Inle Lake – Visiting the shops and the view from the top

Even before landing in Heho, the airport closest to Inle Lake, my camera was already filling up with photos.

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The taxi ride (about 25 USD) was a breathing taking hour ride through the mountains of the Shan state. We switched around as we made our way down to the lake.

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We drove by part of the lake, but only a small tease of what would see over the next few days.

We decided to try to bike around the lake, but the road doesn’t so much go around the lake, as it does around mountains, and vineyards and country roads. Sounds lovely, right? Only you’re still in a developing country, so your bikes are old cruisers, the road is an old country roads half crumbling, and you’re sharing it with trucks and tractors that blast past you. O and it’s really hot. It was lovely, but after a few hours we got tired and hired a boat man to take us around the lake.

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Tony negotiating. I tried to convince him we should just continue biking, but luckily he won. For $15 we had a boat for the rest of the day.

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Since we also had a full day of boating the next day, with ruins and markets, we decided it would be okay if we visited some tourist traps, I mean factories/shops.

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The first shop was a lotus making facility.

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It was actually a pretty cool sight to watch.

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Next we stopped by a metal works and watched some silver making.

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Afterwards we made over to the boat making shop where the tourist friendly price for your own boat was $3,000.

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Our final factory/shop was the Kayan women silk factory, which I found a little creepy.

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There are many ideas regarding why the coils are worn. Some anthropologists suggest the rings protected women from becoming slaves by making them less attractive to other tribes. Contrastingly it has been theorised that the coils originate from the desire to look more attractive by exaggerating sexual dimorphism, as women have more slender necks than men. Kayan women, when asked, acknowledge these ideas, and often say that their purpose for wearing the rings is cultural identity (one associated with beauty). However, when it comes to Inle Lake, I think a large part of it has to do with the tourist revenue.

Final Tips

Boat rentals are easily negotiable, especially after 10AM when most tourists are already out on the lake. I heard people pay anywhere from up to 60USD for the day. We paid 15USD for a boat from 2PM til past sunset with just me and Tony.

Overall, if you have some extra time to kill, visiting the tourist factories/shops is a fun way to kill an hour or two, but the prices there are definitely 5 times higher than the normal tourist price you would get at the market.

Check out my other posts on Myanmar (with many more to come!)
Yangon –  Airport Rides and Botataung Pagoda
Mandalay – Mandalay Palace & Mandalay Hill

Yangon – Airport Rides and Botataung Pagoda

After our 36 hours of flying through 6 airports, we finally landed in Yangon, Myanmar. It took probably 2 hours to get through immigration because all information at customs was being entered manually.

Jet-lagged and delirious, the 10K drive from the airport to our budget inn took an hour.

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Compared to any other Asian city, you will notice no motor bikes and instead old 90s? 80s? Toyotas living out the rest of their lives. Motorbikes are illegal, and there’s various rumors of why. One version about the ban is that a person on a motorbike made a threatening gesture to a military general; another is that a motorbike rider distributed pro-democracy leaflets, and the third is that a general’s son was killed while riding a motorbike.

Furthermore, in May 2003, a ban on using car horns was implemented in six townships of Downtown Yangon to reduce noise pollution. In April 2004, the car horn ban was expanded to cover the entire city which is why in stand still traffic, on a hot regular day, it is still fairly silent.

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I heard that Yangon, had some colonial architecture, but compared to what I saw in South America, it was decaying at best. Although, I heard most of the property is being renovated as foreign investment grows. Maybe in half a decade, they’ll be colonial buildings worthy of a photograph beyond a depressing, neglected sight.

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The exchange rate at the airport was about 970 Kyats for $1 so when we exchange 100 dollar bill, we got 97 single notes, making Tony feel like a baller.

We stayed at Hnin Si Budget Inn. We paid about $27 for a double room, but the current rate is now $35 or maybe even more since we left in November. The room is bare at most, kinda like a box with a shared mixed gender bathroom. As mentioned before, lodging in Myanmar is disappointing at best where you have two options, a $300 hotel, or an overpriced (by Asia standards) simple guest room. We opted to save money on lodging so we could travel more.

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By the time we got settled in, the sun was already set. Walking around the barely lit streets was a challenge. There wasn’t sidewalks where we were, as much as just concrete slabs to cover up sewage, so instead you walk besides the cars, hoping that there’s way too much traffic for the cars to go fast enough to hurt you. We walked by this tree house looking thing that I thought was cool.

We walked around noticing, a high rate of donut shops around us, but besides that, limited eating options near by. While I can be pretty adventurous with food choices at times, I didn’t want to spend the rest of my trip in a bathroom so we opted for the most cleanest, western friendly place we could find. “Japan, Japan” was to be our dining of choice before we passed out into sleep. Probably our most disappointing food selection of the trip since we went in blind.

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The next morning we woke around 6, had some basic breakfast at the inn (fried egg and worst toast ever). I’m not sure if locals ever eat bread in Myanmar because the only thing worse than crappy wifi in the country, was the crappy bread. But it was free and with no food poisoning history, so I’ll take it. IMG_9589

It was around 6:30 AM and we walked over to Botataung Pagoda, about a 15 minute walk. Already, the locals were out and about. I guess there’s no such thing as lazy Sunday?

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Fun or sad fact, but the original Botataung Pagoda was actually destroyed in WWII, and this amazing structure we walked around is a replica.  Within the stupa was this hall of mirrors that also holds some ancient relics from the original pagoda. It might also hold an ancient buddha hair or something.

