was starting from the very south of the lake early in the morning. We left the pier at Nyaung Shwe at 5.30am and we started to work our way down while the sun was starting to rise from behind the hills between a few long clouds. Needless to say, it was spectacular!
The closer we got to the parade site, the more and more boats loaded with families we met heading in the same direction. The parade is a mix of tradition and modernity and it’s very picturesque! There are lots of long boats rowed by guys wearing traditional clothes and pushing the row with their legs. All the boats are decorated in different ways and with different colors; on the ones with younger people there would be some sort of techno music and some guys would dance on an extra layer on top. It was a really crazy combination. When the parade takes place everybody stops what they’re doing to go and see Buddha’s images passing through. This was my highlight in Inle lake!
After the parade our tour continued with the market, which is mainly a souvenir market, and the visit of the silk, cigarette and silver factories. In the afternoon we went to Shwe Inn Thein Paya and then back to the pier riding through the floating garden.
Day 2: Bike exploring
On the second day I rented a bicycle to explore the villages around the lake. Because my hotel was on the main pier and the boats were waking me up at 4.30am, by 7 I was on the road. I went down the west side of the lake, heading toward the forest temple. The way there was beautiful: riding through the fields and the villages with kids waving at me and few monks starting to collect their donations in the morning sun was a perfect start of the day. Going up to the temple was a little bit of a hike but I was rewarded with some tea offered by some old people playing chess at the entrance. Because it was holiday time in Myanmar, there were many families there bringing their donation. Many of those people were coming from smaller villages where tourists don’t really go and they were studying me, giggling, pushing the younger kids to say hi to me and, of course, taking pictures all together.
After visiting the temple and enjoying the view from there, I took a boat to get to the other side of the lake where I met a guy that was in my same guest house in Yangon. He was doing the loop around the lake in the opposite direction and we decided to catch up and have a long lunch to skip some of the heat before separating again. He showed me the very useful map from his guesthouse and I decided to follow it to a viewpoint in the South. The view of the lake from there was beautiful and many more families pictures were taken followed by more giggling.
It was time to ride back and get ready for the evening: it was the full moon day, when people light candles everywhere, creating a beautiful atmosphere along the streets of Nyaung Shwe.
Day 3: Relax
I was going to leave the lake at 8pm with the JJ Express (finally!) to go to Mandalay, so I had the whole day to chill around Nyaung Shwe. I went to the market, the temples and then spent most of the time at the French Touch. The owner of this restaurant is a very interesting French photographer that moved to Myanmar and lived as a monk in the monastery several times during his life. The restaurant is also his gallery and his pictures, mainly of people and life, are incredible. He’s doing some videography as well and, every evening, he projects his short movie about a monk’s story. If you are around you shouldn’t miss it.
Perfect end to my days in Inle Lake. Time to move on and to Mandalay I go.