Myanmar: 11 things to do in Inle Lake

These are the things I did, and, they ruled big time. If you go to Inle, you can do your own things, if you like, but I highly recommend you do something similar to what I did because it was really, really fun.

1. Hire a long boat and cruise around the lake for a day. Or two. Or three!

2. Explore the serene, hidden temples in the far reaches of the lake.

3. Socialize with the locals.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: the Burmese people are the kindest people I’ve ever met. There are signs around Myanmar that say, “Warmly welcome” and I can’t imagine there being a better slogan for this country. Take some time aside to say, mingalabar (hello) to the locals and you won’t be disappointed by the interaction that follows.

4. Have a lake side lunch in the jungle.

5. Visit the floating gardens. 

6. Watch the local fisherman delicately dance their way to a catch.

7. Bike around the lake with free bikes offered by the Song of Travel hostel and really see the Inle culture up close.

Just biking past a tractor, or three, nbd.

 

8. Hike up to fantastic pagoda’s with views like this:

9. Check out the local farmer’s markets near the centre.

10. Bike from a floating village to the mainland via this old wooden bridge.

11. Visit the Red Mountain Estate and Winery (for the view, not the wine).

Note: If you are pedal-biking, the hill is a doozy and you will sweat your heart out. In fact, that terrible wine may not taste so terrible after that monstrous mountain.

Myanmar: Bagan’s peaceful beauty

I loved my time at Thabarwa, so I was a little nervous to continue my trip in Myanmar for fear that it wouldn’t be as amazing as my time there. I was so wrong, but it would take an adventurous bus trip from Yangon to Bagan to see that.

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Getting to Bagan from Yangon

3:00pm: Leave the Thabarwa Centre on a public bus to Yangon

5:30pm:
Arrive in bustling Yangon. My overnight bus to Bagan leaves at 8:00pm, and the taxi from downtown to the bus terminal is reportedly 2 hours long. I hurriedly hail a taxi to the Yangon bus station.

7:30pm:
Arrive to bus terminal just as darkness settles in for good. The scene at the bus depot is fucking chaos. The bus terminal is enormous, taking up at least 5 city blocks; it’s also riddled with taxis, neon lights, motorcycles, buses, people, and animals.

People and animals everywhere!

I thought riding South American buses was crazy, but this terminal is a whole new level of intense. I’m actually a little scared to get out of the taxi, for fear of not being able to find my particular bus company (the signs are in Burmese and English, but the volume of them and the assault of colours and lights on your senses is overwhelming).

Travel and life experience was my antidote here, though. The more places and things I become exposed to, the more I have begun to see the difference between real fear and perceived fear, as well as how capable I am of handling a fearful situation. I’m not saying I’ve learned to forego my intuition, but I have learned that I’m often more scared than I ever need to be in 95% of the situations I encounter. So, rather than panic, I negotiate with the taxi driver and he gets me pretty close to where I need to be.

7:45pm: Thanks to my big girl solution-oriented pants, I get on the bus on-time and am happily greeted with a lovely neck pillow, a reclining seat, and a snack. As we set off on our 10 hour bus journey, I feel dirty, tired, and … happy to be on the right bus in the first place. Eventually, we arrive with the dawn to Bagan.

I was haggard.

5:00am: Gather myself, and my things (not my hair though, watch out world) and get off the bus, only to be greeted by swarms of men yelling, “Tuk tuk?! Taxi?!” This is the first time in Burma where I had experienced a classic “tourist attack” at a foreigner hot spot, and I am disappointed. In retrospect, however, Bagan’s economy exists purely because of tourism, so it should not have been a surprise to arrive to men yelling in my face at 5am. Still, what a way to wake-up.

 

Settling in to Bagan

I jump in a taxi with a few other tourists who seemed to know what they were doing more than I did,  and eventually find myself at Ostello Bello hostel. I walk into the lobby am blown away by the cleanliness, the amenities, and the service.

Ostello Bello rooftop is a luxury after my time at the Thabarwa Centre.

