Why You Should Not Miss Inle Lake

Inle-LakeCredits: Sepia Lane HT Dots and Green Papers; Simply Kelly Christmas Treasure Kit Cream Scalloped paper; Flower, Frame elements and paper 3 from Sus Design Let’s Scrap Kit; Scrap with Brooke polka dot papers; Paper 1 from Studio Tangie All That is Best Kit

This beautiful highland lake, wedge in the valley between two mountain ranges of Central Myanmar, was the reason why we found ourselves in Nyaung Shwe.

farmer

In 2015, UNESCO designated Inle Lake the country’s first biosphere reserve. This sanctuary was established in 1985 to protect and conserve the natural vegetation, wetland birds, and fresh water fishes.

wildlife

Inle Lake is known for water birds and migratory birds and for the floating agriculture farms of the lake. The locals, known as Inthas, learn to fish from the age of 13 and generally continue until they are around 75 years old.

fishermanUsing just one leg to balance on the front of the boat, these skillful fishermen use the other leg to guide their conical nets through the freshwater lake.

Inle Lake has become a popular tourist destination, with visitors flocking to photograph the fishermen who still use an age-old technique for catching fish in the shallow water.

fisherman-posing-for-tourists

Floating Gardens and Fishing Villages

The expansive lake is 116 square kilometers wide and is home to some 70,000 Inthas living in numerous villages along the lake’s shores and on the lake itself.

people-everyday-life-2

The communities are settlements made up of stilted, stationary structures sitting above the water.

Houses-and-Village

They are connected to form channels navigated by long dugout boats.

channels

They grow crops in floating gardens, making use of traditional hydroponic methods. It is a fascinating and unusual technique that showcases Burmese creativity and tenaciousness, as it is not an easy task.

floating-garden

The farmers gather up weeds from the bottom of the lake and make them into floating beds in their garden areas, secured in position using bamboo poles.

flower-floating-farm

Depending on the season, they grow flowers, tomatoes, squash and other fruits and vegetables. You will see farmers paddling up and down between the rows tending to their crops.

Boat Excursion

The tranquil lake is a great way to decompress after the hot and dusty excursions throughout the country, and the best way to explore the lake is to choose a longboat, sit back and float wherever your guide takes you.

long-boat-parking

Never mind that it may seem like a tourist trap to many. The workshop stops along the way, in my opinion, is part of the charm.

umbrella-making-workshop

Some may look too touristy and may have been set up for such, but they are nice breaks to stretch your legs and meet the locals. Having said that, here are some notable stops.

Lotus Weave Workshop

Lotus plants flourish and grow in abundance on the pristine water of Inle Lake, yielding lovely blooms and healthy stems needed to create fibers for lotus weaving. The workshop is set up in such a way that visitors can be guided through the process chronologically –

lotus-fiber

how fibers are extracted from the stem to how the thread is spun using a spindle.

weavers

All done by hand. The process is tedious, a scarf will require 4,000 lotus stems and may take weeks of hard work to complete.

Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda

Phaung-Daw-Oo-Pagoda

The holiest religious site in the Inle Lake area houses five old images of the Buddha that are entirely covered in gold leaf.

market-outside-the-pagoda

Surrounding the Pagoda, and in the basement are shops selling traditional Shan and Burmese merchandise. It is usually part of the boat tour.

Shwe Indein Pagoda

One of the 17 small villages of Inle Lake, at the end of the narrow Indein Creek on the western banks, is dotted with stupas dating a few centuries back. There are 2 sets of pagodas, the first set Nyaung Oak Pagodas are the first set behind the village and near the boat landing.

Nyaung-Oak-Monastery

A covered stairway leads to the 2nd set, Shwe Inn Thein. This mysterious, hillside setting is a complex of hundreds of weather-beaten pagodas of many sizes in various state of ruin.

shwe-Indein-weather-beaten

A truly magnificent sight and should not be missed. Some tours will eliminate this village due to its remoteness.

Shwe-Indein-collage

If you have the time and don’t mind an extra hour at the river, do go the extra mile for this reward.

