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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Happy Feet At Asahiyama Zoo

Credits: Solid Brown paper and Guess What Tag by Splendid Finn You are awesome kit; Bow, Ribbon Cluster, Staples, Saving Memories word art by Sus Design

Mumble, the penguin character in that animated film, Happy Feet, that cannot sing but tap danced his way to Gloria’s heart. Yes, that same Mumble charmed its way into my heart too.

So the whole reason I was in Asahikawa was to be up close to the likes of Mumble. All these chubby birds had to do was waddle past us, and it made my day.

An icon of winter at the Asahiyama Zoo, the 30-minute Penguin Walk is designed to keep them fit and healthy during the cold months as they hardly get enough exercise by staying indoors especially during winter. They are known to walk as far as 1 kilometer a day towards the sea in a group to catch fish.

A close relative and very similar in looks to Emperor Penguins – what Mumble is – the King Penguins are 2nd only to the Emperor in size. To distinguish, the latter’s orange feathers on the side of their head are colorful and brighter than that of their cousins. Their beaks are also the longest of the whole family of penguins. Though they are known to be the best divers and swim incredibly fast, they, however, saunter on land and are known to slide on their bellies to help them maneuver through the ice and snow.

To survive the severely frigid climate, they are equipped with several unique layers of scale-like feathers to protect them from icy winds and offer a waterproof coat. They also store large amounts of fat that insulate their bodies while also serving as a long-lasting energy source.

What’s interesting is that wild penguins follow the paths between the mountains and during the walk, they were not trained to walk the path, but because they see people like mountains, they automatically follow the path that the people make.

If you happen to be in Hokkaido during the winter, make sure to make your way to Asahiyama Zoo to get a glimpse of these cute chubby birds. It will be worth your while.

East Africa

East-Africa-2

It actually stretches from the northern arid deserts of Ethiopia to the tropical forests of Mozambique and Madagascar, with 19 countries in between.  While my East African adventure in 2006 only spanned 3 countries, the experience it yielded were quite diverse – from the usual Safari adventures to tracking Chimpanzees to the more extreme, whitewater rafting.  Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, territories that were formerly under British control and each hold common thread yet bear its own unique character.

Highlights:

rhino-and-zebra

Catching sight of the Big Five – Lions, African Elephants, Cape Buffalos, Leopards, and Rhinoceroses.

giraffe

The Big Five aside, Zebras along with giraffes have become favorites.

Witnessing not quite the migration but the start of it.  From July to October, one could witness the great migration where wildebeest and zebra travel to and from the Serengeti National Park to the greener pastures of the Masai Mara National Reserves.

masai-mara

It is perhaps the most breathtaking event in animal kingdom and the whole point of our visit to this continent.  To see them gather together, sometimes in a line is more than thrilling.

flamingos

Witnessing a gathering of Flamingos.  Absolutely a sight to behold, this sea of pink covering a large part of Lake Nakuru.  One of the Rift Valley soda lakes that attract vast quantity of flamingos that feed on the lake’s abundant algae.

Being in beautiful Ngorongoro Crater.  It is the world’s largest intact unflooded volcanic caldera and is home to over 300,000 animals including the rare Black Rhinos.

ngorongoro

An absolutely beautiful place to be on a safari, the crater makes for a stunning backdrop to rich grazing grounds.

zanzibar4

Chilling in Zanzibar.  A semi-autonomous island separated from the Tanzanian mainland.

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Although just a short distance from the Tanzanian coast, it is at the crossroad of Africa, the Middle East and Asia resulting in a culture of diverse ethnicities, more Middle Eastern in its feel than African.  Likewise with local dishes, the rich fragrance of cinnamon, ginger, cumin, pepper and cardamom is synonymous with Zanzibar, also known as the Spice Island.  The streets of Stone’s Town – the capital’s old quarter – is full of the bustle of back street markets and local flavor.

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The charm lies in its labyrinth alleyways and faded buildings redolent of the glories of the old Islāmic empire.

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Rafting the White Nile.  Stretching 31km from just below the Bujugali Falls in Jinja, experiencing the Nile at its source is by far the best heart-pounding whitewater ride of my life.

Getting lost in Uganda.  On a wrong bus, we went the other way and ended up not quite where we wanted to be.

bus-stop-scene-in-Uganda

Best known for Idi Amin or Joseph Koney, getting lost could be frightening but this mishap gave us a taste of the local flare and the kindness of its people.  We eventually found our way but not without the help of the people we didn’t know from Adam.  An impression indelibly marked in my heart.

It is by far one of the best trip I’ve had – a wonderful surprise, considering that it was not even on the priority.  I will be back Africa, sooner than you know.

Random Travel Snaps: The Orangutans of Borneo

orangutan

Threatened by logging and captivity, their population dwindles through the years.  These so-called “men of the forest” are estimated to be as few as 10,000 still in the wild.