Entrance for foreigners is $3 USD, where you must walk barefoot and I scared together whatever clothes I had that covered my knees and shoulders, not an easy task when its already 90 and humid by 7AM.

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Above are just a few shots out of the 300 or so I took within the span of 2 hours we walked around. Although Botataung Pagoda is only the third largest in Yangon, it was the first one I saw on this trip, so everything amazed me. Even reflecting back on everything I saw during my trip, this was probably one of my favorite Pagodas that I visited.

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After the morning visit to Botataung Pagoda, we took a cab to the airport for another flight to Mandalay. Above and below are just some snapshots I took from the car as we drove.

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Besides buses, most common mode of transportation are pick up trucks.

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We got to the airport a little bit early so we snacked on some dim sum bites while we waited.

Mandalay Day 1 – Mandalay Palace, Mandalay Hills

One of my favorite parts of Myanmar were my two days in Mandalay, the second largest city and the last royal capital in Myanmar. Although compared to Yangon (the largest city), Mandalay appears almost sleepy in way.

There are buses that go between Mandalay and Yangon, but we were short on time and opted for a flight on Air Bagan. As much as I wanted to avoid giving the government more money, due to our time crunch, flying was our best option.

We learned the hard way that Yangon airport has two terminals, an international and domestic. How do you get from one to the other? You have an awkward 7 minute walk in the blistering sun. While the international terminals looks relatively modern, the domestic is quite a different story. The airline stands remind me of impromptu bake sale signs. There’s 2 gates, and since they don’t have or don’t use a PA system, you are kinda on the lookout for when your flight is being called. They give each passenger a sticker that lets the staff know which flight you’re on. Of course none of the flights leave on time, so all you have is a ton of confused looking white folks in a hot large room with a few giant fans.

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Eventually we made it to the prop plane that took us the 1-2 hours to Mandalay. The flight itself wasn’t too bad, they had some snacks, coffee, Sprite, things that you can’t even get on an American flight anymore. One was around $90 or so, so 99% of the passengers were tourists. IMG_9694 (2)

The ride from the airport to our hotel was about an hour $12. We drove by pagoda after pagoda, after golden towers and more, giving us only a small introduction of what was to come.

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Our hotel was next to Mandalay Palace, which is actually a lot bigger than it looks. We killed a few hours just trying to walk around it. We skipped going inside though since the original one was pretty much destroyed during WWII and what you see above was a replica that was made in 1990s (potentially with slave labor) and I think a large portion of the palace is off-limits to tourists and is being used by the military.

Behind it, you can see the grand Mandalay Hill.

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After realizing that our walk from our hotel to the hill was going to be a bit longer than it appeared we took a taxi to Shwenandaw Monastery known for its beautiful teak carvings.

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Shwenandaw Monastery is the single remaining major original structure of the original Royal Palace today

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After the teak monastery, we walked by Atumashi Monastery (no photo) another forced labor reconstruction project by the Burma’s Archaeological Department. The photo above is Kuthodaw Pagoda, which holds the world’s largest book. Since the sun was already setting, we had to run past it without time for much exploration.

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We wanted to watch the sunset from the top of Mandalay Hill, however, since we ran out of time, we ended up running up Mandalay Hill during sunset instead. The hill is 240 meters (790 ft) tall and is absolutely covered in beautiful Pagodas, and Monasteries. I tried to take some photos but most came out blurry as I snapped while running up the hill. On the bright side, since we were a little late for the sunset, we had the whole hill walk almost entirely to ourselves.

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Since the stairs are all part of religious temples, the whole walk was barefoot, so there’s my intro to barefoot running.

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As we scaled more and more stairs, each temple got more and more grand.

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They say it takes about 45 minutes to walk to the top. Tony and I did it in 20 minutes and barely had time so see the few remaining minutes of the setting sun.  IMG_9782

I loved being at top. Mandalay is the largest monk city in the world. I loved seeing the mix of traveling monks, local tourists and western tourist all enjoying the same beautiful sunset. IMG_9815 (2)

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At first, I felt a little shy photographing people leading their ordinary lives, but as we were walking around, we noticed many locals and monks taking photos of us. Once a family even asked to pose with us which was a little weird but okay. Western tourists for much of Myanmar is still a new and recent new thing. It was a delight chatting with locals about life and the temples and Buddhism.

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After exhausting began to hit us, we decided to head back to the hotel area and get dinner. I had the stupid brilliant idea of trying to walk down the hill, instead of taking a motor taxi. There’s two ways to get down, a long walk in pitch darkness, or on the back of a scooter. I was a little weary of being on a motorbike without a helmet. So I convinced Tony we should walk down the hill. Huge mistake, it was pitch darkness, with constant cars and motorbikes on the narrow road. Unlike the stairs, the road winds around and around the mountain, making it a longer journey that one would think when they took the stairs. So as we’re walking, Tony is ready to kill me, I’m ready to kill myself and a nice kind stranger offered to take us down the rest of the way on the back of his bike. At this point, I was over my fear of riding without a helmet because I wanted to be off the road. We tried to pay the guy, but he just left after dropping of us off and thanking him.

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Dinner was at a Thai place called Rainforest, where for about 3 dollars we got to enjoy some green curry and a refreshing beer around the corner from our hotel.

Ever have a stranger do something nice for you?