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Escaping Inle Lake

The main tourist hub for Inle Lake is the town of Nyaung Shwe, connected to the lake by a river channel a few kilometres long. That's where we stayed, joining the hundreds of other visitors that were already packed into the little town. We settled into the Gypsy Inn, a friendly and budget guesthouse right next to the main boat pier after visiting several places whose rates did not match the quality of their rooms

It was hard for us to get into the Inle Lake experience. Most of the lake's attractions cannot be visited independently and require transportation by boat. Boat rental is inexpensive but tours consist mainly of visits to souvenir shops disguised as tourist attractions. With no obvious alternatives we hired a boat for a day tour. We did our best to enjoy the sights that really were incredible, and disregard those that weren't so. Most of the sights were a weird artificial recreation of traditional industries but a few seemingly more genuine aspects of lake life were the highlights of our tour. We've listed them below:

Early Morning on the Lake
Riding along on the open lake at sunrise is probably the only thing that we would suggest not to miss at Inle Lake.

Nampan Village Market
Requesting that our tour start an hour earlier than suggested, we arrived at the bustling market before the tourist masses. We've seen lots of markets, but this one was particularly good, especially all the tasty snacks!
  Adorable fish seller at the Nampan market

Tour of a Blacksmith Shop
This would have been a standard tourist trap, but the blacksmith lit up when Yann asked to see the machinery used to make boat parts. He brought us to a messy, metal scrap covered workshop, away from the souvenir shop. One single machine tool incredibly serves the entire lake. The blacksmith rather cheerfully complained of its age and inefficiency.
  A forging demonstration for tourists

Tea at our Boatdriver's Home
Meeting our boat driver's father and son and seeing their family home in a traditional floating village was an unexpected treat. When his son spotted us arriving, he sped over in his teak canoe, showing off his skills at the unbelievable one-leg paddling.   Our Inle Lake boatdriver
 Our boatdriver's son and father seeing us off

The Fishermen of Inle Lake
The tour started with a photo session by two enterprising locals dressed in matching orange wide-leg fisherman's pants using traditional basket nets. Tourist boats lined up for their turn to photograph them in their coordinated routine. That was not a highlight. But watching the real fishermen in the distance, balancing on one leg as they cast their nylon nets, was pretty awesome.
In contrast to Inle Lake, our next few days of riding across the Shan Plateau were the least-touristy of our trip through the country. We rode first to Pindaya, famous for its huge cave temples, filled with thousands of golden Buddhas. The town itself is centred on a pretty lake and didn't seem to have as many visitors as we felt it deserved.   Inside the Pindaya cave temples

From Pindaya, we made our way towards the small town of Ywangan and met no more tourists until Mandalay. The road didn't even appear on our GPS. We were alone, riding across the fertile plateau, through a colourful patchworks of various crops. It was cabbage harvest season and we passed dozens of oxcarts, piled with perfectly balanced rows of cabbages. Villagers waved from the fields as we rode by. It was so lovely that we could easily overlook the brutal road conditions that kept our average speed hovering around 10km/hr.   The fertile Shan Plateau between Pindaya and Ywangan

  From the fields, to the oxcarts, to the trucks

We had delicious meals at small roadside eateries, usually stopping for a snack anytime we spotted the golden pieces of deep-fried Shan tofu. Made with yellow split peas the local tofu is light, flaky and delicious and very much unlike soy-based tofu.   A tray of Shan tofu setting in a village home/restaurant

We tackled the epic descent down from the Shan Hills to the plains of Central Myanmar with mixed emotions. Happy for a 1100m descent but sad to be leaving the cool climate and peaceful riding of the Shan Plateau. We didn't have to peddle but the road was so steep and in such terrible condition that we barely averaged 15km/hr. Not quite the reward that we were hoping for after the work it took us to get up!
  Making our way down from the Shan Hills

We could feel the temperature increasing with every metre dropped and we were so grateful that we were not riding in the opposite direction! We finished the last 20km of the day on the blissfully smooth pavement of the Yangon-Mandalay highway and continued the next day along the same road to Mandalay. As it was the best road surface in the country we made sure to enjoy it.


Stats for Nyaung Shwe (Inle Lake) to Mandalay:

Days of cycling: 4
Days of rest: 2
Kilometres cycled: 283
Metres climbed: 2763
Cycle-tourists crossed on the road: 1 organized tour

Partially sponsored by Mountain Equipment Coop Expedition Support

2 comments:

mom said...

Having to brake going downhill discouraging but better than flying off a cliff.

Antonia said...

Wow, beautiful!!!