In 2007, I followed the path of a boardwalk that led me to a viewing gallery and a feeding platform.  There were a few orangutans on site but slowly, more emerged from the rainforest lured by milk and bananas.  Feeding time is twice a day – once in the morning and another in the afternoon.

No longer held in captivity (by various people and for various reasons), they are free to roam as they please around the 4,300 hectare Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve.  This is so they get used to their own natural habitat once more and this –in the meantime – is their sanctuary.

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre aims to return orphaned, injured and displaced orangutans back into the wild, back to the jungle of Borneo.  Orangutans are natives of Borneo and Sumatra in Indonesia.  The Borneo orangutans however, are only found in Borneo, and the centre affords a rare opportunity to see these endangered species up close.

The orangutans may be the star, but pig tailed and long-tailed macaques share a bit of the stage at the time of feeding.  They have learned that there is an easy meal available and show up too at feeding time.

A day trip to Sepilok is not possible from Kota Kinabalu but if you find yourself in Sandakan, a trip to Sepilok Sanctuary is a must.

Useful Info:

Getting There


If you are not on any tour, public buses and taxis are available from Sandakan town. The Labuk Road Bus Company vehicles leave from the front of the Sandakan Town Council (Majlis Perbandaran Sandakan or MPS) from 6.00 am onwards.

The Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan bus can also drop you at junction Jalan Sepilok, around 2.5km from the Center. Journey about 5 hours from KK.

You can hire a taxi for a return trip for about RM100.00 negotiable. The distance between town and the Centre is about 23km.

Opening Hours: 
Daily from 8.00am till 5.00pm

Exhibition Hall: Daily (except Fridays) from 9.00am till 4.30pm

Centre: Daily from 9.00am till 12.00pm and 2.00pm till 4.00pm Fridays 9.00am till 11.00am, 2.00pm till 4.00pm 

 
Address:
Batu 14, Jalan Labuk Sandakan Sabah,
WDT200, 9009 Sandakan Sabah

Survival of the Fastest

Credits:  J Sprague Digi in Deeper Course Material

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.  It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle, when the sun comes up, you better be running.

African Proverb

Exaggerated perhaps but essentially true.  Survival is the name of the game in the African Savannah.

In the lion’s world, its prey generally consists of wildebeests, zebras, and a variety of ungulates (giraffe, buffalo, and gazelles).   Dubbed the king of the jungle, lions are the 2nd largest cat after the tiger and are vicious predator commanding respect from other wildlife.  They kill to live, and they live a life of feast or famine.  They usually catch something to eat every 3-4 hours but may perhaps not able to catch an animal for a week so they stuff themselves when they can.

They are the most charismatic of all the animals that roam the savannahs of East Africa and safari enthusiasts bend over backwards and are patient for a sighting.  Ngorongoro and Serengeti in Tanzania, Amboseli in Nairobi, Lake Nakuru and Maasai Mara in Kenya are the best sighting places.

They too become prey to humans who for centuries have killed lions in rituals of gallantry, as hunting trophies, or for their perceived medicinal and magical powers.

Gazelles on the other hand are small antelopes noted for its grace, speed and beauty.  Most species have horns and are generally fawn colored with white or dark markings.  Rarely having to drink and only receives water from the leaves that they eat, they are grazers and mainly inhabit lowland thorn-bush, woodlands and grasslands.

In the gazelle’s world, they stay clear of their predators, which include lions but cheetahs and African hunting dogs are the most prevalent.  They rely on their keen sense to avoid their predators.  Their large lustrous eyes are on the sides and their pupil elongated horizontally, giving them a broad view of danger from both the back and front.  This aside, they were also created with a sharp sense of smell and hearing.

The great migration is one of the most impressive natural events worldwide, involving wildebeests, gazelles, topis, eland, and zebras.  These migrants are followed along their annual circular route by hungry predators, most notably lions and hyenas.  I was lucky enough to witness, well… not exactly the great migration per se, but the start of it at least.

That visit in 2006 has made me more aware of animals in the wild, how they live and survive in the wilderness.  I am amazed at how they are individually created with the instinct and distinct features to survive.

Unexpected Bonus

Mag-dive ka na, nandito ka na rin, you should dive, you’re already here”.  To be in Moalboal and not dive is indeed ridiculous. But because I was the only diver in the group, I didn’t plan to… until the divemaster convinced me, that is.

So we got up early the next day, sore from yesterday’s canyoning, and headed to this tiny island called Pescador.  Among the many impressive dive spots in Moalboal, Pescador is described to be their “jewel”.  My friends indulged and shared the cost of the banca (outrigger boat) with me.  They went snorkeling while I explored the world under… ok, that doesn’t sound right but you know what I mean.   😉

Located in the Tañon Straits, a narrow stretch of sea between the southern end of Cebu and Negros Oriental.  Considered “the most unique in the world” as it has the richest marine biodiversity in the coral triangle in the Philippines.

