INLE LAKE
Posted: Oct 2012

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“Slouching kittens, hidden (jumping) cats!”
By Martin Clarke, October 2012

We started as two; then met a fantastic couple called Pam and Sec on the way from the highway who were also going to hit the lake in the morning, making us four. And then by chance we bumped into Hillary (we’d met in Sapa, Vietnam some months before!) and a few friends making seven. A boat for four costs 20,000Ks so 25,000Ks for seven was not a bad deal. 

We agreed to a 6am start and there were a few boats out there already. We missed sun-rise on the lake itself but watching the start of the day at the jetty was an experience in itself. 

We were fortunate that we’d arrived in the region at the same time as Phaung Daw Oo Paya festival; a Buddhist festival during late September or early October depending upon the lunar calendar that sees Buddha images ferried around the lake aboard two gilded barges visiting each of the pagodas in the surrounding villages. The procession of boats started sometime around 7am, with some one-hundred

local males (man and boys) aboard each of one of some thirty barges that
led the way around the lake for the 
Buddhist barges. Some rowing, some just dancing and enjoy the festival. As well as the throng of tourists, there were hundreds of other small boats with the wives and daughters of the rowers. An amazing sight to see a hundred men rowing with their legs.

We followed along in the procession 
with all of the other boats, weaving through the local floating gardens and houses towards Alodaw Pauk Pagoda. At first I felt that we were intervening in a festival where we had no right to be; we should be observing rather than following, but the locals didn’t see it that way with the mums and youngsters waving from their windows or boats at the foreigners who’d travelled to join in their celebration. 

By 9am it was all but finished and we headed to our next tourist destination; the market at Nam Pam. We felt at first that we were unlucky to have taken to the lake on one of the two days when the market was based on land, rather than on the lake, but not so. An amazing array of sights, smells, sounds and colour!
A great place to buy those souvenirs if you want them, but it wasn’t just a tourist market. Oars, knives, rake heads, a barber and a dentist (hunt the dentist down if you go!) meant that it was as much a working market as a tourist site. We’d agreed to spend 45 minutes walking around the market, but could easily have spent longer. An absolute dream for a photographer, so make sure that your camera is charged!

It was now 10am and we’d been out 4 hours and we all felt that we’d had our $4.27 worth already!


As well as the popular tourist sites, the boats take you to the local businesses that operate on the lake. Though it’s mostly really a shopping spree, they do show you how things are made. The first stop was the lotus shop where they showed us how they used the stalks to make thread, which in turn they used to make an entire array of garments and bags using traditional methods. From there to a cheroot shop where the girls rolled the cheroots, which are local cigars rolled inside a tobacco leaf, with amazing dexterity and nimbleness. And at 100Ks ($0.12) a cheroot, they make a great gift for someone back home.

Our boat then took us on to a restaurant near Phaung Daw Oo Paya. Most of the group sat down for lunch but we decided to walk around and enjoy some of the local street dishes instead. The mini-pancakes are delicious (something like a crumpet covered in butter) and  the quail egg ones were fantastic.

After lunch we were feeling pretty flagged as a group. That much so that I decided to have a 5-minute snooze on the boat as the others walked around a gold/ silver-smiths shop. I felt a little guilty but when we arrived at a shop where they demonstrated making paper by pounding bark to pulp, Sec also decided a 5-minute snooze would also be a great idea! Our last shop’s attraction had several ladies from the Padaung tribe where they wear a  brass loop around their neck giving the impression that they have longer necks. 

We all agreed that it was about time to call it a day as by now everyone was flagging. The ever organised Pam picked our last two destinations; the floating gardens and the jumping-cat monastery. 

The gardens, though we didn’t really realise it, were all around us. Literally floating strips of land with tomatoes, aubergines, cucumber and other vegetables. Great to see someone harvesting the vegetables by boat (when we got back to town, we managed to photograph barges that were overflowing with baskets of tomatoes). 

We finished off with the “jumping cats” at the Nga Hpe Kyaung (monastery). Our travel guide described how the resident monks had trained the cats on their floating monastery to leap through hoops in between scripture recitals. As with much from our guidebook, things had changed; the monks had stopped this form of entertainment because of the number of tourists that arrived on a daily basis, thus preventing them from meditating. Not that we could blame them, or the cats. We were so flagged we could all have snuggled up next to one of the many cats in the sun and snooze. 

“Home James” we told the boatman, but even then the amazing sites of the lake were not over. As we left the monastery and entered the main lake we were met by a group of locals singing and dancing to drum and cymbal beat. I’d struggled to stand up on our narrow boat earlie

 to dance to the beat, so not to be outdone I did the same; much to the delight of the locals. We didn’t last long though, as one small wave rocked the boat we took to our seats before we fell overboard. r to take a photograph, but these guys were dancing away. Pam jumped up in front of me and started


Our stops were to pause and photograph some of the many net fishermen. An amazing feat; they balance on one leg as they row with the other and collect in their nets in with their hands. A great way to finish our day on the lake.  

At 3pm there were still people coming out on the lake, but in my opinion they missed the better part of the day.

As I conclude this blog I have a mischievous smile on my face; the noise on the roof tells me that all of those people who decided to head out late to the lake are now getting wet :-)

If you get to read this; many thanks to Pam and Sek, Hillary, Yumie, Heather and of course my partner Wendy for a most memorable day out.
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My Charity - An apple from the teacher?

Okay,so it's not a proper charity, but when you're travelling around the world and especially if you are heading into impoverished areas, then consider what fruit is available to the local children on a regular basis (like banana's etc) and what isn't (dragon fruit?) and then buy the latter! I've some amazing pictures of a group of kids that have red-dragon fruit juice all around their cheeks from a few fruit that I carried along on a trip with me. It was low cost, environmentally friendly and I got some of the best pictures in the world! And I had some of the fuit as well, so thanks to Wendy for taking the pictures! :-)
Martin Clarke