After Bagan, we took a quick, smooth flight over to the Shan State of Burma, which has strong cultural links to its neighbors, Laos and Thailand. In those countries, one has to search for the authentic, ancient folkways of the tribal groups, but not so in relatively remote Myanmar. Upon leaving the airport, I was so pleased to see truckloads of traditionally dressed mountain people everywhere, cattle herds slowing traffic, pony carts in use by locals (not tourists) and expansive, untarnished landscape of mountains, agricultural fields, and not much else. One aspect that I love about the current state of Myanmar is that there are very few if any billboards or large sized advertising on buildings of any sort. So, as it turns out our drives, even from the airports, turned out to be so beautiful and interesting. Mass consumerism has yet to take hold in Burma. The society’s strong Buddhist beliefs, which renounce materialism, combined with years of isolation, probably are two reasons why the people are seemingly so special, honest, down to earth and open hearted and thus appeal to Westerners so much. After the massive cities of Saigon and Bangkok, this was so refreshing and restorative.
Like most tourists, we came to Nyaung Shwe to use it as a base to explore nearby Inle Lake, one the highest and largest (45 square miles) lakes in Burma, and to do a little trekking. One of the first things we did was visit the market, and that day it was the host of the rotating 5 day market that alternates with 4 other villages around the lake. I love markets in SE Asia; I was particularly taken by this one’s profuse flower displays and copious vegetable offerings.
Nyaung Shwe is also a great town to just hang around. We found a couple spots that served dark, rich European style coffee with hot milk on the side, there were several restaurants serving pizza, which the kids loved, and generally the locals were so dang welcoming. The 2 block radius of our guesthouse became our meandering zone, where the kids flew kites, kicked a ball around, and repeatedly visited our favorite guesthouse lobby (though we only stayed there 1 night), Golden Empress. Mathilda’s special friend, 21 year old Kham Mon, was a true sweetheart.
We took a great trek and visited Inle Lake, which you will hear about in the following posts, but another worthwhile little trip from Nyaung Shwe was a visit to Red Mountain Winery. Nestled on a hillside above the lake, this vineyard produces wine made from locally grown grapes from over 400,000 plants imported from France and Spain. The location provided an awesome uphill bike ride for Chris, and great views for all (we took a taxi truck). Maybe the French winemaker should know, however, that wine was not too memorable and the outrageous multitude of flies (eeeek!) had us running back down the mountain.