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.

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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

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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.

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Of Snows and Hot Baths

In the middle of Daisetsuzan National Park, nestled in narrow scenic gorge flanked by cliffs,

abundant hot springs, powerful waterfalls,

and fantastic rock formation is a full-scale mountain resort town called Sounkyo.

It has become quite touristy because it is an excellent base for trekking and skiing around the National Park.

From late January to the end of March, the town hosts (you guessed it) the Sounkyo Ice Waterfall Festival (Sounkyo Onsen Hyoubaku Matsuri).

The highlight of this festival is the frozen waterfalls along with the man-made, multi-story high structures that have a maze like tunnels running through them, all built around the Ishikari River.

Snow domes and ice sculptures likewise scatter around the compound.

Heated quarters with warm drinks and food here.

And even if logic tells you to stay indoors due to the severe cold weather, make sure to be there at night


The Ishikari River runs through the festival.

or miss out on the spectacular lights that illuminate the whole place come sundown. On weekends, you’ll be lucky to witness fireworks too.

Us in an ice bar display

The best way to end the evening is to thaw off at one of the many hot springs found in town. At the Sounkyo Kanko Hotel, we went for the spacious outdoor bath at the back of the hotel. Crazy it may seem, but because this open-air bath is unisex, it was wonderful to be sharing this experience with the hubby. Getting ourselves to walk the short distance from the dressing room to the pool in skimpy clothes provided by the hotel was unimaginable, but once in the hot bath, it was nirvana. This being the last stretch of our Hokkaido winter holiday, it seemingly melted away all the frozen kinks in our body, accumulated over the past days.

Ahh… Always a good experience, this bathing in the snow.

Minalungao

It’s the first days of summer, and this draft has been on the back burner giving way to other bigger trips I’ve had.

So before I start writing about my next destination, which took place last month in an icy setting and is the exact opposite of what we will be experiencing in the coming days, I’d like to take you to a place in Nueva Ecija. A little gem, they say it is. It was a spur of the moment and as these things go, we all made it.  Sometimes to plan is vain.

The small part of an otherwise well-paved road was only wide enough for our Explorer to safely get its way past the stream, thanks to this boy who helped us navigate our way.

Thanking him after, he offered to be our guide. Enterprising young man. And so for 500Php, the then 14-year-old AJ took us around his playground.

We navigated the short but somehow challenging, sometimes slippery rocks and trail to the cave that AJ said would take only 5 minutes. “Akala ko 5 minutes lang sa loob ng cave, bakit parang 20 minutes na kami ditto sa loob ah?” (I thought it only takes 5 minutes to explore the cave, why does it seem like 20 minutes already?) I asked AJ. “Kasi ang bibilis nyo mag lakad!” “Because you all walk so fast!” he said. He has a point.  🙂

In the foothills of the Sierra Madre lies a protected area in the municipality of General Tinio (sometimes also called Papaya – don’t ask me why) where the Penaranda River flows cutting through magnificent limestone walls.

One can trek to the caves through the limestone wall, swim in the crystal clear, refreshing water or simply soak in the scenery while enjoying a packed lunch on the raft.

Do try to make your way there if you haven’t. An enjoyable day trip it certainly was.

There’s more to Lijiang…

And this is perhaps THE reason to go. It was ours.

Staged outdoors beneath the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain at an incredible elevation of 3,100 meters, Impression Lijiang managed to keep us in awe all throughout its performance.

A cultural show two years in the making, it is the second of nine series of highly sought after productions by Zhang Yimou. In 2003, Zhang, together with 2 of his assistants, Wang Chaoge, and Fan Yue started working on an outdoor production that would later become an ongoing series.

Impressions Liu Sanjie was the first of these productions and found its place on the banks of the Li River in the scenic town of Yangshuo. We saw that too, which actually led us to this Impression series 9 years later.

The show opened with rows of male entertainers in their traditional ethnic costumes shouting in Mandarin, “we are farmers, we are stars.”