Here’s sharing with you more captures of the beautiful community of Inle Lake.

farming-village

structures-forming-channels

fishermen-at-dawnFishermen caught at dawn
peopleIntha Tribes on market day
fishermen-posing-for-touristsFisherman posing for tourists
people-everyday-lifeGoing about their regular chores

house-details

Useful Info:

Myanmar’s 2nd largest lake, Inle, is best accessed from Nyaung Township. Boat trips can be arranged directly at the docks or through hotels or guesthouses.

boat-dock.jpg

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Nyaung Shwe

One look at the sloping and winding road, I am grateful for the decision not to walk or bike. Passing several grapevines,

Outdoor-Seatingwe arrived at the outdoor seating at the top of the hill, overlooking the sprawling vineyard of the estate and Inle Lake shimmering in the distance – a view that could almost pass as Spain, France or Italy.

view.jpg

 

The Red Mountain Estate Vineyard and Winery, lying at 900 meters above sea level, produces Myanmar’s best wines with locally grown grapes imported from France and Spain.  Set up in 2002 its first wines were produced in 2006.

wine-tasting

We opted for the sampler albeit not the best we’ve had, but surprisingly not bad. Along with the wine, they also serve local and international food.

dessert-at-Red-MountainBecause we’ve had lunch already, we got desserts to go with the wine.

It was a fun afternoon and an enjoyable change from the traditional and historical route we have been visiting since the first day in Mandalay.

Nyaung Shwe is the main access point to the Inle Lake and Wetland Sanctuary – also the main reason why we found ourselves there.

Marina

It serves as a marina to the longboats that act as transportation to the lake. A vibrant town with a relaxed vibe, this is Myanmar’s backpacker scene and where a few good international restaurants can be found.

One-Owl-Grill

 

Nestled just off Yone Gyi Road, next to the small canal is One Owl Grill, a Mediterranean restaurant with an eclectic menu.

One-Owl-Grill-tapas

They serve tapa style dishes and offers a range of smoothies, lassies and cocktails and a solid wine list.

The-French-Touch

The French Touch is a neat little French Café that serves terrific cocktails, good food, and great coffee. The French photographer owner of this café has his beautiful photos all over its walls.

Nyaung Shwe is located in the Southern Shan State and to visit, one has to take a flight from Yangon to Heho. The journey from Heho to Nyaung Shwe takes 45 minutes by taxi and costs around K30,000. The cheaper option is to travel by VIP buses. For approx. K24,000 you can travel overnight in a leather reclining seat with a blanket on the 10-hour journey from Yangon to Inle Lake.

More Useful Info:

Red Mountain Estate: Taung Chang Village Group Nyaung Shwe Township, South Shan State 

One Owl Grill 1 Yone Gyi Street, Nyaungshwe, Myanmar +95 9 262 972 841 

The French Touch Kyaung Taw Shayt Street | N0 23, Myo Lac Quater, Nyaungshwe, Myanmar +95 9 525 1365

Mandalay Appreciation

Mandalay-Day-2Credits: Jessica Sprague Dig in Deeper Course Materials

The day didn’t start out promising. Our first stop was the King Galon Gold Leaf Workshop, which (as the workshop’s name suggest) highlighted gold leaf making—an element strewn throughout Myanmar and quite significant to the country.

gold-leaf-workshop

Not exactly my cup of tea but I get why it is an integral part of our guide’s itinerary. Step inside a temple, and you will find locals rubbing a piece of gold leaf on the Buddha as an offering. At the workshop, you will see gold leaf affixed on lacquered boxes, trays, and accessories. Gold leaf is even made into traditional medicines when added with other ingredients. Some also apply it on their faces as a form of cosmetic. So you can say that Myanmar is known as a country of gold leaf and it has become an indispensable part of Myanmar culture.

Mahamuni-Buddha-Tempe
Mahamuni Buddha Temple (also known as Mahamuni Pagoda) is one of the best examples of a temple detailed with gold leaf.

Buddhist-worshippers

At its center is the Mahamuni Buddha image covered in gold foil donated as tributes by worshippers and pilgrims.

Temple and Monasteries, if you haven’t noticed, are a significant part of Myanmar life. Half a million males, thereabouts, are either vocational or novice monks and around 50,000 women become nuns.

monks

Essentially every Buddhist Burmese boy between the age of 7 and 13 go through monkhood once in their life.

novice-monks

They are expected to enter the monastery as a novice monk for a period of a few weeks to several months. They live in one of the many monasteries and nunneries that revolve around prayers and religious study, utterly dependent on daily alms for their needs.

alms

At around10:30 every morning, monks line up at the Magandayon Monastery in Amapura, just outside Mandalay.

alms-2

Monks with their empty bowls on their way to collect their daily alms.

It is a prominent Monastic College that accommodates thousands of monks in the country. For the Buddhists, it is their duty and honor to serve the monastery by giving alms.

From here, things got a lot more interesting as we crossed the Myittha River in a local ferry to Inwa. A trip here is like going back in time.

