Travel

Life on the water

Kyra Tan explores historic sites, checks out artisanal workshops and learns cooking on an excursion to Myanmar’s Lake Inle

WHEN you visit Myanmar’s Lake Inle, you must, of course, do the obligatory tour of the lake, riding in an open-top boat with a motor whirring loudly.

I was glad I came prepared with ear plugs. And sunscreen, umbrella and hat.

Bird food came in handy too. Throw it to seagulls loitering nearby and watch them perform aerial acrobatics as they swoop down to catch the food with amazing accuracy.

Though fun, such close proximity to the birds means there is high chance of getting hit by their poop. But I heard that is supposed to bring luck.

No thanks? Then an open umbrella might help, except it will block your view. Or maybe just carry plenty of wet wipes.

You can also expect National Geographic-esque scenes of the fishermen who row their boats with one leg.

A villager from the Pa-O tribe selling her wares at the five-day market.PHOTO: KYRA TAN

Coupled with the cloud-topped mountains in the distance and the deep blue water that ripples with a silk-like sheen, this means you will get Instagram-worthy shots.

NEW EXPERIENCES

Don’t miss the five-day lakeside market, which moves around the villages on a rotating basis.

You will find the Shan and Intha people and villagers from the Pa-O hill tribes selling fresh produce and the catch of the day. Try some local food such as glutinous rice cooked in a bamboo tube and if you dare, fried red ants.

Most visitors also drop by artisanal workshops at villages by the lake.

I discovered an interesting one where women gathered to turn the fibres in the stems of lotus flowers into threads, then weave them into cloth.

You can purchase finished products after viewing craft demonstrations at the workshops. Some of these workshops are attached to restaurants, so you can get lunch after shopping.

I also visited the village of In Dein, which is known for its magnificent collection of stupas, some of which date back to the 12th century.

A section of stupas had been given a fresh coat of white and gold paint among other haphazard attempts at restoration, causing much heartache for archaeologists.

Others that were left untouched lost the fight with creeping vegetation and the elements.

But as I picked my way among the crumbling structures, I felt as if I had travelled back in time.

WHAT’S COOKING?

If you want to have more than just pretty photos to show for your trip, take a cooking class.

A relatively new phenomenon in the area, it is catching on fast.

At Mr Min Cooking Class, learning sessions take place in a wooden hut on stilts in the lake.

Three sides of the hut offer views of boats, other houses and green swathes of floating vegetable gardens — all set in water so calm and deeply reflective that it might as well have been a piece of glass.

I learnt to prepare dishes such as pickled tea leaf salad, chicken curry, tofu curry and chickpea soup.

As much as I would have liked to be a focused student, I found myself sneaking looks out of the window to check out the gorgeous views.

Feed the seagulls but watch your head.PHOTO: KYRA TAN

When the food was ready, everyone sat down at its outdoor patio under pretty red parasols to savour the dishes while enjoying the scenic sights of the mountains and the lake.

My short culinary journey wrapped up with a trip around the village on a manually paddled canoe so narrow that when I took a deep breath, it rocked precariously.

Surrounded by the wondrous landscape, I felt lost in the beauty of it.

But hey, watch out for the birds.


GETTING THERE

I flew from Mandalay to Heho on an Air KBZ domestic flight and then took a onehour van ride to the town of Nyaung Shwe, the main hop-off point to Lake Inle.

TRAVELLER’S TIPS

  • Stay in the town of Nyaung Shwe to be near shops and restaurants. Opt for a hotel stay next to the lake if you prefer a more scenic area, but note that it can take up to 30 minutes to town by taxi.
  • Hire a boat through your hotel or at the pier in Nyaung Shwe one day ahead if you want to leave early the next day.
  • Lake Inle, at about 900m above sea level, has temperatures typical of a highland area. It can get cold, so bring warm clothing.
  • E-mail myominhtun2008@gmail.com for more information on Mr Min Cooking Class.