From Yangon we travelled North to Bagan, where we spent 3 days exploring some of the 4000 temples in the area. We hired an electric bike and visited a number of different temples, which were built between the 11th and 13th centuries. The temperature was a sweaty 45 degrees and we spent many hours burning our feet, by walking across scorching flagstones and steps at the temples, as you are not allowed to wear shoes. Even the locals were dashing between patches of shade and making a beeline for lighter coloured stones whenever possible! The highlight was climbing the Shwesandaw Paya and watching the sunset over the vast plains, studded with temples for as far as the eye could see.
Next, we took a 10 hour bus to Nyuang Shwe, passing hundreds of ox carts and goat herders on our way. Nyuang Shwe was our base for visiting Inle Lake, a scenic lake with fascinating rural life both on and around the water. We explored a lot of it by boat and started by visiting a number of fishing villages. The fisherman use an unusual one legged rowing technique where they propel the boat with an oar controlled by one of their legs, whilst casting their nets. They also use conical wicker baskets and another technique which involves using long wooden poles, which they bring crashing down onto the water with significant force, to disturb the fish.
We visited a market on the edge of the lake at Maing Thauk and it was interesting to see lots of people from ethnic minority groups trading their wares. Next we went to see some local ladies using traditional methods to weave silk and lotus fibres on wooden looms. Another interesting aspect of Inle Lake is the floating gardens, where locals grow crops of tomatoes and bitter melons on floating mats of vegetation in the middle of the lake, which they tend to by boat. We travelled through a number of these floating gardens on our way to Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, a temple with a golden stupa on the shores of the lake. Our final stop off was Nga Hpe Chaung, which is known as the ‘Jumping Cat Monastery,’ as the monks have trained the resident cats to jump through hoops. When we were there the cats looked pretty lethargic and we thought it was more appropriate to call it the ‘Sleeping Cat Monastery!’
Whilst in Nyuang Shwe, we walked a few miles to a vineyard perched on a hill, with beautiful views overlooking Inle Lake. We did some wine tasting and then after a couple of glasses, meandered our way back to our hotel. The next day we hired bikes and went cycling along some rocky bone-shaking tracks around the paddy fields and the farms surrounding Inle Lake. We saw locals harvesting flowers, herding goats and tending to their water buffalo.
From Inle Lake we travelled North once more (on another 10 hour bus) to reach Mandalay. We had just a short time in Mandalay to explore what is a fairly gritty city. We visited the Gold Pounders’ district, where many men spend hours a day doing backbreaking work of hammering gold into gold leaf. It looked to be an incredibly hard job, especially considering the temperature was in the mid forties. We spent a day wandering around various districts and saw the Irrawaddy river as well as some teak bridges and markets.
From Mandalay, we took a flight to our next destination, China…