14.04.2016 – 16.04.2016 and 18.04.2016 – 21.04.2016
Inle Lake (pronounced in-lay) is situated in the east of Myanmar, close to Kalaw. We visited twice due to the complexities of the public holiday (essential stuck in this region). Once by train and once by trek. You’ve already heard about the treks (we did 2, a day trek and an overnight trek), but you need to understand the train ride.
Trains in Myanmar are very slow, for example its an hours flight from Inle Lake to Yangon, 12 hours by a pretty slow bus, due to the bad condition of the roads, and 30 hours by train. Yes, THIRTY HOURS – THREE ZERO. Not only was the train ancient, I mean we travelled back in time, it has no windows, extremely old first class seats, and resembles a train of the early 1900s – not joking. In addition to this, the trains and tracks are maintained in such a poor quality, that the train rocks considerably during a very slow journey (max speed of 25km/h), the the luggage from the racks fall on the ground, and dont even think about having a sip of water whilst on the train unless you want to have wet clothing. You and your luggage are thrown all over the place as the train shakes, wobbles, shunts forwards and backwards and sways along.
We managed to catch the train for only 3 hours, which was worth the experience at $1.50 each. However we did catch the train on the most significant day during the water festival, and as the train has no windows, the water is thrown through the windows all over you.
Locals save money all year to purchase water for the festival and whenever the train passed through a small town, we copped it. At one point a high pressure hose was pumping water into the carriage, blasting everything and everyone in its path. Luckily our backpacks didn’t get wet.
Being in Nyaung Shwe (biggest township of Inle Lake, located at the northern end of the lake) for the height of Thingyan Water Festival was worth it. Water is readily available, only because they are right next to a huge lake, and no one is safe from a good dousing, but only between the hours of 9am and 6pm, you’re safe outside of these hours. We both wore the same set of clothes for 4 days straight. We’d get up in the morning, get hammered by water all day, let them dry at night and they’d be ready for the next day. A lot of the water quality is questionable, but it’s a really fun time to be in Myanmar. Each day around the corner from our hotel we sang, danced and threw water with the locals. Thingyan makes travel around the country hard, but if you’re prepared to get involved, you should stay for a few days in one place and enjoy the festival.
Upon reflection, we didn’t really do a lot in Nyaung Shwe as there isn’t really a lot to do. We hired a bike from our hotel and cruised around the local streets, one day we walked to a few nearby villages, explored the local markets and if you don’t do a trek we’d recommend hiring a longboat and having a local show you around the lake for a few hours. We also had a really hilarious waitress at our hostel who would give you the list of breakfast options in the softest and most monotone voice you can imagine (fried egg, boiled egg, scrambled egg, pancake – Nathan is quiet good at this impersonation).
However the highlight of our stay was doing a cooking class with ZuZu (see our Monday Moments for more information). ZuZu works with their family at the local Sunflower Restaurant (good food, if you’re looking around). We met ZuZu at the restaurant at 9am and walked through the local markets as she explained everything we saw and bought before travelling her their family home by horse and kart (local taxi service). Over the next 3 hours we learnt lots about Myanmar food (currys, deep frying, sweets, whole fish) and cooking and got to taste everything at the end, even the fish eyeball. Nathan couldn’t cope.
We were invited back to the familys resturant the next day, where Bianca was taught how to make traditional spring onion cakes wrapped in banana leaf by the Mother of the family, and treated us to a feast on the house. Incredible!
By the time the 21st of April rolled around, the buses were back up and running and seats were available. We took the first bus we could to Hpa-An.
OUR FAVOURITE BITS
- Embracing Thingyan (although after 10 days of water throwing, we were happy to walk down the streets without being wet)
- ZuZu’s cooking class.
- Travelling the lake by longboat.
- Taking the train for the short trip between Kalaw and Inle Lake. It is a really cool experience and a super cheap way to travel between towns.
- If you plan on being in Myanmar during the Thingyan Water Festival, be prepared to stay for a few days in once place and enjoy it. Inle Lake is a great option if you want something a little quieter than Yangon or Mandalay.
- If you’re in Myanmar during Thingyan Water Festival and don’t have the time to stay in places for long you have a few options; a) Pay for flights around the country (Expensive), b) Book your buses weeks in advance (Requires lots of prior planning and a fixed plan, and local knowledge to book buses from outside the country), or c) Plan your trip to end in early-April or start in late-April.