Ray and I often talk about retirement and where we might live to stretch our retirement dollars. Southeast Asia is definitely on the radar as a place to stay for at least part of the year. In 4+ months of travelling, I have enjoyed getting to know around 30 new cities, but I couldn’t really see myself making a life, even if just for part of the year, in any of them. Until we visited Nyaung Shwe, that is. From the moment we were taken in at our guesthouse and sent to sleep in the closet for a few hours, everything about this place just felt right.
Nyaung Shwe’s only claim to fame is that it is a small town on the north banks of Inle Lake where most tourists will start their Inle Lake tour. It has one main street with shops, restaurants, travel agencies, and a market. At the end of the main street is a bridge over a canal where you can rent a boat for the day to take you out on the lake. Ray claims that the best part of the area was the weather. We forget sometimes that it is December because for us it is the longest summer of our lives, but the weather was significantly cooler in Nyaung Shwe. We had to break out the hoodies to wear in the morning and evening hours. The crisp, cool air was definitely refreshing, but I don’t think that was the only special quality.
Nyaung Shwe was the first town in Myanmar that felt clean. There were still piles of garbage lying about here and there, but you could tell that many people were making an effort to keep their homes, storefronts, and temples clutter and garbage free. This was also the first town in Myanmar where we had to pay a foreigner entrance fee of $10 USD per person. We read that they money goes to help take care of the lake and the surrounding area and it appears that the effort is working. There is still a lot of work to do, but it’s refreshing to know that there is a push toward a cleaner environment.
We took a bike ride one day (that Ray promised was no more than 8 miles round trip but was actually closer to 16) and rode out of town toward a temple. Maps are only somewhat helpful and there are not great signs, but everyone that you stop to ask for directions will do the best they can with a gigantic smile and friendly wave. Just about everyone we met knew enough English to ask us where we were from. When we replied United States, their response was almost certainly “Obama-land!” Anyway, once we found the right road to the temple, we had a short climb to the first temple where we also had a view of the town and lake. Only Ray decided on a second short climb to another temple where he shot this video:
The same afternoon we took another short bike ride to find a winery (probably the only way I would get back on a bike that day) and got to a fork in the road where we were unsure which way to turn. Out of nowhere a young man on a motorbike pulled up, asked if we were trying to find the winery and pointed us in the right direction. We then saw him turn around and pull back into his home. He had come along solely to get us to the right place. The people here are so kind and friendly – and those two words do not even come close to telling the whole story. Sadly, the wine was not great, but the view was spectacular.
As most tourists do, we opted for an all-day tour of Inle Lake. In fact, all the pictures in this post are from our day on the lake. We made stops at a number of lake villages where we saw many industries at work – silversmith, boat making, blacksmith, umbrella making, gardening, lotus thread weaving, wood craft, and cigar rolling. Three of the four Daileys even sampled a sweet tobacco cigar. We visited a large pagoda and a large market just outside the pagoda where we sampled some delicious local treats. Later, we made our way up a canal, through a series of man-made half dams, to the town of Inthein. There were 5-7 dams that brought us 10-12 inches higher in the water each time.
Once off the boat and in the village of Inthein, we made our way through some very old stupas. In one we found a half-buried Buddha, in others there were plants and trees growing through the stupas, obviously contributing to their decay. We were then pointed to a long, winding, covered walkway with pillars on both sides that ran for around a half mile up the hill. Along the way the stupas became less and less decayed and when we reached the top, there were stupas as far as you could see, and a view of the lake and mountains behind them. They were brick-red and grey and gold and each was topped with small bells. There was a light breeze blowing that made all the bells chime and added to the magic of this place.
We finished our lake tour with a visit to the jumping cat monastery. Sometime in the past two years, however, the monks stopped training the cats to perform tricks for treats and now it is just a monastery with a lot of half-starved cats that most certainly do not want to make friends with the tourists.
We ended up staying an extra day in Nyaung Shwe because we had some extra time and we were so comfortable in this small lake town. The people, the environment, the weather – everything added up to make this a great stop. The wine needs some work. And who knows, maybe some day we’ll end up here for a longer visit!