This was the day of my trip that our group split... our tour manager took the 9 people who weren't doing the extension and they went back to Rangoon and then on to San Francisco while the rest of us flew out to Heho for the excursion at Inle Lake with our educator and his wife. We left early in the morning... we needed to meet the bus at 6:30am, so I checked out just before 6 and then went down to get breakfast right as it opened. I went through and grabbed a bunch of fruit, some fried noodles, and juice and sat down, enjoying the misty view of the river and the cool morning before heading to the airport.
Because there were still so many of us, we had to be split onto different planes and airlines to get to Heho. I was put in a group of 6 that went on Yangon Airlines on our own. We got split off from the rest of the group and funneled into our own departure room, so we didn't see the rest of them again until they landed in Heho. As we headed to security, we passed a table marked "immigration" where we had to stop and show our boarding passes to a woman (boarding passes, mind you, that had no names or seating assignments, nor any information beyond flight number and a big product advertisement... lol.) The woman looked at our boarding passes, asked us where we were from (we told her "America") and then she looked at us, nodded, stamped the boarding passes and sent us through security. She didn't even write anything in the ledger sitting in front of her! We joked that security was a box with a blinking light and that it wasn't actually scanning anything as we all just cruised right through. I couldn't stop laughing about the immigration table. It was so funny to me... so apparently pointless... she didn't even ask to see passports! We got on the plane - not the puddle jumpers we were fearing, but definitely not big planes, and headed out. Our group left early and arrived first, then we found the buses and waited for the rest (again, I was so intrigued by how they run these tiny airports! They just bring the baggage in by hand on carts... so much faster than home, but easy to say when it's so small.)
Anyway, we were told that we had like a 2 hour bus ride and then a long boat ride to get to the hotel, but time estimates weren't always that accurate. This was one of those inaccuracies. We were going to stop part-way through at a monastery, which was pretty cool. That was only 30-45 minutes into the drive, and we took off our shoes and were able to go upstairs and walk through an active monastery and see all the young monks at work on their memorizations - they were all chanting in unison as they read from their books. It was cute to see that they were still pretty typical boys - one was leaning against the window frame and sleeping, and another had a Lilo and Stitch notebook under his scripture. I felt weird going through there like that - like they were being put on display, but I was glad to get a chance to see what monastic life was like. We saw the shrines, the living quarters, and the kitchen area where they stored and distributed the food from that day's collection (the monks go out daily with their big jars to collect food donated to the monastery for the day.)
From there, we were able to go into a temple next door. This one was interesting - inside were hundreds of niches, each with a small Buddha statue placed in the name of a donor. I found a few in a row donated from people from Connecticut! Then it was time to get back on the bus to go to the jetty. The rest of the ride was only about 10-15 minutes, and then we got off to get to the boats. They told us to get into groups of 5, I joined up with a group that I'd really enjoyed hanging out with and we headed out together.
Once we got in the boat, we found out that every time boat #1 was called (our boat - Number 1 Boat!), we were the ones on that boat. We had a super fun boat! From there we went out on the water for our ride to the hotel, which was about another 30 minutes or so. At first it was more like a river - a very narrow neck of water coming off the main lake, and then as we broke into the lake, we started to see the fishermen out on the water and get our first view of their unique leg rowing technique - they stand on the prow of the boat and use their leg to row the paddle. Standing makes it so they can see into the water and see where the fish are and where they're going. It was pretty cool. And then we started to come in to the hotel, and it was just as nice as I'd hoped from looking it up online. We pulled up to the dock and stood and got out one at a time where we were then greeted with a cool cloth and then a glass of sweet and sour fruit juice - it was really good. They also had a sesame cracker stick - they grow a lot of sesame there. The view out to the lake from the patio was gorgeous - the lake in front with the mountains behind. And the buildings of the hotel were all on stilts in the lake. Our rooms were like individual bungalows on stilts off of a kind of boardwalk that went throughout the hotel. The rooms were gorgeous - each with a private balcony. We settled in and then went back out to the front to meet to go back out on the boats.
Our outing that afternoon took us to the far south end of the lake (we were at the north end) and we went through the villages and saw the floating gardens, which were just amazing - hydroponics at their best! They had created floating islands of crops that were all staked to the bed of the lake with long bamboo poles. Tomatoes, rice, beans, corn... all kinds of crops. The villages and gardens were so cool! We also visited a workshop where they make silk and cloth from lotus plants. That was cool to see - the weaving was amazing. It was a little sad to see how old the women were who were working at spinning and carding though... I guess retirement age isn't something well known in most parts of the world.
Early afternoon our guides (one of whom is native to the lake area) took us to a restaurant where we could order lunch. The manager or owner came out and told us about the menu and offered to take any of us who were interested back to the kitchen. They had a lot of Italian food on the menu (funny enough) and served lots of pizzas. So we went in to see the kitchen and their pizza oven, and I was a bit surprised at how clean it was! I suppose the cater to tourists, but it was reassuring. Just to try something different, I had mushroom pizza - mushrooms were grown locally in the hills and the tomatoes in the sauce were from the floating gardens. It was pretty good, actually!
Anyway, we went back out and saw more of the villages and gardens before going back to the hotel. We needed to be back by about 5pm since once it started to get dark, it was too dangerous to be out on the lake - no streetlights, no headlights on the boats and all. So we went back and went to our rooms and then came out to watch the sunset, which was gorgeous.
Later that evening, those who were interested gathered around a fire pit on the pier looking out onto the lake for a lecture from our educator, Glenn (it's an LDS tour company, and his specialty is church history.) It was an excellent lecture about Joseph Smith and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and I'm really glad I got to go. Then it was off to sleep in beautiful beds draped with mosquito netting. It got quite cool at night and the beds were slightly softer than the floor, but I still enjoyed it... it was another wonderful and incredibly memorable day.