Myanmar’s top two tourist destinations are Inle Lake and Bagan and I’ve now managed to visit both, on weekend trips from Mandalay. So this will be a post with plenty of picturesque photos.
The lake at Inle is a large expanse of water punctuated by patches of vegetation and surrounded by marshes. It’s hard to know how big it is because it’s not really clear where the land ends and the lake begins but I would estimate it’s around 20 kms long. It’s situated high in the Shan mountains so much cooler than Mandalay (a reason in itself for a visit) and has a grey watery look which reminded me of the Dutch landscape:
We (myself and another VSO volunteer who I met up with there) went out for a boat trip, as all tourists do, in one of the long narrow wooden boats which are used for all transport on the lake:
and I could have been in one of the ‘plassen’ round Amsterdam, if it wasn’t for the mountains in the background:
This house looked a bit like a Dutch ‘dijkhuis’ (dyke house) too, apart from being made of bamboo of course:
There were plenty of houses on stilts, which were very visible due to the unusually low water level:
And there was even a bar on stilts, opposite the boat stop:
Here’s a house advertising Telenor, one of the three mobile phone companies which serve Myanmar:
I liked this blue house:
Our boat trip had started early in the morning and we saw fishermen casting their nets and rowing their boats with one leg, as seems to be the custom here:
Though some fishermen had obviously given up fishing and decided to earn money (probably more) displaying their acrobatic skills to tourists:
In fact the boat trip turned out to be a tour of arts and craft workshops around the lake rather than a meditative drift over the water (which I had imagined it would be). We were taken to a cheroot-rolling factory, a paper-making workshop, a wood-carving studio and a silversmiths:
And in each place, after a cursory tour of the manufacturing process we were taken to the showroom where it was obviously expected we would spend our dollars. We also went to a weaving factory, where I saw these girls hard at work:
where the ‘artisans’ were obviously children:
I felt uncomfortable seeing such young girls working. Like the cotton mills during the industrial revolution , except that here there was no steam power just physical labour:
After our tour round the lake we went back to the village where we were staying and visited a local baker for cake and ice-cream:
… it was my birthday! And to continue the celebrations, after a swim in the hotel pool we went to a ‘do-yourself’ cocktail bar where we found some local rum and asked for ice, lime and mint and made ourselves some monguitos. Delicious!
The other main attraction in Myanmar, perhaps the main attraction, is Bagan, the place where you can take romantic balloon rides over a plain of ancient red buildings (as on the cover of the Lonely Planet). People come from all over the world to see its 4000 or more temples, dating from the 11th and 12th centuries, many of which are still in use. The Venetian explorer, Marco Polo, visiting Bagan in the 13th century described it as ‘one of the finest sights in the world’. But I wasn’t expecting too much as I had heard from colleagues that the place had become a real tourist trap and the guidebook talked about temples being irresponsibly reconstructed and ‘Disneyfied’. I had arranged to meet another colleague and share a room in a very nice hotel (garden, pool, shiny tiles in the bathroom etc.) and was pleasantly surprised to be met from my minibus by a horse and cart to take me to the hotel.
And far from being filled with tourists the place seemed almost deserted, one of the advantages of going ‘off-season’ I suppose. The balloons don’t operate during the rainy season. After settling into the hotel and going for a swim I set off with my colleague for ‘Weatherspoons’; it seemed like a suitable place to recover from the shock of Brexit, news of which had just reached us. One advantage of being a tourist trap is that Bagan has lots of great restaurants!
And I was not disappointed by the temples either. We set off early in the morning on e-bikes (after crashing into a brick wall and a tree I got the hang of it) and had the temples pretty well to ourselves. They are scattered over a fairly large area among villages and fields so a motorized bike is really the best way to see them. This is the first temple we visited:
and here is a close up:
I had already seen ancient temples in Mrauk U but the Bagan temples are from an earlier period and made of brick rather than stone. They are also more decorated, less massive and the colour of red earth. I loved touring round in the fresh country air and stopping g every now and again to admire a beautiful and deserted ruin hidden in the fields. It felt like Wordsworth.
Though of course there were plenty of Buddhas. I liked the pattern of these:
There were also stone carvings of the previous lives of Buddha
And some lovely frescos:
And of course I climbed up onto the roof a temple to take a picture of the famous view over the plain, which isn’t as good as from a balloon but still pretty impressive I think:
I’m hoping to spend another weekend in Bagan before I leave. But right now I’m on the way to Thailand for a two-week summer break. Will update you when I’m back.