A week of doing absolutely nothing and letting all the Lao impressions sink in in Chiang Rai has done us good. We have a wonderful apartment with kitchen in the Contdotel, an apartment building where a lot of expats and retired Westerners live with their Thai spouses. We relax and enjoy our own cooking so much that by the end of the week we have to reset our mindset to pack up our things and travel to the border with Myanmar. We take the local bus to the border of the province, a bus ride of about two hours. At the busstation in Mae Sai there is a tuk-uk waiting for everybody going to the border, which is only a couple of kilometers away. In the middle of the street there is a building, which turns out to be the border itself; we walk past the building to get our exit stamps for Thailand. At the Myanmar office we are welcomed, we sit down to fill out all the necessary paperwork (we have already arranged for a visa while in Holland at the embassy of Berlin), while someone gets an apple for Noa. Pictures are taken and we can continue to a police officer who writes down our details by hand in a huge book, welcome to Myanmar!
Arriving at Inle Lake
We are now in the small village Tachileik, from which it’s another 600 kilometers to our first destination in Myanmar, Inle Lake. Unfortunately we are not allowed to travel the 600 kilometers overland without a special permit so we take a small airplane to Heho. At every desk at the airport our passports are studied and all our information is written down in big books, upto three times per airport. At the small Heho airport our luggage is dropped off in the middle of the hall, and we are welcomed by a representative of the guesthouse who points us to a car with driver. It’s another hour to the village next to Inle lake where we will be staying and public transport could take hours, so we chose the pick-up service offerend by our guesthouse. We drive over a mountain bridge that forms the valley in which Inle Lake is located. We are amazed by what we see, everything in Myanmar is different from all other Asian countries we have traveled through; different vegetation, dfferent trees, different roads, different housing, different crops and a completely different atmosphere. It’s the end of the afternoon and in the evening light we see light bouncing of the pagoda’s through the trees on both sides of the roads. Beautiful!
We rent bikes via our guesthouse for just one euro a day and attach our own toddlerseat, so Noa sits like a king looking out over the steering wheel. One of the fun activities at Inle lake is biking around the lake and see how the farmers live in the surrounding countryside. We start off with lots of courage, covered in sunscreen, boy it’s hot but the surrounding countryside is beautiful. Biking here is fairly easy, a little bit up and a little bit down. We are amazed by how people live here, we peddle past hundreds of bamboo shacks, wooden houses on poles, farmers working on their land by hand, women doing laundry in the rivers which pass under their houses, and children playing on the streets. It feels like we went back in time a couple of hundred years.
My bikechain falls off, and getting it back on in the scorching heat is no fun. We take the bike into the shade a couple of meters down the road and just when the chain is back on a guy comes walking towards us – offering help and a place to wash our hands. We have just managed to get the chain back on, but we are surprised by the friendliness. We climb a hill along the road and take in our first Birman pagoda and enjoy the view of the lake. On the hill there is a hot air vent, from which humid hot air flows. Also supplying the hot water springs next to the hill where you can swim. When we enter the gates of the hot springs we are met with extreme luxury. We are taken to a separate area for Western people by a Birman lady, it has beautiful pools and wooden floors and a welcome drink. Considering we paid € 17,50 for two people when the average Birman person just earns 1 dollar a day, the price is ridiculous, even for us since it takes a huge chunk out of our daily budget.
To try to stick to our budget we don’t eat at the hot springs, but at a small restaurant just outside the hot springs. We are allowed to take a look in the kitchen, they are making noodles in a huge wok and we get to choose vegetables and chicken or pork to go along with it. Next to the noodles we get a salad with chili dressing, a very good bowl of soup and a thermos of green tea. When we go to pay the bill we think we are not understanding them right, but it’s correct, we have just had a fabulous lunch with the three of us for only € 1,25! We continue biking for a couple of hours along the lake until our buttocks can’t take the bikeseats anymore, we bike past viewpoints, villages, and the garden restaurant we stopped at to fix our bikes earlier in the day, but this time for a beer.
Wine with a view
When we roam around the small village the next day our behinds are still hurting from biking the day before, but we have a lot of good memories and took a lot of photo’s. At the end of the afternoon we bike to one of the two Myanmar vineyards, it’s quit a bit of biking, not because of the length of the road, but because the vineyard is on top of a hill. We have to walk the last bit with our bikes and arrive sweating like pigs. We have a non-alcoholic drink to cool off before the tour of the vineyard starts. Our tour guide starts calling out that he is ready to start the tour when Michiel is just taking a couple of photographs of the view from the hill. When we find the tour group, the tour has already ended, the whole tour took about five minutes. Too bad, there is nothing left but the wine tasting.
How odd this feels, after dreaming of visiting this country for years I am sitting on a this hill with four tasting wines in front of me, while we look out over the vineyard and the valley in which Inle lake lays – we are so enjoying ourselves.
Pictures on the lake
The next day at 07:45 we are picked up by a captain of a wooden boot that is going to take us along the lake for the day with two other people from the guesthouse. He leads us through the village towards a sidearm of the river where the boat is ready for us with four large wooden chairs and blankets. We put armbands on Noa and he comes to sit on my lap on the front chair, while I wrap us up in a blanket. The boat is fantastic, we sail for an hour towards the lake and get to enjoy views of live on the lake from animals as well as humans.
The captain doesn’t speak a lot of English, but sails us from one village to the next and tells us with a view words where he is dropping us of; blacksmith, silver workshop, wooden boat making, cigar making, food, lotus weaving, pagoda, etc.”. Everywhere we get dropped of we are allowed to see how the Myanmar people make products in the same way they have done for hundreds of years. The paper for the parasols is made by hand before being put on a frame, the smith makes swords by hitting the hot blazing metal with three men, tok, tok, tok. The cigars (without tobacco) are made by hand, depending on the experience of the women they manage to roll between 500 and 1200 cigars a day. The wooden boats are made by hand, two men will spend an entire week to make a boat exactly like the one we have been sailing on all day. We absorb all the information and impressions.
When we booked the boat we added an extra location to the tour, a temple complex with 1054 stupa’s of which most are centuries old. We sail through side arm of the lake up the river up sluices, and end up at the harbor. There is a long staircase up the hill covered with stupa’s. It’s a gorgeous site and sound; each stupa has a frame with bells that make noise when the wind blows, here listen along.
On the way back across the lake the sun starts to set and we manage to capture the fishermen in the beautiful light. This is the cherry on top of a perfect day. We are engulfed in Myanmar and pack our backpacks with the last energy we have because the next day we will continue on to Mandalay and we are already wondering what this famous city will bring us.