Around 500 Naxi, Bai, and Yi ethnic groups from nearby towns and villages were selected to sing and dance. I particularly love the horse scene where they depicted the important tea trading of the province.  It was surreal.

You definitely have to find your way to Lijiang, if only for this.

But not to be missed too is Lijiang’s beautiful canyon and its mighty Jinsha River.

Touted as the world’s most spectacular river canyon is Tiger Leaping Gorge. Its maximum depth is about 3,790 meters from river to mountain peak and is part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Area of the World Heritage Site.

Legend has it that in ancient times, a tiger, running from a hunter, leaped across the gorge to escape. It jumped at the canyon’s narrowest point.

To trek the upper trail would have been ideal, but due to lack of time, we saw the gorge on a viewing platform at the lower road along with most of the tourist in buses.

But as you can see, it still is a gorgeous sight to see.

Lijiang

jade-dragon-mountain

Nestled at the foot of the Jade Dragon Mountain, Lijiang is blessed with gorgeous natural surroundings.

dayan-alleyway

Infused with cultural flavors owing to the profound ethnic heritage of the region, which consequently has lured both the domestic and foreign tourist for perhaps a decade now.

dayan-entrance-waterwheel

A UNESCO World Heritage Site with Dayan Old Town being the most popular town among a cluster of villages, its history dating back to the Ming Dynasty. A largely Naxi settlement first built some eight centuries ago.  They still live there, and some still make silk embroideries, a trade they practice since the time of the Silk Road. Like Dali, Lijiang was once a confluence for trade along the Old Tea Horse Trail, and Dayan is famous for its waterways and bridges. It is a town south of the Yangtze River, and traffic across the river is made easy by stone bridges.

Of course, now it’s crowded with tourists and the atmosphere of the bygone era is lost somehow.

dayan-tourists-and-guides

mcdonaldsThere’s even a McDonald’s just outside the gates.

Because a peaceful town it is not anymore. Still quite lovely but it has more of a theme park-like atmosphere.

dayan-naxi-dancing

Many are for show, like the Naxi dancing at the central square, not to mention the saturation of souvenir shops.

dayan-shops

I wasn’t sure at first if staying outside of town was a good idea but was quite relieved that I chose to stay in another town four kilometers away from Dayan.

shuhe-alley

Shuhe is absolutely divine. We didn’t stay in town exactly, but the guesthouse was just a short walk away through this attractive tree-lined street.

tree-lined-street

A quiet(er) town, Shuhe is a small village hidden in the forest and is another well-preserved city along the ancient tea-horse route.

shuhe

Nothing as quaint as Shaxi and less hip than Dali but Shuhe has its own charm.

Known to local people as Longquan Village and renowned as a “village of leather,” it was considered as an important part of Lijiang by UNESCO.

shuhe-store-linedThe streets are lined with independent shops and restaurants all built of rocks from the surrounding mountains.

shuhe-creek

The channel and waterways still give water to the houses from 2 crystal clear springs in the northern part of town. They beautifully form part of Shuhe’s landscape.

shuhe-typical-restaurant

Ambling along Sifang Street is like walking back through time. Archaic wooden facades surround the square, mostly restaurants and shops.  Some still dress in traditional attire.

Built entirely with stones, Qinglong Bridge is one sight I particularly love.

qinglong-bridge

It is also the first among the many old stone bridges found in Shuhe. It spans a small river that starts at the Jiuding Dragon Pool with very clear water.

Every day, we walk to Shuhe for lunch stay till dinner. It is still a struggle to order as many do not speak a word of English.

cafe-in-shuheEverything is in Chinese, even the menu boards outside the cafes.

