Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Touring Inle Lake

"How can this trip last all day?" I wondered this to myself as the boat pilot zipped us out of the village of Thaung Tho, and headed us back to to the northern end of the lake ahead of the pack.

Oh, that's how, I realized after the umpteenth stop at a place that makes this-and-that. I'd be shown around to see how the weaving is done, how the cigars are made, how the parasol ends up a parasol, then escorted to the shop. I like stuff like this as it is actually interesting, but all was pretty far out of my price range since I'd spent all my money at the market at our first stop.

And it felt a little like the sort of thing you try to avoid in Egypt or India, the tuk-tuk trip where you visit carpet and papyrus shops. I'd rather just pay a fair fee for the boat trip than get a percentage of each purchase siphoned off as commission.

The lake itself included many people fishing, or using boats the way we use cars as they zipped from place to place. Homes were built on stilt communities or along the bank. The whole scene was idyllic aside from the boat engines, and since I was ahead of the pack, I wasn't surrounded by boats full of other tourists.

I did have to use the boat umbrella on the way back. I didn't want to get sunburned, and the sun rose higher and higher as the day progressed.

We pulled up early for lunch at Phaung Daw Oo Paya, a town in the western part of the lake. Ah, I realized, looking at the name of the restaurant. This place—Ngwe Zin Yaw—had rooms available. This had been my backup plan if I hadn't found a room in Nyuangshwe. The man who'd sold me the boat ride had mentioned this place had rooms available.

I was glad not to have ended up here. Especially when I read this later, part of the statement from the National League for Democracy about tourism in Inle Lake:

Currently, the very survival of Inlay Lake, famed as much for its beauty as for the unique way of life of its water dwellers is seriously challenged. Deforestation has caused soil erosion landslides, sedimentation and climate change, causing the surface area of the lake to shrink by half over the last thirty years. Uncontrolled use of fertilizers and pesticides for the floating gardens, undisciplined discharge of waste chemicals from weavers and smiths and the disposal of untreated sewage and waste water form hotels and restaurants have polluted the lake so badly some of the rare species of fish are near extinction. As the water is no longer potable, the local people who have lived off the lake for centuries are now obliged to get their drinking water from distant sources. The climate has changed so precipitously the whole ecological system has been upset to the extent that the development potent of the tourist industry itself is threatened. It is no longer permitted to open new hotels, inns or restaurants.

After I read that statement, I wasn't sure I should have even been in the area. Still, I was glad to be heading back to Teakwood at the end of the day.

We stopped several more times on the way back to Nyuangshwe—at the jumping cat monastery, which is now the sleeping cat monastery, at some in-lake vegetable gardens, alongside some whitewashed stupas. The trip was really quite nice, even though I was tired of the enforced shopping by the time I was let off the boat at 2:30 in the afternoon. I hadn't yet realized I probably had no business being there in the first place.

I gave the driver a tip and found the man who'd set me up on this trip to pay him, and trotted off to Teakwood to move into my room for the night.

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