Next stop Heho!

Added 10 Jan 2015

An early start this morning as we must say farewell to our ship and continue our tour. On the steps of the pier we can hear a PA system and it becomes apparent there is an early morning exercise session run by the local Chinese immigrants. We are tempted to join in but fortunately we don’t have time.

Instead we join our private coaches for the drive to the airport. Our boarding cards are again brightly coloured stickers and a piece of card, but they seem to work and we are soon in flight towards HEHO. The snack served on board this flight can only be described as having play-doh qualities. Two lumps! One of our guests makes a mouse and dinosaur out of his, some guests eat them, but most of us put them back in the box.

On arrival in Heho, we’re met by our two new guides, Sue and Twee Twee. They will accompany us during our time at Inle Lake. Shortly after leaving Heho we stop at a paper workshop to see how paper is made and transformed into parasols, books and various other products. It’s really interesting and amazing how the parasols are made from bamboo with no real mechanical intervention. We each received a parasol on the boat so the workshops don’t sell much on this occasion.

The town of Nyaung Shwe is the gateway to Inle Lake. On arrival we decide to take a walk around the busy food market. It is fascinating but we have to take care. The market stalls are made of bamboo and covered with tarpaulin secured with string. Unfortunately the tarpaulin is fitted for the locals … at less than 5 feet from ground level! This means over 50% of our guests have to stoop to walk around. It is clear we are the main attraction, particularly the taller members of our party.

We booked lunch at the Green Chilli Restaurant. A good choice. After lunch we transfer to the quayside to join our private water transport to our hotel. Our water taxis are long, narrow wooden boats just wide enough for a plastic deck chair with a cushion for added comfort. Each boat takes four or five people and the boatmen propel us with an outboard motor on a long pole. We have nine boats and they will remain with us throughout our Inle Lake adventures.

The trip to the hotel is around one hour. At first we head through fairly narrow inlets and then the scenery opens up dramatically. Inle is a freshwater lake located in the Taunggyi District of Shan State. It is the second largest lake in Myanmar with an estimated surface area of nearly 45 square miles and one of the highest at an elevation of 2,900 feet. During the dry season the average water depth is 7 feet (2.1 m), with the deepest point being 12 feet. During the rainy season levels can increase by 5 feet or more.

Approximately 70,000 people live in the four main towns bordering the lake, in numerous small villages along the shore and on the lake itself. They call themselves Intha. Most residents are devout Buddhists, and live in simple houses of wood and woven bamboo on stilts. They are largely self-sufficient farmers. En-route to our hotel we drive past some of these villages and start to see what life is like. When we arrive into the main part of the lake we also see some of the local fishermen. They are known for practicing a distinctive rowing style which involves standing at the stern on one leg and wrapping the other leg around the oar. This unique style evolved for the reason that the lake is covered by reeds and floating plants making it difficult to see while seated. The leg rowing style is only practiced by the men. Women row in the customary style, using the oar with their hands and sitting cross legged at the stern.

We’re soon arriving at the Aureum Palace Hotel and having fun disembarking our water taxis. They wobble a bit when you stand up (the boats that is). The hotel staff greet us and are soon showing us the way to our rooms. Rooms are accessed along private paths or wooden board-walks and the accommodations are large and comfortable. Dinner this evening is served in a private banquet room, and afterwards we retire to bed. It is noticeable how cold it is here once the sun has set, so we put the heaters on, and the pyjamas!

Dawn Furlong

Photo: Fisherman on Inle Lake © Dawn Furlong