Inle Lake

Myanmar Series: Inle Lake

It’s on the bright and breezy Saturday of my 32nd birthday when I saw the trees lining up on the banks of the water and the rich colors of white and blue and green in sight. My new husband of a few months organized a little weekend trip to one of the most popular destinations in Myanmar. I didn’t know what to expect, really. Breathtaking would be an understatement.

In my soul, or the deepest feelings one can have, I feel sometimes I can be very content without needing to speak. I can manage to be very honest through writing and that is all that matters. The closeness of a feeling sometimes is consuming like a black hole and i am left wondering if writing is really just another way to explore myself without drawing conclusions.

We sat in the car for a long time while our driver took us 6 hours north from our home base in Naypyitaw. At the window, I was trying to remember a time when I had an experience like this. Then I remembered I’d never had an experience quite like this. The way we moved through the countryside of Myanmar through toll roads and lush green forestry. I tried to remember a time, anytime, that was similar to this but the world was only a pretend world that i watched the way you would watch a film, none of it real. The naive girl in me watched so profoundly in awe at the surface of everything: dirt roads, cows sharing our road, road construction done by people only. I was watching with somber eyes as the world and even myself will have to continue on while they worked tirelessly through the night. 

In the morning, we reached the boats to take us to the lake. Fishermen are standing on the boats while surrounded by birds dipping around their shoulders. The Myanmar people set out to help are speaking in their language. I began to realize how much comfort I take for granted, living in a beautiful home with everything that can indulge my little heart. It seemed strange that the day before, we were packing our things for our trip to the lake, and filling out documents while drinking Vietnamese coffee. Life is different in every city in Myanmar. Naypyitaw is nothing like Inle Lake, and nothing like Yangon, and all the while Yangon is nothing like any place in the world. The people operating boats fight to offer services, promising sunset views and water cities and homes on stilts. 

Who am I to know what it’s like to wake up and fight for just a little piece of something? 

We sat in a long boat fit for 5 people. It was a split cost of about $40 USD. The boat starts and it moves onward toward our destination. Miles and miles of lotus flowers, restaurants and homes in the middle of the water, children clambering over a game of catch. Gaston asks, who is freer, us or them?

Maybe they wouldn’t know what to make of the question as they’ve no reality of anything different. They would never know the sounds of honking yellow taxis and men with Rolex’s rolling down their tinted windows in their Aston Martins. Or no availability at restaurants with a 3 month reservation period. The boat driver took us through long tribes of river cities and the families wave to us as we abandon through their water towns, dissolving away into the earth.

At one point, we stopped in many of the village shops in the water. Girls from the family came to explain to us how they make scarves and clothing out of lotus fibers that have been extracted from the stems. We saw them working the man-made weaving machine in awe. The wooden home on water was beautiful and sturdy but the paint was peeling in places and there were phrases of words on the walls. 

At some point, we also saw a boat full of feathery babies approaching the restaurant. We see dogs watching cautiously, then approaching with a wag of his tail. I see people pet his sweet face and he closes his eyes for a long time. I wonder if anyone else ever pets him.

We make our way to the stupas. It was mesmerizing to see such oldness preserved for so long. A local boy, much smaller than I, wears flip flops as he emerges with another young girl, his sister. They march past us silently but smiles shyly in the distance. What must he think of us, a group of foreigners snapping photographs of their poverty stricken village where he’s come to call home.

I am astonished to step so lovingly into this world of pure beauty and innocence. The fishermen on the boats gather their catch for the day, and become tourist attractions as the sun is setting. The sound of swishing and splashing becomes louder as we get closer. The fisherman has had a hard day’s job, and he is ready to settle into the sleepy night. Somehow that simplicity seems to make perfect sense, but what exactly it is I couldn’t say for sure, and what the ultimate purpose is for me, I cannot tell yet.

Back on the mainland of Nuang Shwe, the streets are filled with mild lighting, foreigner friendly restaurants and lots of backpackers. Some of the shops are a big contrast to these restaurants – I felt conspicuous weaving through vendors with rainbow colored umbrellas, fruits and veggies that were steaming in the sun hours earlier. We wandered through a street where people sold plastic shoes and tvs and auto parts.

If there is one thing that is common in Myanmar, it is that the whole country is alive with sound and color and there is no way to escape the stream of voices or the roar of bike engines, even in the farmland or the forests. In truth, I don’t mind it. Being in the middle of everything is the ultimate truth of our world. We are only a passing segment of wanderers as we admire them the same way their set of eyes are admiring us. 

After dinner we stayed close together and hid in the comfort of each other, high in the mountains and enjoying the coolness of the approaching night.