musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Inle Lake’

Bamboo Delight for Shan & Myanmar Cuisine


In the Shan State town of Nyaungshwe, within rowing distance of famous Inle Lake, Ma Pu Sue continues to offer her acclaimed Bamboo Delight Cooking Class. Assisted by her husband Lesly, Sue takes her clients through all the steps needed to cook the food, not only traditional Myanmar and Burmese cuisine, but also local Shan and Intha dishes. And those local treats, my friends, are some of the tastiest ones you will eat in the entire country.


The Bamboo Delight experience starts with a trip to the local market in the morning. While guiding you around the colorful market, Sue will buy all the ingredients needed for that day’s meal (your choice: lunch or dinner) and explain their uses. Next it’s back to her cozy home where she and her visitors will prepare and cook the meal. And then the best part comes: eating the lesson!


I’ve known Sue and Lesly for several years. They are very personable and always helpful. Both are fluent in English also. Honestly, you couldn’t ask for two nicer hosts. I always make it a point to drop by their house for a visit when I’m in town, and they will invariably invite me over for a meal, time permitting. During my last visit, Lesly cooked up a big pot of monhinga. In many parts of Myanmar this popular dish is eaten in the mornings for breakfast, but really it’s a treat that is delicious any time of the day or night.


Nowadays, the cooking classes are so popular with tourists, that it’s rare that Sue has an entire free day to relax or spend time with her two school-age daughters. But even when she has “kitchen duty” you can tell that it’s not a hardship at all: Sue loves what she is doing and it shows in her vibrant personality and delicious recipes. If you are visiting Nyaungshwe or Inle Lake, think about adding a Bamboo Delight class to your schedule for a truly unforgettable experience. A guaranteed highlight on any trip to Myanmar!





Monastery Makeover


When I stopped by Shwe Yan Pyay Kyaung, the old teakwood monastery in Shan State’s Nyaungshwe, back in March, they were doing a bit of fix-up work; painting, cleaning, dusting, and generally sprucing up the place. It was the equivalent of a monastery makeover!



Located on the road to Nyaungshwe and the famous Inle Lake, this monastery receives a lot of visits from foreign tourists. It’s common to see tour buses and vans parked by the side of the road, in front of the main building each morning, and these ever-growing throngs of camera-toting visitors no doubt contribute to the deterioration of the old wooden monastery. Taking your shoes off isn’t enough to defend the teakwood floors against lumbering, obese tourists.



The main teakwood building, the vihara, which houses the monastery’s large Buddha figure, is the one that was receiving the most attention during the renovation, since this is where most of the tourists take their photos, usually of red-robed novice monks standing next to the distinctive huge oval windows.




But instead of the old vihara where they are usually found, the novice monks were holding their lessons in an adjacent, less picturesque building. There were no doubt plenty of disappointed photographers during this renovation period. Nevertheless, a tour around the rest of the monastery, including the shrine-packed “White Building” that’s located next to the main vihara, provides for plenty of other interesting photo ops.













Photographs from Zin Ko in Mandalay: 2014


As promised, here is a sample of photos that Zin Ko took in Mandalay, and other spots, recently, using my old Canon camera. From shots of graduates in his neighborhood, scenes from the teashop on 90th Street, to picnics with relatives and friends at the waterfalls in Pyin U Lwin, and photos from our trip to Shan State, it looks like the kid is getting the hang of being behind the lens.




One added bonus with Zin Ko taking photos this time was that I didn’t have to take as many as I usually do. He got his fair share of “Parent & Baby” shots, plus when we went touring around Inle Lake and other spots in Shan State, when the rest of the kids wanted “action shots” that task was often undertaken by Zin Ko.

























Monk Mania!


Back at the monastery in Shan State’s Tat Ein village, the novice monks have gone amuck! No, it’s not another tomato salad party, this time they are just hanging with some geeky foreigner who showed up wearing a longyi and started taking photos. Despite the carefree nature of these photos, it’s not all fun and games at the monastery. These youngsters actually do have to study each day, as well as do chores around the monastery grounds. Cleaning, weeding, raking, washing; there is always something that needs done. But when they have their midday lunch break, or later in the afternoon after studies are finished, that’s when silly time commences.






