My last day at Inle lake was a solo affair. After a 6:30 breakie I headed over to the local market, an experience! The fish were definitely fresh as they were still jumping, cheroot smoking local ladies filleted them to order. The butchers was as hygienic as it could be . Crossing the main street I settled for coffee and wi-fi access at the French Touch café. I’ve been cyber dead in the hotel they have a system where only the lights work at night and the current is insufficient to charge devices. To top that the strong 3 bar internet connection is not allowing pages to download. Looks like big brother is blocking western access. Emails and Apple messenger also barely work. I’m told the independent café are using VPN to circumvent the censorship.
I picked up my posh carbon fibre, full suspension mountain bike taking the road out-of-town that follows the lakes perimeter. I was greeted by the now familiar smiles, cheers and waves of the kids. I snapped a few pictures of this laid back rural landscape passing schools, boys with their oxen and carts before being stopped by a turquoise clad local asking if he could help me. I was directed to the North towards a hillside monastery with a huge staircase. I climbed the stairs but when I reached the top there were no monks and it was undergoing serious refurbishment.
Continuing past schools, ginger and sugar plantations set along whispering masses of bamboo I finally stopped at a health spa for lemon ginger tea. On reaching the fishing village of Khaung Dain I was surrounded by touts offering a lake crossing for $12. Using my standard 40% rule I eventually paid $5 for the 45 minute cruise, this included the bike fee.
We glided out of the village passing old ladies washing clothes and tending to babies, presumably the mothers were working in the fields and the fathers out fishing. Kids frolicked with rubber tyres as they dived off the ramshackle stilted homes. The floating vegetation slowed down the boats progress but no matter I was enjoying the silence occasionally broken by the cackle of youthful laughter. We followed a narrow channel having to stop to allow a fisherman to guide his sampan past before eventually the vegetation disappeared and we glided into the serene lake.
The waters were still and a mist caressed the mountaintops in the distance. There was an almost milky consistency to the air which contrasted with the mirrored waters of the lake. The boatman then ignited the massive onboard motor and we jettisoned at speed into the heart of the lake. In the distance I could see the artistic ballet of the fishermen precariously balanced on the edge of their boats. No matter how many times I see this I will marvel at their skill. As we approached my host reverently shut off his engines and we drifted slowly past. once clear he again fired up the monolithic engine and we careered across the lake.
Once at Mine Thauk I disembarked on a 800 metre long teak bridge that linked the stilted houses to the mainland. I jumped back on my bike before reaching the pot holed track that is the main road, beyond this boys played cards and other games sheltering from the strong sun. For some reason they all had different EPL soccer shirts and one a fuchsia coloured wig!
At the rear of the village I stopped at the Forest Monastery to chat to the young monks before climbing the hill to the pagoda. From here I took dirt tracks along the mountainside passing monks and farmers who all greeted me warmly. I stopped at a crystal clear pool were monks washed their robes and drank water at the mountain spring. After around 11 km of this cart track I emerged at the “main road” a single track of uneven Tarmac. My eyes lit up as I spotted the red Mountain Winery; unfortunately this meant another cycle ride up the hill. The wines were drinkable but unlikely to make the shelves at M & S. Freewheeling merrily downhill after my free tasting I emerged in the township of Nyaung Shwe my home for the last two days.
After cycling along the waterfront and chatting to lady monks clad in pink I spotted some of my group stopping for overly sweet tea, coconut samosas and two other baked deserts. After shedding a dollar I returned my bike and settled to make my notes of the last few days. Tomorrow we drive to Heho to take a plane to Yangon, then it’s a five-hour bus ride via Bago to the base of the Golden Rock followed by a hike to the top for sunset. It’s day 11 of the tour only 4 days left then Bangkok