The town of Nyaungshwe sits in the northeast corner of Lake Inle. The 90 minute motorized canoe ride from the southwest region was a fabulous introduction to this beautiful place. The huge lake is lined with a deep marshy rim all around it. We passed by communities of wooden homes, raised on stilts above the water, and under narrow arched foot bridges that connected the villages together. It took 30 minutes just to snake through the marshes and onto the wide open, placid, and stunning lake that is bordered on 2 sides by verdant mountain ranges. It was a real treat to end the trek by gliding across it.

But entering the port of Nyaungshwe was also scenic. The channel narrowed and soon came alive into the bustling riverside town, steeped in motorized canoes, their fronts raised, backs sunk, carrying people, crates, and sacks, racing in and out of port, motors gurgling. It had a touch of a small Asian Venice to it. Though the lake is the main draw, we found the town itself to be worthy too. Its flat, gridded, easily navigated, walkable and bikable. Our Gold Star Hotel was in a quiet area, but just minutes from anywhere else. The town packed a lot into its relatively small size. There were busy streets, and quiet streets, the ubiquitous covered day market (again, designed for tiny people), a night market, a surprising mix of exotic and diverse temples, a variety of restaurants, shaded dirt roads, friendly local people, relatively few westerners, tree-lined canals, and that enormous lake -with worlds unto themselves out there. A favorite spot of ours was on the lone, short, narrow, busy, bridge that crossed the water channel in the heart of town. Long boats passed under it in both directions all day, reflecting the lives, culture and commerce of the region. The bridge life up above did the same thing. Diverse wheeled contraptions, and villagers on foot, carried everything imaginable into town or away from it. An unusual temple stood nearby. It looked Moroccan; adorned with tiny pieces of glass, it had a beautiful, silver, shimmering quality.

We balanced exploring the land and water equally, and rented bikes nearly every day (not great, but they were our best bikes in Myanmar). We didn’t push ourselves to do too much, and tried to just ease into our activities. One day I ventured out alone on my bike, and went far in all directions. I learned the layout of the town, which I always like doing, but the best parts were found outside of town, in opposite directions. I couldn’t wait to return with Jennifer the next day. A small, quiet road runs south of town, along the marshy edge of the lake, to the village of Nanthe, where the 700 year old Yan Aung Nan Aung Hsu Taung Pyi Pagoda sits. In the middle is its 26-foot tall sitting buddha, surrounded by deva (celestial beings) and chinthe (half-lion, half-dragon guardians). We also enjoyed exploring this quiet, tiny village of stilted wooden homes.

To the north of Nyaungshwe, however, was an even better bounty of surprises. I crossed underneath the large arched sign that marks the gateway in and out, and found a bikers dream scene. The divided road was flat, paved, very shaded, straight, went on forever, and was crazy gorgeous on both sides. To the left, marshes, huts, ducks, and rice fields, all the way to the western mountain range. To the right, a long, wide finger of the lake, with the beautiful, eastern mountain range reflected on its glass surface. Fishermen, small thatched villages, long boats, swimmers, and bathers sprinkled here and there.

Three unique, exquisite and diverse temples were spread out over the miles ahead, Two on the same grounds. Shwe Yan Pyay, is an ancient teak ordination hall. Young monks played chinlon (like hacky-sack, but with a larger, woven rattan ball) out in back, or sipped tea near the rounded windows. Inside it was wooden, dark, dusty, and ornate. A central shrine sat amid intricately-carved wood paneling, framed pictures, old bells, wooden stoves, tile work, carpets, figurines, and flowered-vases. A monk quietly transcribed in the corner. Across the lot, was a short, bulky, windowless white building that really caught us by surprise. It wasn’t mentioned in the book, nobody was near it, and it didn’t look like much from the outside. But inside it was perhaps the most beautiful of all the temples we saw -which says a lot. It felt ancient. The red-washed walls and ceilings were covered in small tiles and mozaics, or with hundreds of small Buddha carvings, and created a maze of arched passageways, small courtyards, and shrines that stair-stepped upwards and out of sight.

Another mile or so north, was a third temple surprise, Baw Ri Tha. Surrounding the central hall, was a forest of gold and white painted stupa -tall objects that belonged on a huge chess board. Most had small cavities with buddhas or other figures inside. Strange carnival-esque music wafted from the monastery beyond the wall, giving everything an even more surreal feel. There were lots of very cute puppies running around. We learned that people drop (dump) them off at temples, because the monks are presumed better able to provide for them (though they all looked in need of TLC). Dusk was approaching.

We felt elated by this day as we finally -regretfully- turned our bikes around and headed south, back down that long, stunning road to town. We ate at the night market -a block-long alley with different eateries along one side, and planned our next few days. There was a rumor about some hot springs to visit, and that lake to explore -with many surrounding village destinations.


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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Matt Colonell
    Dec 20, 2013 @ 15:58:49

    What beautiful pictures and writing! It’s like reading National Geographic . . .


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