Seeing the enthusiasm of these kids when they pose for the camera is infectious. They may be novice monks with shaved heads and wearing traditional red robes, but when the camera comes out, they’re just gleeful young boys from the Shan State hills, putting stickers on their shoes (or arms and foreheads!), playing marbles, singing songs, or even, uh, punching one another.



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Whether I was taking the photos, or letting Htun Lay borrow the camera, the results were always fun to see. Enjoy these shots from the Tat Ein monastery, not far from the shores of picturesque Inle Lake.



















Books in Shan State


Looking for something to read during your travels around the Inle Lake area of Myanmar’s Shan State? It’s not as challenging a task as you might think, thanks to the growing selection of books at Golden Bowl Travel Services in Nyaungshwe, the little town that serves as the gateway to Inle Lake. In addition to several hundred secondhand books, Golden Bowl also stocks new copies of several titles from Things Asian Press, including To Myanmar with Love, Ma Thanegi’s Defiled on the Ayeyarwaddy and her new memoir Nor Iron Bars a Cage, and the bilingual children’s title M is for Myanmar.


Run by the personable Htein Linn, Golden Bowl stocks secondhand books in English, French, German, Italian, and other European languages. The selection isn’t huge by Western standards, but a bit of browsing always reveals something interesting and worth buying. I’ve found some truly cool titles in this shop over the years. And just like at other secondhand bookshops the world over, you can exchange the books you’ve finished reading at Htein Linn’s shop and receive some credit towards the purchase of more books, or sell what you have for cash. If Htein Linn is not around, you’re sure to meet his wife, Mar Mar Aye, or daughter, Han Nwe Nyine (she also goes by the nickname “Tina”), both of whom can answer any questions you have.


In addition to selling books, Golden Bowl offers the usual range of travel services (airline and bus tickets, money exchange, boat tours of the lake, canoe trips on local canals, trekking to nearby ethnic villages), plus a laundry service and bicycle rental. But even with the current boom in tourism, Htein Linn says that times are tough due to an equivalent surge in competition. A year ago, for example, he typically rented 10 or 12 bikes in a day. Now, the number of rentals is less than half of that due to dozens of other nearby businesses that rent bikes, some of them slashing their rates to attract more customers. But as Htein Linn pointed out to me, with maintenance costs (replacing flat tires, brakes, gears, broken baskets, etc.), when you start slashing the daily bike rental rate, the profit margin is almost negligible. He also has some competition in the book business, although some of those shops are selling only dubious photocopied versions of some popular novels and guidebooks, just like you’ll find in Cambodia and Vietnam.


Golden Bowl is located on the main East-West street in Nyaungshwe, on the same side of the street between the main market and the popular Golden Kite Restaurant (serving the town’s best pizza and pasta, along with wine from nearby vineyards). The bookshop is open daily until 8 pm.

Air Bagan Crash in Heho


Like many people who have visited Myanmar, I was particularly interested in the details of Tuesday’s Air Bagan plane crash landing near Heho Airport in Shan State. I’ve landed at Heho’s airport dozens of times, and I’ve used Air Bagan many times for the flight from Mandalay to Heho (there are also a handful of other domestic carriers that fly that same route)  and even though I wouldn’t know a Fokker from a Fudgesicle, I have to assume that I’ve been on that same plane.


The first details that I read online on Tuesday afternoon were sketchy. The initial news reports said that all passengers were evacuated from the airplane safely. Within an hour, however, updates said that an 11-year-old child died on the plane. Or was the child a passenger on the motorcycle that was hit by the plane while landing on a road near the airport? Or did the plane actually land in a rice field? Another hour or two later, it was reported that a tour guide, a Burmese woman, was the fatality on board. Did they mistake this woman for a child or did two people onboard perish? How many people were on the motorcycle that was hit? As usual with Internet “news”, there was a lot of rumor and disinformation. Did the plane hit a power line while trying to land? Was the fog so heavy that it caused the pilot to mistake a road for the runway? Did the fire start before or after the plane landed?  Whatever the cause, looking at photos of the aftermath, it’s a minor miracle that nearly all passengers were able to evacuate safely. Apparently, the crew did an outstanding job of getting nearly everyone off the plane quickly.


The tour guide who died was Nwe Linn Shein. But in every online account that I’ve read of the accident, she is only referred to as a “local tour guide.” You can bet that if a foreign tourist had been killed, they would print the name, nationality, and other details of the person before you can shout “bamalama.” But in the eyes of the international media, because Nwe Linn Shein comes from Myanmar, she’s not considered important enough to have her name listed. She’s “just a local.” This is one of many media practices that I detest. Nwe Linn Shein was a real person, one with a family that loved her. Give her the same respect you would a foreign casualty.