We, however, managed well, as you can see.

food

We even found a well-appointed hotel that we went back to for lunch the next day.

drawing-room-restaurant

Hui Feng Inn served excellent food, Jack of Drawing Room Restaurant (found inside the hotel) is from Beijing but loved the place so much, he stayed.

jack

Even our beautiful guesthouse, Lijiang Wa Jia served exquisite meals.

lijiang-wa-jiaThe courtyard of Lijiang Wa Jia

food-at-lijian-wa-jia

Here’s sharing more of the beautiful town with you.

preservation-ongoingPreservation on going

shuhe-qinglong-bridge

Qinglong Bridge
tree-lined-2Another tree-lined street going to Banyan Tree Resort, also in Shuhe.
banyan-tree-entranceThe Banyan Tree.  On a clear day, the Jade Dragon Mountain serves a its backdrop.
canine-2One of the most gorgeous Labradoodle I’ve seen.  The people of Lijiang love their dogs.

canine

spring-water-winds-through-townA pool that cuts through town, is surrounded by stores and restaurants.
horses-on-qinglongHorses still abound here.  At the Qinglong Bridge.
shuhe-naxi-selling-foodNaxi selling food.
shuhe-vegetable-gardenSpotted a vegetable garden.
shuhe-boardwalkA boardwalk along the creek.
shuhe-town-map-etched-in-woodA map of Shuhe etched on wood found in Sifangd Square.
shuhe-charmThe Shuhe charm.
shuhe-quaint-shopsQuaint Shops found
shuhe-many-bridgesOne of the many stone bridges near the square.

 

Shaxi: Quaintest of Quaint

This must be the quaintest of quaint towns I’ve set foot on in quite a while if not in all of my travels. Found halfway between Dali and Lijiang,

sideng-square-from-trail-cafe

Shaxi is home to beautifully preserved adobe courtyard mansions that offer a glimpse into a forgotten era. It was the most intact trading center for centuries linking Yunnan into Bhutan and Tibet on the Tea and Horse Caravan Trail and this lead to its prosperity during the Tang Dynasty. The network channeled tea, horse, and other valuables among the diverse ethnic groups residing in the eastern Himalayan region. What lead to the trail’s demise was the development of the road transportation and Shaxi became just another village in the 1950s. In 2001, the village was included in the protection list of 101 endangered sites and a Swiss-led team worked for years to restore the deteriorating town.

alleyway

The old town of Shaxi is quite compact and easily explored by foot.

sideng-square

It consists mainly of a few quiet lanes and alleys that radiate from Sideng Square—a fascinating marketplace at the heart of Shaxi where we spent most of that Sunday people watching and just chilling.

chilling

The iconic Sideng Theater seats in the middle of the square.

sideng-theater

The unique 4-storey architectural structure and exquisite craftsmanship are the soul of Shaxi because it is (to this day) where the Bai people perform during celebrations.

Across the theater is the Xingjiao Temple. Both are ancient structures that add character to the square. The temple (now a museum) is one of the best-preserved temples in the entire China because it was sequestered and used as a local government headquarters during the Cultural Revolution.

xingjiao-temple-interior

This ironically saved it from destruction. Coupled with painstaking restoration by the Shaxi Rehabilitation Project (SRP), a visit is worth the while. Original murals can still be seen on the walls of the Hall of the Heavenly King.

hei-hui-river

One alleyway leads to the eastern village gate and outside this gate, the Heihui River meanders from north to south through Shaxi.

yujin-bridge-2

The crescent-shaped Yujin Bridge was the only way for the Bai people go to the fields and do business back in the days. With the towering mountains as a backdrop, this bridge is a sight to behold and is one of the highlights of this leg.

simple-joys

Many find pleasure just to simply lie on the grass and chill.

guesthouse-cafes-and-stores

What used to be tack shops, blacksmiths and caravanserais are now guesthouses and

western-dishes

western-dishes-2

foreigner-friendly cafes (offering English menus and western style dishes), which signals an upcoming tourism boom (read: tourist buses) in this old town.

daytrippers-2

Though its visitors still form a fascinating merge of intrepid and curious travellers, many of its visitors (at the time of my visit) came in groups and spent an hour or so running through the ancient streets taking shots of the temple and theatre.  This tells me that the boom might have started already.

daytrippers

The best time to enjoy the quietness of this old trade post is first thing in the morning or very late at night.

square-at-night

As soon as the last bus headed back to Lijiang, the sanctuary of calm kicks off and we sit in the square savoring the solitude.

night-life

At night, we shared the square with the art students. We sit sipping our cup of coffee while they gather around the plaza playing street games under the moonlight and a few lights illuminating the square.

