From Yangon we headed to the airport for our internal flight to Heho in Shan State and part of the Shan Hill, an hours drive from Nyaung Shwe gateway to Inle Lake. At the small domestic airport we met Min Min our next guide for Inle Lake.
However, before arriving at Inle Lake we first stopped at a teak monastery of Shweyanpyay. We were supposed to have a quick stop here for about 15 minutes, but poor Min Min had a hard time getting us out after two hours. It was a great start to our trip to Inle Lake. The monastery made of teak was lit just beautifully, there were plenty of monks both young and old and it also happened to be a local festival where there were many local tribes present for the procession around the main monastery. We had a great afternoon photographing the monastery, monks and the locals. Min Min was just brilliant he asked locals and the monks if we could photograph them and also helped with getting them to pose for us. Although we only met him less than an hour before hand we could already tell he was going to be a great help but also great fun.
Eventually we moved on and headed to the lake. Inle lake is 45 square miles, with an average depth of 2.1m which increases by 1.5m in the rainy season. We boarded our two boats for our 1 hour trip across the lake to our hotel on the lake. It was a beautiful day and headed out across the lake. It was amazing to see the local fishermen using their unusual rowing and fishing techniques. Others were removing weeds from the bottom of the lake which is used as fertiliser. The houses and little villages are built on stills in the lake and vegetables like tomatoes are grown on the lake as floating gardens held in place by bamboo sticks. Around the lake are small towns, pagodas, stupas and monasteries. Here is a short video of us arriving and some time on the lake.
We arrived at our hotel which was stunning, 6 chalets again built on stilts on the lake, but each beautiful appointed our best hotel on the entire trip. It was also a training hotel, the Thahara Inle Heritage, the staff were very friendly the chalets fantastic and the food at the restaurant there just amazing, again the best food of the tour.
Without a doubt I would revisit this magnificent Lake, although I do hear that tourism is having a detrimental impact on the Lake itself.
Over the next couple of days we visited many of the sights on and around the lake. The people were really nice and didn't mind at all being photographed and they were good fun. One trip in particular I recall where we visited the village of Maing Tauk on the lake which on that day was holding the travelling market, called such because it rotates between five different villages around the lake. From here we travelled up the surrounding hill to a Holy Retreat. It was extremely hot and getting close to mid day. On the way we met local tribes people who were returning home from the market. The had left there village which was many miles further up in the mountain at about 4am and carried down with them the produces they had grown and were selling. They were now returning home with what they had bought at the market. It was a very strenuous trip for them that they took weekly. But they were very good natured referring to the three males amongst us as 1 baby, 2 baby and 3 baby due to our portly statures. I won't be saying who was whom!
When we eventually reached the retreat/monastery, exhausted and boiling hot, it was another photographer's dream, where we spent hours taking photographs. Min Min had taken two younger guides with him to help us along and who cooked us a great meal at the retreat. What was amazing about these young guys was their knowledge with regard to British soccer. Apparently most Myanmar men spent much of their nights watching soccer from Europe.
The following morning we headed out for sunrise on the lake and although photographically speaking it was a little disappointing with the cloudy skies. Still we stopped in the middle of the lake to take photographs. After a little while the same young guides came along in their own boats with our morning breakfast which was a lovely touch and we enjoyed a quite morning drinking tea and biscuits on the lake, very sophisticated indeed!
Heading back to the airport when we left was also interesting. Min Min had suggested that we eat at a restaurant a couple of minutes from the airport, the receptionist would take our baggage and passports and check us in and instead of sitting at the airport for two hours we could enjoy a good meal. Which we did, however, we took a little longer than we have. When we arrived at the airport the airline staff were at the door rushing us in to the airport we were rushed through security with all sort of alarms going off which were ignored, then I was asked for a boarding card at the door to the tarmac, which I didn't have but they said "just go on". We raced across the tarmac ran up the steps and found ourselves seats. I would say that from the time we got out of the minibus to the time the plane took of it was only about 7 minutes. As Mike said better than any private plane service you would get. So now we were off to Mandalay!