In an online forum mainly comprised of local people working in Myanmar’s travel industry, they have already started collecting donations for Nwe Linn Shein’s family. In fact, one of the first questions some of the posters posed after the accident was how they could contact the woman’s family, and in turn do what they could to console them and help them. That’s typical of the people who I have met in Myanmar; they are a very concerned, generous, and caring community.


The airport in Heho is tiny, the terminal not much bigger than a suburban three-bedroom house. The choice of Heho for an airport seems puzzling at first glance. Heho is nothing more than a tiny provincial town out in the middle of nowhere with nothing for tourists to see or do. But it’s centrally located in Shan State. From Heho, it’s only a one-hour car ride to Nyaunghswe, the town known as “the gateway” to popular Inle Lake. Heho is also an hour from the biggest town in the region, the hill station of Taunggyi, and not far away is Kalaw, a popular base for trekking in the area. Earlier this year they expanded the departure area by knocking down a wall to create an area for more seating, but otherwise there’s been no other construction or expansion to the main building. With the huge spike in tourism, the days of Heho having a quaint little airport may soon be a thing of the past.


Meanwhile, I’ll be interested in how this accident affects both the short-term and long-term situation of the burgeoning travel industry in Myanmar. Already, domestic airlines are stretched thin in trying to handle the current tidal wave of tourists arriving to visit the country. I would assume that the number of tourists visiting the country this month is the highest ever recorded in Myanmar. Losing one plane on a popular route is going to create havoc for those passengers trying to book tickets in the coming months. But will other planes be grounded for safety inspections, creating more of a logjam? And will there be an increase in trip cancellations, tourists fearing that Myanmar is an unsafe destination? I’ve never felt unsafe anywhere in Myanmar; not on planes or boats, in hotels or walking the streets. It’s an incredibly hospitable and pleasant country. I hope the accident doesn’t adversely affect the country’s reputation.


Shan Shopping Channel

The largest town near Inle Lake in Shan State is Nyaungshwe. This is where most of the hotels and guesthouses in the area are located, although more lakeside resorts have been opening in recent years. The appeal of those resorts escapes me. Yes, they’re all quite comfortable and attractive, and with their lakeside location, the scenery looking out your window may be lovely. But with all that tranquility you sacrifice atmosphere. The location is so far from town and so isolated, that visitors never get to truly experience the unique vibe of daily Shan State life. Nyaungshwe is a sleepy little town, but it’s quite scenic in its own right, and offers a variety of charming experiences for the visitor.  Walk around town and discover the quaint wooden bridges, monasteries, canals, stupa ruins, kids flying kites, and so much more. It’s damn cool.


One of those simple charms is the local outdoor market. It’s not an extremely large market, but it’s always bustling with activity — a heady mix of vendors and shoppers — and bursting with color. I never get tired of roaming the aisles and snapping photos. As long as keep my distance from the aromatic fresh fish section, it makes for a refreshing stroll. I just have to be careful and remember to watch out where I’m walking. Inevitably, I have to swerve and duck whenever I approach the many low-hanging ropes and wires; don’t want any messy decapitations.


I go to the market to buy fruit each morning when I’m in town. The fruit is not for me — although I’ve been known to nibble on a mango now and then — but to take to the monks at Shwe Yan Pyay Kyaung later in the morning. I patronize the same fruit seller every time, a lovely young woman who always presents me “presents” in the form of extra pieces of fruit. Depending on the season, it might be mangoes, oranges, apples, watermelon, pineapples, dragon fruit, or avocadoes.


There are no supermarkets or grocery stores in Nyaungshwe, only this single market. Even in the larger nearby town of Taunggyi — a one-hour drive up the road and over the mountain — the only shopping option is an outdoor market. These people living in Shan State don’t have the luxury of owning fridges, so they can’t store and hoard food products for later consumption. Even if they could afford an appliance, unless they also owned a generator, they are at the mercy of the frequent power cuts — the power outages in the area can last several hours per day, or all day — and refrigerated food would likely spoil. Thus, whatever you buy today, you eat today. And frankly, I think that’s a healthier approach to eating anyway.


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