Scenes of Shaxiearly-morning-in-sideng-square

Sideng Square the day after, during breakfast, before journeying on to Lijiang.
ancient-treeAncient tree scatter around the village.
art-students-on-a-field-tripArt students abound; finding inspiration in this breathtaking old town.
 resort-on-the-riseA resort on the rise.
crystal-clear-waterA crystal clear stream flows through the main street of the ancient village.

resident

funny-english-translationsBastardized English Menu
fried-parametersThe fried parameters look like worms but is a root (perhaps from the ginseng family)
park-by-the-riverThe park by the river, just outside the East gate of the ancient town.
guesthouse-courtyardThe courtyard of our guesthouse (Renjia just off the village entrance) — turned into a drying area.
guesthouse-entranceThe entrance to our guesthouse was through the kitchen.
meal-at-renjiaPerhaps why they serve delicious Yunnan cuisine at our guesthouse.  This was lunch when we arrived.
modern-day-give-awayModern day giveaway — local kids with they games.

knitting

locals

little-girl

A Piece of Heaven

Magical, massive, magnificent—endless terraces in a sea of clouds is a sight to behold. Not foreign to rice terraces, I found myself awed by the vastness and intricacy of the Yuanyang terraces, now the 45th World Heritage Site in China. Breathtaking after breathtaking scenes came before us as we drew closer to the center.

terraces-by-the-road-2

Regarded as the core of the Hani Terraces, where its ancestors settled 2,500 years ago.

hani-people

In its steep mountains and challenging terrain, the Hani people struggled and succeeded in growing rice. Their creativity turned this mountain into one artistic beauty that has placed Yuanyang on the map for impressive rice paddy terracing.

duoyishu-terracesDuoyishu Rice Terraces

With an area of 28,000 acres, it is similar to the Banaue terraces of my country but on a grander scale.

laohuzui-waiting-for-sunset

Three major scenic spots is a must. Scattered in different places, the terraces exhibit different tones and hues depending on the season and time of day. When we were there (in April), the terraces, still filled with water, glows from the sun’s ray.

laohuzui-sunsetLaohuzui Rice Terraces

So different from the one I am familiar with. It is stunning.

Laohuzui. The biggest Hani rice terraces listed in the World Cultural Heritage Site and ideal for sunset shots.

laohuzui-different-view-deck

It has 2 viewing areas, the higher deck closer to the road and a lower one closer to the terraces. Both views are lovely depending on how you want to capture its grandiosity.

laohizui-sunset-2

Bada. It has one of the biggest collections of terraces, and any angle is snap-worthy.

bada-terraces

From top to bottom, the terraces is said to be 3,900 steps.

Duoyishu. Surrounded by mountains on 3 sides and a valley on the east, it makes for a beautiful sunrise scene.

duoyishu-sunrise

The terraces, still filled with water, unveils the reflection of the soft golden sky just coming to light underneath a sea of clouds.

duoyishu-viewing-deck

From our beautiful guesthouse, Flower Residence, it was just t a 20-minute walk to the viewing deck.

pugao-village

And speaking or our guesthouse, we stayed in a charming boutique hotel in a village called Pugao Laozhai.

flower-residence

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flower-residenceview-from-our-room

flower-residence-meals

Large glass windows to enjoy the fantastic view, wood everywhere, good food, combined with wonderful hosts CC and his uncle (who cooked fabulous meals)

with-hosts-cc

—is a formula sure to impress me, no doubt. A place where one can be happy to just hang out, I wish I had booked more than just a night.

Yuanyang is 2 more hours south from Jianshiu and definitely worth the road trip. A little piece of heaven with spectacular rice terraces so grand it almost guarantees poster-worthy shots at any angle.

duoyishu-terraces-upclose

terraces-by-the-road

laohuzui-changing-season

photograhers-haven-at-laohuzui