We rose early and watched the Bagan balloon launch over breakfast before zipping off to the local airport for a short flight east to Inle Lake, a “must see” on any Myanmar circuit. The descent provided a decent overview of the terrain: Inle Lake drains a luscious agricultural region with a patchwork of colorful crops cascading off of western and eastern ridges… from the air it looks a lot like the north-south Napa Valley.
It was a bumpy 45-minute drive to the backpacker’s paradise of Nyaung Shwe set on Inle’s northern access canal. The canals harbors motored longboats – much like those we rode on Bangkok’s klongs – plying to and from the lake. To get oriented we checked into our budget Inle Apex Hotel ($25/night) then Sue and I divided our bickering boys… Sue and Max ventured west to find an ATM and scout the boat rentals; Ben and I headed east in search of Pancake Kingdom. We reconvened there, soothed souls with some crepes, returned to the Apex and rented some bikes.
Nyaung Shwe exemplifies Myanmar’s booming tourist economy… hotels are rising quickly and it’s easy to see the town is struggling with the speed of commercialization. Bike just a few blocks outside of the tourist trail and you stumble on locals bathing and swimming in canals choked with plastic bags. Scooters are everywhere, but paved roads are few, narrow and bumpy. Motor-driven longboats are pushing the dugout canoes and leg-rowers out into calmer canals. But it’s Burma, the locals are lovely, and the weather is fine.
We point our bikes west and begin a ride out to the local Hot springs. I immediately get us lost in a local village… which is my favorite part of travelling, but the rest of our pack is less comfortable with that kind of adventure, and after an earful I navigate us back on track. I guess I’ll save the explorations for my morning solo sojourns. The ride takes us down a lovely, shaded lane… it would be a great ride if the road were broader, smoother and less trafficked. But it’s Burma, and we bump our way through it then up a long hill to the hot springs, which are nasty. The boys and I get in anyway (Because we’re boys), and soon the characters show up. We called one Borat and max named the other Dennis Rodman. At least we can say that the people were as colorful as the water.
After the bumpy return ride, we deserved a good western meal, and we found one at the Chillax café. I’m happy to say the food here in Myanmar has been an improvement over what we could find in Nepal and Bhutan… the local stuff is fresh and the western food is a reasonable facsimile. Sue and I like the local the Myanmar Beer… the only downside is there are a lot of smokers.