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A look at life on Inle Lake

with cat acrobatics!

View Around We Go on LauHot10's travel map.

We arrived at Inle Lake around 5am and unfortunately the journey had not provided much in the way of rest. Spitting is a part of every day life through out most of Asia but here it seems even more common. A lot of men and some women chew something called Betel Nut. It begins with a leaf (I'm not sure from which plant or tree), then a paste is applied to one side containing lime and some spices and finally the nut is sprinkled on. It is then folded into a neat little parcel which is slid in next to one cheek, creating a kind of one sided hamster face. As they chew the nut it gives a similar effect to nicotine I think and may also give people more energy, we're not totally sure. The downside to this habit is the fact that you cannot swallow while you chew, hence the increased spitting. It also turns your saliva red and discolours your teeth. So on the bus they hand out little plastic bags for people to spit into which of course is completely normal over here but leaves me feeling a bit queasy.

Thankfully finding a room was very simple and soon enough we were fast asleep. When we awoke a few hours later we ventured down to the lakeside port area to try and see about organising a boat trip. It didn't take long for someone to approach us and he explained that really it was too late to go today. There are daily markets out on the lake which is one of the attractions, and they work on a rotation moving from site to site. By now it was about 10am and they finish around 11am so we wouldn't make it. We were quite tight on time in Myanmar so we had been hoping not to spend two days here but it seemed we didn't really have a choice. After checking out a few different places that offered boat trips we booked one for 7:30am the next day.

We then went to get something to eat and had a quick look around the local market. Last time Adam was in Inle there was really bad flooding and the bus trip from Yangon took twenty four hours instead of the usually eleven. It also meant that he did not get a chance to look around the town so it was the upside of being here for an extra day. Still feeling the affects of little sleep we slowly wandered back to the room and ending up dropping off once more. We must have been tired because ever since we arrived the local monks had been chanting on a loudspeaker from the Pagoda over the road but it didn't disturb us. I really wish I knew what they were saying, it all sounded incredibly similar and almost morphed into an indistinguishable drone at times but it must have been significant.

In the early afternoon we woke up and felt quite fresh. Although we couldn't help being tired it did feel like we were wasting the day so we got up and decided to rent bikes. We rode around the town which isn't very large at all and we covered much of the same ground as we searched for different things.
Firstly we booked our bus ticket to Mandalay for the following evening and then we checked out some of the local souvenir shops. There was a women selling lampshades made out of handmade paper which were pretty, however we weren't sure whether we would see them cheaper somewhere while out on the lake so we decided to wait. We then went to find some food and I had my first taste of Papaya salad. Adam says it's very different to the one he'd had in Thailand and unfortunately we weren't really fans. The first couple of bites were ok but it was very samey. We bought a few other bits and bobs and took them back to the room to munch on.

The next morning we were up bright and early. We had our complimentary breakfast and I ate mine with the guest house's cat on my lamp. He was very friendly and clearly used to getting fuss from the tourists.
After that we walked down to catch our boat. It was long and thin with a few cushioned wooden seats spaced out along it's length and then our driver sat at the back. The weather unfortunately was a little grey so when we got going it was a bit chilly and we had to put our macks on but it was nice to be out in the fresh air.

We sped down a narrow strait of water before the lake opened out around us. As we headed to our first destination we saw people starting their working day. There were lots of fisherman and people gathering plants that resembled seaweed from the bottom of the lake.
Adam pointed a man out to me who was rowing with his leg, something they're famous for doing here. The action looked a little awkward as he stood upright, had his leg curled round the oar and then moved it in a circular motion but it was effective.

First stop was the market which had been erected at that back of a Pagoda. We removed our shoes and went to have a look in there first.
Woman are not allowed to approach the Buddha so I always remain around the periphery. It was not the most impressive one we had visited but as I have continued to find, Pagodas are lovely places to be. I think it may be something to do with taking off your shoes, it makes you feel a little more at home. Back outside we grabbed our footwear and wandered over to the market. As we suspected prices for handicrafts had been seriously inflated for the tourists, although I'm guessing they have dropped quite a bit because tourism has seriously declined in the last couple of years. Adam says that in the whole country there are less tourists than last time, which may be slightly to do with it being the rainy season but there are other more political factors too.

After the market we visited a couple of small workshops. Usually we would avoid this because there tends to be intense sales pressure but we had read that this wasn't the case here. At the first we were shown women weaving silk garments on a loom. It looked like painstaking work as they lined up the patterns with the correctly dyed thread. We went to have a look round the shop afterwards and there were many things to choose from including scarves and Longees. These are worn by almost all women and a significant proportion of men. They are simply a single piece of fabric which is wrapped and then tied around the waists to create an almost floor length skirt. So it is really a bit like a sarong worn by both sexes, there are no jokes here about men wearing women's clothing though.