Even at 6am, they were smiling, hospitable, and ready to welcome us. There were beds set aside on the rooftop for us to sleep in while we waited for the 2pm check-in, luggage storage closets, and get this, showers on the rooftop for us to use while we waited for our rooms. That shower was the most amazing shower of my trip – I was dirtier than I had ever been, and really needed it. Post epic shower, I had a little rooftop nap in the shade and felt like a different person when I awoke.

Rooftop bed crew awaiting check-in at 2pm.

Sometime in the late afternoon, I felt refreshed enough to wander downstairs to the common area. It was easy to make friends, and soon I found myself on one of the electric scooters available for rent ($2/day) heading to every single sunset and sunrise.

Exploring Bagan via electric bike.

Exploring Bagan via electric bike.

An Old Bagan sunrise.

Bagan the Beautiful 

The beauty in Bagan is indescribable, so I’ll let the photos do the talking here, but I have to say there may not be many other places in the world where you have  exclusive access to more than 2,000 ancient Buddhist temples. Almost always, my friends and I were the only group perched on the top of a beautiful brick pagoda.

 

No one else but us on this temple.

 

Why you should go to Bagan

Bagan is a can’t miss on your itinerary in Myanmar, and despite it being more touristy, it’s nothing when compared to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, or Cambodia. There’s something for everyone here, whether it be riverside luxury resorts, hostels, horse-drawn carriages, hill-tribes, or just plain good ice cream … catch those moments of sunny peace and quiet while you can – Myanmar is changing rapidly, and you don’t want to miss this authenticity.

Horse-drawn carriages are still in use in Myanmar.

Aye Yar River resort partners with Ostello Bello hostel to offer a night of riverside fun and drink.

Enjoying riverside, sunset views and a very affordable mojito in Bagan.

Myanmar: a local shopping day

I was standing near the foreigner volunteer building at ThaBarWa Centre when my new friends Ella and Erin happily swung around a pink building to greet me.

“The lady who helps coordinate lunch wants to make us longyis!” they exclaimed together.

“Long what?” I replied, wrinkling my nose up.

“Lawwwwnnn-geeee. The long skirts they all wear here.”

I looked down at my tiny pine-tree accented maxi-skirt and cursed a little inside. In Myanmar, it’s friggin’ hot and muggy, but it’s also disrespectful to show your shoulders or legs, so all women wear ankle-length wrapping skirts that create a personal sweat rectangle on your lowest half. My 45L backpack did not come pre-packed with a personal sweat rectangle (thanks a lot whoever packed that … oh wait, that was me …) so I was given a longyi by the head office at Thabarwa that I’m 90% sure is intended for teenagers or even, perhaps, children.

Longyis

longyi

Some have ties or buttons to secure them, but most as just a circular piece of cloth (tube?) that you step into and then magically twist just the right way so it stays up.

Except it never. Stays. Up. (See my post about getting help with that, here). Given I was going to be in Myanmar a while and that asking strangers on the street to tie my skirt was no longer going to be the best strategy, I for sure wanted a longyi of my own.

“How much?”

“9000 Kyat, plus material,” the girls noted.

“So that’s $10. Wow, let’s do this!”

Material cost me $4, but it wasn’t really about the cost in the end. Or even the dress. Sure we went to market and exchanged money with locals for a service, but our little lunch coordinating tailor named Ma-Sue ended up cementing wonderful memories and bonds into our hearts. She called us sister every time she addressed us, and we certainly felt like part of her family. A few photos below of our shopping and tailoring experience, which was both exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. We were stared at on many occasions, but as soon as we said, “Mingalaba (မင်္ဂလာပါ!” (hello) in Burmese the people’s faces changed from concerned curiosity to huge, beaming smiles accompanied by a furiously friendly waves. This was one of my favourite days of the trip!

To the market we go with Ma-Sue, and we are greeted with too many fabric options.

Having a great time shopping in the local market.

Ella, Erin, and I have selected our patterns!

Getting fitted for our blouses and longyis. Ma-Sue was so generous and gave us each an extra blouse and skirt to take home.

I may have been a little tall for them to measure me …

Ella showing off her custom longyi and blouse. The photo, taken in the dorm, doesn’t do the colouring justice at all. She received many subsequent compliments from passers-by.

 

Some of the final products. What a cool experience! So glad to have shared it with these beauties.