The island is essentially a wall dive made interesting with the overhangs, small caverns and holes in the reef wall.  It was an easy dive with just the right currents.  I was enjoying the drift, fascinated with all the marine life along the small caverns when divemaster taps me on the shoulder.

He pointed to my left and there, a short distance away, was a giant wall of fish, a silvery cloud of endless sardines against the blue backdrop of the deep, moving in one accord.  I was awestruck.  Never thought I’d ever get to see such a spectacle in our shores.

The first time I became aware of a sardine run was when a friend, years back,  showed me an awesome video filmed in South Africa.  Every year between the months of May and July, this famous shoal of sardines travel from their home in Agulhas banks and head north.  Predators follow this migration making it the main attraction for divers, rivaling the great migration in the African savannah.  This made it to my bucket list.

The tiny island off Moalboal has been host, for a few years now, to millions of sardines running the tropical waters but unlike the migration in South Africa; the sardines in our shores seemed to have made it its home (at least for now).  This wonderful phenomenon is seen all year round.  Predators seen in these side are mostly Threshers, White Tips and Whale Sharks.  Unfortunately, there were no predators in sight in this dive.  We were flying out the next day and couldn’t go below 40 ft.  Although not as spectacular as the South African video, it was an awesome experience nevertheless.

Observing from the surface, the snorkelers had their share of awesomeness from a different perspective.  They had to abort mid-stream though as the water got choppy, making it difficult to continue.  “Super bitin, too short” they said.

On our way back to the resort, the choppy waters were too big for our small boat, breaking an outrigger.

We were dropped off somewhere along White Beach.  Carrying our gears (except the tanks), walked the rest of the way back to the resort.  Awesome day.

Finally!

Contrary to our 2008 attempt when we spent 3 hours waiting and waiting for naught, each attempt a failure.  Disappointed but not defeated, I promised to come back someday.  That someday finally arrived.

“Get ready”, Allan ordered.  We grabbed our fins, mask and sat at the edge of the banca ready for action at the word “go”.  The water was murky owing to a typhoon that hit the area a few days earlier.  As soon as my eyes adjusted to the murky water, I saw a dark image, more like a shadow below me.  Then it disappeared into the deep.  Is that it? I wondered.

Minutes later, we repeated the same exercise but this time with more success.  I could figure out the spots moving gently below me.  Immediately I pointed my camera and shot away, trying to capture images of the world’s largest living fish – a whale shark or what locals call butanding.

Our encounter most likely a juvenile.

These gentle giants can measure up to 15-20 meters long and weigh up to 35 tons.  They have very distinct color markings of pale spots and stripes against a dark background.    Butandings have been observed to converge in the waters off Donsol from November – May.  Each year they disappear in June and find their way back again November without fail.  They come to feed off the plankton rich waters of Donsol.

Sorsogon has been part of the migration highway of one of the highest concentration of whale sharks in the world for generations, sighted and slaughtered since residents could remember.  In 1998, the Department of Agriculture issued a Fisheries Administration order – banning the capture, sale, purchase, possession, transport, or export of whale sharks.

Eco-tourism replaced the age-old hunting practices and since then tourist flock to Donsol in increasing numbers year after year, rising from a 5th class municipality in 1998 to 1st class today.

Barangay Dancalan is where the tourist center is and where one goes to register for a boat and guide.

While close interaction with wildlife is a delicate topic, the World Wildlife Fund has teamed up with the local tourism office to create rules and some best practices for the tour.

With success comes disorganization.  It was disappointing to see that boat operators and some guides or what they call Butanding Interaction Officers (BIO) oftentimes ignore the rules of interaction.

Ironically, a poster of the rules is plastered on the wall of the tourist center for everyone’s guidance while a video is shown throughout the day, a requirement before one goes off to the water.

Outside of the video, pasted on the wall for everyone’s information is the rules of interaction.

Sadly, the non observance has happened in 2008 resulting to our failed attempts.  Today, it is more glaring.

I was engrossed with my encounter, swimming along with this big boy albeit in murky waters, then a fin hits my face,

All after the same fish less than 10 minutes after we jumped.

I looked up and to my dismay, saw more than a dozen heads (definitely more than the 6 allowed per whale shark) bobbing and snorkeling in one direction.  As we were swimming back to our boat, we bumped into a tourist in the water.  Looking resigned he said to us, “This is ridiculous.”  And indeed, it was.

The scene we left — at least a dozen boat fighting for an encounter with the butanding.

Having had 2 sightings, which was more than our 2008 experience, we decided to leave even before our 3 hours were up. Happy with the encounter but saddened by the way things are being handled in that once sleepy fishing village.