The Journey to Inle Lake

Before I left on this journey I visited my doctor to ask about vaccinations and malaria prophylaxis. He specifically recommended against visiting Inle Lake if I wasn’t taking Malarone, an anti-malarial. Of course, he was surprised when I didn’t even blink and asked for Malarone. Somewhere off the grid that people don’t visit? Sign me up.

When I landed at the Heho domestic airport and saw photos of the surrounding Shan State, I knew I was in for something really special. My bus driver said it would be a long drive. While others settled in to rest, I put a fresh battery into my camera and grabbed a window seat.

“Focus on the journey, not the destination.
        Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”
                - Greg Anderson

The Fields

We passed through beautiful fields full of workers and my driver pulled over and let me take a few shots. How nice!

I wandered into the field and was greeted by an adorably happy jury rigged tractor device. The sky was threatening to rain so I got back to the bus soon after this.


When a few women working in the fields smiled and waved, I came over to take a few photos. This lady was shy and went about her business.


Fortunately, her friend was happy to let me snap a photo or two before she got back to work. She wore a beautiful floral longyi.


This cow kept sneezing and it looked as though he was trying to curse. Ffffffff… 


Who, me?


Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery

Before my reached the lake it stopped off in Nyaung Shwe in front of the amazing Shwe Yan Pyay monastery. The oval windows, I was told, were symbolic of Inle Lake and very important to the locals. At first it looked abandoned but as I walked in and inquired “Mingalaba?” some monks came out and greeted me. Most of them were children, as if the monastery knew I liked to photograph young monks and provided for me. The sky was still threatening to open up and leave the road a muddy mess…


Some monks came over to the window to check out the strange bearded man with a camera…


Another took a break from reading to look out the window.


As I walked around the perimeter, I got lots of inquiring stares. Uh oh, was I not supposed to be here? A quick smile and wave had them all smiling and laughing and after I showed them a few photos I took of them they relaxed and ran out to play.


These two boys had obviously just seen TRON: Legacy and we recreating the light cycle battle intro scene. But seriously, the boy in the back was acting as a a seat back and the boy in the front was alternating between treating the statue like a horse and a motorcycle, complete with revving motions, engine sounds, and neighing.


When the driver wouldn’t relinquish the vehicle, the back-rest got feisty and climbed up on the front of the motor vehicle to hijack it, Grand Theft Auto style.


Success, the driver was tackled and pulled away from the reigns so others could drive.


After showing them many photos I took of them, I showed them some basics and let them shoot with my primary camera. They didn’t really speak much english but I set it to full auto, showed them how to zoom and shoot, and away they went.


Not exactly sure how to use the camera yet…


A photo taken by the monks.


Another monk throws the horns for his friends while I watch with my second camera body. The monks loved the laughing buddha on my shirt… if only they knew the shirt was from a bar in Bali!


I then showed them how to look through photos and they spent a good 10 minutes looking at my pictures from Mandalay. They seemed to recognize many of the pagodas and I heard one say “Mingun!” which was indeed the name of a spot I had visited.


One of the monks crawls under the railing for a shot at using my camera.


A group shot of some of the boys who were too energetic to stand still for a picture.


Before I left I quickly checked out the inside of the Monastery. I didn’t have my tripod on me so attempts to photograph the beautiful wooden interior were a bust but I saw this monk laughing at his friends outside the window.


Nyaung Shwe

While others on my bus were still checking out Shwe Yan Pyay, I wandered out into the small town of Nyaung Shwe. It seemed to be a popular stop along the way to Inle Lake but I didn’t see any other tourists other than those from my bus. A local shop had a beautiful hand carved fisherman on the moon that I bought (and broke two days later). It was supposed to be a gift for my new-borne nephew. Darn. Maybe I’ll make a print of it and hang it in his room instead? 🙂


This is the young girl that sold me the fisherman and told me she made it! She was very proud.


Since I hadn’t eaten breakfast and I was starving I decided to follow my nose. I smelled the unmistakable smell of burning food oil and a block away I found this wood fired hot plate.


I indicated that I was hungry (rubbing my buddha belly) and the man laughed, nodded, and tossed on some raw dough. I had no idea what I was in for.


A minute later he was patting it down and indicated that it might take a while so I wandered off for a bit to photograph some children with large blades. Yeah, you heard me.


As I waited for my mystery fried-bread-stuffs I saw some cute kids walking through the street playing with large rusty blades – on their way to work the fields perhaps?


I smiled and this girl rampaged towards me, blade in hand. I got a quick blurry photo and got ready to run before she stopped and laughed. Hilarious, I just got punked by a little girl.


As she walked away, I got a good look at her blade and was suddenly very glad I got a tetanus booster before coming.


The girl, actually fully gripping her blade, glanced back to see if I was still there and totally gave me the chills in the process. Time stood still as I put the camera down and we both stared at each other motionless for a good 5 seconds.


Thankfully she then cast me a big smile and set off with her friends, breaking the awkward tension.


The boy in front then did something strange – he cheered something, raised his blade, and the other children raised their blades too. Are these little freedom fighters or something?


As I left, the girl from before was looking like a total bad ass. This girl was one of the most memorable from my trip (aside from one of the little nuns who followed me around), and with her personality I’m sure she’ll be memorable to many throughout her life.


You forgot the food, didn’t you? On the rush back to the bus I came back to find golden brown and deliciously fried little treats. They looked a bit like samosas but tasted nothing like them. I don’t even want to KNOW what the filling was but it was even tastier than it was oily. They even gave me some mysterious neon orange sauce in a bag which was impossibly good. I have no clue what I ate but I almost want to come back here for more. Everyone in the bus thought I was insane for eating these.


Long Boat to Inle

My bus dropped me off at a small river and I boarded a curious long boat with a tiny engine strapped to the back. A minute later the tiny engine kicked in and launched the boat forward much more powerfully than I thought possible. This was going to be a fun ride! After a few minutes of getting wet from the spray, I scooted my lawn chair back (yes, the boat had four lawn chairs in it) and pulled out my camera just in time to catch a cow herder smoking something from a curious pipe and wearing an NBA beanie. Just like my friends in college, except wearing a Longyi…


This little boy was either looking for his pants or his mother. Or both.


These older women were frantically pumping but very little water was coming out of the well.


After a good twenty minutes another boat very similar to mine passed by and we both watched as the other boat sped past.


Yet another boat, this time seemingly a man and his three daughters.


His youngest was having the time of her life by the looks of it! She absolutely loved the seagulls that were following and circling the boat.


Inle Lake

After a long but very fun ride, our boat pressed into a large body of water – Inle Lake at last! The entrance to the lake was very mossy and there were mountains in the background… very reminiscent of Danau Kintamani on Bali but actually quite chilly.


Years of physics classes caused me to do a double take as I saw a man leaning off the edge of his tiny boat. Why wasn’t the boat tipping? Clearly he wasn’t, but the static force diagram in my head said otherwise. I watched in awe as he deftly slapped the water (presumably to scare fish into an unseen net) and then used the long pole to actually vault the boat across the bottom of the lake.


A bit further in the lake I saw another man standing on the edge of his boat as he rowed, but I was still confused why the boat wasn’t tipping.


What’s this? My hotel has a water entrance? And it’s on stilts? I think I’m going to like it here. Time to settle in after half a day of riding in taxis, airplanes, busses, and boats. Tomorrow I’m definitely going to wake up early and photograph those fisherman…