Myanmar Travel Log

Myanmar Travel Log Part 5 - To Inle Lake - Back to Mandalay and on to Bagan

The bus dropped us of at Nyaung Shwe on the shores of Inle lake. The Inle lake is part of the main route through Burma, so it is not surprising that it is swamped with tourists. We join the masses and do something very touristy: chugging across the idyllic lake in a noisy boat.

Myanmar Travel Log - A fisherman in his boat on the Inle lake

One-legged fisherman in his boat on the Inle lake. Over centuries the fishermen developed their own propulsion technique: rowing with one leg only. This technique is exclusive to the fishermen on the Inle lake in Myanmar.

Feel free to give it a try yourself (no worries, your clothes will dry quickly in the dry heat).

Sound recording: the Inle lake looks more idyllic than it sounds...

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Fabric made from lotus, silver smith, boat builder and a beautiful pagoda field

Pagoda field of Indein - Inle lake
Picture: pagoda field near the Indein market -- Off the beaten track you will find a big pagoda field with stupas in various stages of decay.

If you book a boat tour you will get an entire day's worth of entertainment on the Inle lake. There are lots of sights to see: the swimming gardens, fabrics made out of lotus leaves growing on the lake, boat making, silver smiths etc. The tour will also take you to all sorts of markets, temples and monasteries.

The visit to the pagoda field near the Indein market is one of the nicest trips. This particular pagoda field is not always included with tours, so it pays to speak a bit of Burmese (although English might also get you there).

The boat first takes us through various canals and locks. After a short stroll we end up at the pagoda field. If you are lucky you might get to experience the beautiful atmosphere in this old pagoda field and temple complex all by yourself.

Back in Mandalay

We hop onto the plane back to Mandalay where we meet up with our trusted guide Myint in the afternoon. We take another ride on the scooters through the city and visit the leaf gold forge again to do some recordings.

In the evening we get the opportunity to record the evening prayer of the monks in a monastery. But, unfortunately, the recording is ruined by the tinny, rattling PA system that transmits all the prayers.

But I do get lucky in the end and manage to record the neophytes during another practice run -- without the PA.

Monks during evening prayer in Mandalay
Picture: Someone who is not bald is not singing...guess who?

Pointers about using religious sound material

I was given the opportunity to ask the monks if they would mind being recorded. And I asked them about any issues they might have with the recordings in the context of their buddhist beliefs.

Using religious material is always a bit tricky. You have to be careful not to insult anyone's religion and beliefs.

Take, for example, the prayer wheels of the Tibetan buddhists. They are powered by water or wind and work (or 'pray') automatically and autonomously. But does playing back a recording of the prayer wheels count as a religious act from a buddhist's perspective?

I am currently working on an article that will go into more detail about the use of religious sound material. Does my karma suffer if I record a religious ceremony? Or does eternal damnation await those who play it back? You will have the answers soon!

On the Irrawaddy River: from Mandalay to Bagan by ferry

Myint helps us organise the rest of the trip. We take the ferry to Bagan and spend an entertaining evening in Mandalay with Myint (aka Mr Take it Easy).

Exploring Bagan: on foot, on horseback and in a hot air balloon

Evening atmosphere in Bagan -- unforgettable
Picture: Evening atmosphere in Bagan's temple complex -- unforgettable

A visit to Bagan is one of the highlights of every Burma trip. Apart from Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Bagan is one of Asia's most important historical cities. More than 2,200 pagodas, palaces and monuments built by the kings in Bagan are spread out over a massive area.

Watching the sunset in Bagan at any one of these monuments is an unforgettable experience.

Try to book a ride on a hot air balloon -- they usually take off during sunrise. Floating silently above the entire complex is a unique and indescribable feeling.

Travel Log Bagan: In a horse-drawn carriage in Bagan

Bagan is another old king's city. More than 2,200 temples and palaces are spread out over a massive pagoda field (a prairie-like landscape skirted by pine trees).

The palaces are extremely well preserved, although some of the temples were damaged during an earthquake in mid-2016.

We decide to explore the monuments in a horse-drawn carriage, pulled by a particularly strong (and brave) specimen.

If you want to enter a holy site in Burma, you will have to take off your shoes. Bagan is no exception. It's pleasantly cool inside the temples. Our guide who steers the horse-drawn carriage shows us the entire temple complex. Although there are a number of impressively old (and pleasantly creaky) wooden doors that I would like to record, the masses of tourists squeezing through them at all times make any such activity impossible.

We decide to go for a ride in the hot air balloon the next day -- to float over the temple complex in the wee hours of the morning.

Floating above Bagan

Hot air balloon above the temple field in Bagan
An unforgettable moment: floating above the Bagan monuments in a hot air balloon.

UNESCO is not too pleased about the balloons. It's quite possible that they might get banned soon. We hope not.

Bagan - Booking a hot air balloon trip - Pointers

A ride on a hot air balloon will take about an hour max. We did notice, however, that some of the balloons already set down after 30 minutes (the minimum guaranteed fly time). Although we managed to stay in the air for an hour, it pays to inquire about the exact fly time before you begin your trip (it's not exactly a cheap affair, after all).

In the end, though, it is up to the pilot how long you will stay in the air. But it's a real bummer if he already peters out after 30 minutes...

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