Inwa-Stupa

Though what used to be the Kingdom of Inwa during the Second Myanmar Empire is now destroyed and abandoned after a series of major earthquakes in 1839. The ruins, fort walls, and moat, however, still have traces of its past splendor and quite a few pagodas, and monasteries remain.

horse-cart

The more comfortable way to go around the island is by horse carts. The unpaved roads can be exhausting, and this allows for one to choose only the sites that catch your attention. Here’s what caught ours:

Bagaya Monastery

Bagaya-Monastery

This magnificent teakwood monastery once served as a royal palace. The entire monastery is decorated with timbers inscribed in repeating peacock and lotus motif, an impressive example of works from the Inwa era.

Bagaya-Monastery-collage.jpg

Today, it houses and schools local children.

classroom-bagaya

Yadana Hsemee Pagoda

Yadana-Hsemee-Pagodas-2
In a runic ambiance of small stupas in ruins stands a forgotten Buddha in lush green surroundings.

Nan Myint Watch Tower

nan-myint-towerThe Nan Myint or the watchtower, a square bell tower of beautiful masonry

It is the remains of the palace building nicknamed “the leaning tower of An.”

Just before the day ended, we headed back to Amapura to catch the sunset. It was the perfect ending to an insipid start.

U-Bein-Bridge

We had a few beers in a bar overlooking the U Bein bridge, a crossing that spans the Taungthaman Lake. The 1.2-kilometer bridge, built around 1850, is believed to be the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world. It may not look very royal, but its history indeed is as the planks of teaks used were taken from the old royal palace of Inwa.

U-Bein-Sunset

sunset

Add a dramatic sunset, and the U Bein bridge becomes magical.

boatride-U-Bein

One can hire a boat to go around the lake and admire the beauty of the bridge in all angles.

little-girl-at-Mahamuni
I can imagine Mandalay to be spectacular in the past for lurking around the ordinariness of today’s Mandalay are beautiful pagodas and monasteries.

Otaru: Yuki Akari no Michi

Credits: Natural Beauty created by and (c) Maria LaFrance

Held at the same time as Sapporo’s Snow Festival is nearby city Otaru’s Snow Light Path Festival (Yuki Akari no Michi).

Just a 30-minute train ride away, this beautifully preserved harbor town is well worth the day trip especially at this time of the year.

After dark, the snowy city of Otaru becomes alive when the lanterns and small snow sculptures are lighted,

illuminating the town and the canal area in an intimate way.

The town, though touristy, evokes an interesting piece of Hokkaido history that starts with its canal that runs through Otaru. Once a central part of the city’s busy port, Otaru’s canal was built to allow small ships to transport goods to the warehouses.

The canal was no longer of use when modern docking facilities have been constructed. The storehouses that line the canal has since been restored and turned into museums, shops, and restaurants. The canal is likewise adorned with Victorian-style street lamps that make for a beautiful stroll day or night.

A little more of Otaru from my lens:

The city as you arrive at the station.
They can’t come any fresher.
Fresh seafood only means great sushi at Waraku Sushi Bar.

The Sakaimachi Shopping Street

Otaru is 30 minutes by train via the Japan Rail from Sapporo Station.

Hello 2017

I know, it’s a little late for this but it has been a full 2016 with many great travels that will add to the long list that I wish to share with you.  Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll be seeing here this year.

2017-collage

A very belated Happy New Year to all!!

Greetings…

It has been a crazy, crazy month year!!!  This hopes to explain why posts have been slow in coming.  Writing to you in the early morning of Christmas eve in my hotel room in Hong Kong (here for work).  Tomorrow I fly early in the morning back to Manila to catch an afternoon flight to Tuguegarao where, for the first time, I will spend Christmas.

While I look forward to a good year ahead, I hope and pray that we try to keep the spirit of Christmas in our hearts and deeds the whole year round.

2014-xmas

Merry Christmas Everyone!!

 

It’s That Time of Year Again…

…when I rant about not having enough time for anything, when I wish I had the foresight to plan ahead, when I not only cram for gifts but cram to finish as much work for the year so I can eventually relax somewhere away from the hustle and bustle.  Nothing has changed, and I’m off once again to another whirlwind vacation, this time with the family.  It’s gonna be a great, cold Christmas, I can feel it already.  So I guess, I’ll be back next year.

As for the gifts, it really isn’t all about it…

Christmas-2013Credits:  Papers by Tammy Circeo Designs and Tree by Deborah Kitching of Crafty Queen.  All from the Christmas Treasures kit.

Yes, it really isn’t about it at all.  Here’s Pentatonix with an awesome rendition of “Angels We Have Heard on High”.  Enjoy!

Glory to God in the highest!  Merry Christmas to you and yours.