After a very short and local bus ride, checking into my little hotel in Nyang Shwe immediately lifted my spirits. My dorm had high ceilings, wood panelling, traditional decorations and a sparkling bathroom, and gave onto a lovely green courtyard. All for 12 USD a night! The town itself doesn’t have a huge amount to offer but is the place to stay for boat trips on Inle Lake. On my first and third days, I have to say I didn’t get up to a huge amount but found a lovely French café to while away a few hours, enjoyed riding my free bicycle around, and a good explore of the busy market.
The highlight of Nyaung Shwe was certainly the boat I took early on Tuesday morning. After a little misunderstanding, it turned out I had chartered an entire boat for myself (hence the price which did indeed seem a little high). Fear not though, we aren’t talking a yacht or a ship, simply a long, narrow motorboat, which usually sits 4-5 tourists (or 20-odd locals). Having been told Inle was one of the most touristy places in the country, I was a little weary at first. However, though it is a popular destination, I was surprised at how much local life lived on. I’d say more than 60% of the boats I saw out on the lake were fishermen working, and locals visiting relatives, bringing goods back from the market, moving house – you name it, it was being done by boat.
My friendly guide took me to a number of villages that lie on or around the lake, weaving and winding through algae and houses on stilts. He also drove us through the incredible floating gardens (think acres of floating tomato plantations), stunning Indein with its innumerable stupas and Burmese sitcom shoot, and a variety of workshops: silverware, silk and lotus weaving, Burmese cigar making, etc. The feeling of freedom and truly enjoying being alone in the boat as we zoomed into the lake was a liberating relief after a couple of heavy days.
Unfortunately, that peacefulness didn’t last too long. First, the deafening engine and strong sun kickstarted one of my oh-so-fun migraines. Second, it turns out that not only do the cats at the Jumping Cat Monastery no longer jump, they can also be rather mean and scratch. I made immediate use of my first aid kit, not thinking that much of it, but when I got back, I made the mistake of reading a few things online and started to worry about rabies. I asked reception whether there was an English-speaking pharmacist and the lovely lady recommended I go to her friend Dr Win Htein’s clinic. When asked how far on foot, she replied, surprised, “You go on bike!” So off I went, on my bike, as it were, following her vague instructions of straight, left, right. Of course, these weren’t much help so I found myself cycling around in circles, asking a number of locals, several of whom obviously didn’t speak English, where Dr Win Htein practised. Despite my concerns, I couldn’t not laugh at the absurdity of the situation!
Eventually, a kind man showed me exactly where the clinic was – a shack on the side of the road which I had passed and totally missed. I entered said shack, which was empty, and was eventually greeted by a shy assistant who spoke hardly any English but managed to tell me the doctor would be there in 5 minutes. Not sure whether I had started a trend or simply arrived at just the right time, another dozen people turned up within 5 minutes. The doctor also turned up and proceeded to see the person sitting closest to him – silly me, sitting outside! As my lack of familiarity with the process was so apparent, I was kindly ushered to the front and promptly seen by Dr Win Thein, who took a look and told me all I needed to do was clean it with iodine – kudos to me for having done that already!
Feeling somewhat reassured (the saga does continue but more about that in the next post), it was with pleasure that I met up with a really sweet Swiss couple I’d met in Bagan. Nothing better than a good pizza and sharing gross stories to feel better! The next morning, as I lay in bed in my empty dorm, it dawned on me that doing this trip alone has forced me to confront a number of fears I didn’t even know I had. Fear of abandonment, fear of loss, fear of loneliness, fear of falling ill, and even fear of death. But, with every new adventure, I am dealing with these fears as best I can, and I am extremely fortunate to have an incredible support network back home. You know how you are, and I thank you for being so wonderful from the bottom of my heart.