The second workshop specialised in silver and we were shown the whole process beginning with extracting it from the rock. Again it was very delicate work and these people were highly skilled. There were a few things in the shop that were tempting but it is always difficult in these situations because you know the prices have been raised. Sometimes we find that we are simply not in the mood to haggle and the items are not worth the energy. Which was the case this time.

Back in the boat we made our way to a pagoda called In Dein. It is not part of the usual tour and we had to pay a bit extra. To reach the entrance we had to climb a lot of steps which were flanked by stall after stall. The number of people running them though wasn't nearly enough and if you even glanced at something there would be a person suddenly dashing to reach you, which made you feel even more guilty when you kept on walking.

The main pagoda was basic inside and felt almost like someone's house as there were cooking utensils on a shelves in one corner, but I liked that. As usual it was very peaceful and we wandered out the back and into the open air. Surrounding the larger pagoda were dozens of smaller ones, their bases white and the stupas gold.
The very top of a pagoda is known as the umbrella and is adorned with lots of little bells. As the wind blew the bells made a high pitched tinkle, like wind chimes and we stared out at the surrounding countryside.
Now with slightly damp socks we made our way back to retrieve our shoes from the entrance. On the way down the steps Adam bought a little book of bamboo carvings depicting the days of the week, so he eased our conscience.

It was lunchtime and our boatman took us to a restaurant built on stilts. We had a simple but tasty meal of fried rice with a vegetable salad. I felt a bit mean as we had picked the cheapest items on the menu and they obviously expect tourists to splash a bit of cash as by normal standards things are ridiculously cheap. Unfortunately for them we're serious cheapskates. However there was another table of people in there who seemed to be indulging and another group of turned up when we left. So I'm sure they did ok.

Lunch over we went to another workshop where they made the handmade paper we'd seen at the shop in town. Again we saw the process from start to finish and it was surprising how the pulp could be quickly manipulated to form a sheet. They were very keen to try and sell us their wears but we weren't biting as they wanted three times the price of those we'd seen. Sometimes it makes you feel a bit insulted but in the end you think, if I were them I suppose I'd be doing the same. We left empty handed but knowing we would go and buy the ones we'd seen the day before. We climbed back into the boat and were taken down some narrow waterways, they divide up floating gardens which at this time of year mainly consist of tomato plants.

Next it was time for the part of the day I had been most looking forward to, the jumping cats monastery. Which isn't home to a bunch of Buddhist cat monks, rather the monks living at the monastery have taught some cats to jump through hoops. When we arrived there was a cat waiting on the dock and as I climbed the wooden steps I saw another one asleep in a window sill and soon there were lots. Inside there was a large golden Buddha statue and round the corner I saw an old monk seated on a chair with a kitten on his lamp. He didn't look in our direction and apart from him and the cats scurrying around there didn't appear to be a lot going on. The area in front of the monk had been covered in lino and there were a few empty bowls dotted about.

We walked down some steps where a few stalls, selling the stuff we'd seen everywhere, had been set up. Having learnt from past experience we didn't even glance in their direction but instead walked to the end, turned round and walked back into the main hall. I being me wanted to play with the cats but every time I went to touch one Adam told me not to. Apparently last time he'd been he had tried to pet one and been scratched. He had also missed the show while down at the stalls, so this time he was determined to catch it. As things stood though nothing seemed to be happening and we were getting a bit frustrated. The old monk was paying no attention to us at all. Our luck changed though when a couple of other tourists turned up and some one told them to make a donation. Soon enough the monk had banged a little gong and some other man summoned the cats with a shake of the biscuit tin. It seemed the monk's role was to observe as the other man took centre stage. I sat crossed legged on the floor and snapped photographs as the cats did their stuff.
Clearly their were a few stars, the pros I suppose you would say or the greedy ones who didn't let the others have a chance. Either way they leaped quite high in the air to earn their treats. It only lasted a couple of minutes but I was satisfied

After we'd seen the cats it was time to head back. We'd had a fun day out on the water and it had been rounded off nicely. The journey back passed by quickly and soon we were on dry land again. We picked up our backpacks from where we'd stowed them at the tour operators office and then walked into the town centre. We made a quick stop to buy the handmade paper lampshade and the woman we'd seen the day before was there with her young son. He was a bit of a hand full but very sweet at the same time. While we were picking things out he went in the back and poured us some green tea to drink. Then as we were negotiating the price he decided to try and hang off my backpack, and he really didn't want to let go when it was time for us to leave. So much so that he burst in to tears.

We then caught a pick up (a converted open sided van) up to the junction to wait for our bus. It was another over nighter and I was really hoping that this time we would be able to get more sleep.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 02:25 Archived in Myanmar Tagged round_the_world

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