After our biking adventure, Meleny, Chris and I enjoyed each other, so we decided to take a tour of Inle Lake by boat together the next day. We were joined by Vilma, Felipe, and Alex to make a total of six.
At the start of the day, we got the gringo treatment. And by that, I mean that they split us into two groups of three rather than one group of six. Why? Because tours are priced by the boat, not by the person. So splitting us into two groups made sure they got double the income they would have otherwise. We did see other groups of six on the lake, so we were a bit annoyed by this.
However, it’s still hard to get too bent out of shape about it – it is the low season, and two boats meant that two boat drivers had work for the day. I’m trying to keep a good perspective on the parts of travel that are getting conned and then the bright side of whatever con has been pulled. And the bright side of the boats was that two drivers were employed.
The whole day, I had a hard time escaping the feeling that I was on a ride at Disney World. Especially being in the boats, it felt a bit like It’s a Small World – just with one country rather than many!
Inle Lake has a rich heritage of fishing and agriculture, some of which has been lost due to “progress” and tourism.
Once upon a time, Inle Lake was the only place in the world where the boatmen used a technique of paddling the boat by wrapping their foot around the oar and then using the foot to pull the paddle. It’s honestly ingenious, and as I watched it, I imagined it starting by some teenager hundreds of years ago with tired arms but who still hard to get home. And then he decided to use his foot and leg to take some of the work off his arms. And then, as teenagers do, others copied him and the rest was history. (To note, this is my own made-up version of history. Not the real one. I have no clue the real origination of the technique.)
They also were/are the only place that uses a specific type of drum fishing nets/cages. These days, both the old fishing nets and foot-paddling are not as needed. But, because they are part of the heritage, they persist. Like with the guy paddling with his foot, posing with the fishing cage. I’m fairly positive his job is to stand there, looking like an old time fisherman while posing for pictures for tourists.
That was a bit hard to see, just because it made me question things and the corruption of a place for the benefit of tourism. But on the flip side, the guy had a job, and the more I thought about it, the more it feels a bit like colonial Williamsburg – it’s just preserving an old way of life.
The day progressed in much the same way. Like many tourism-centric destinations, our tour of the lake consisted of being shuttled from workshop to workshop. We saw how Myanmar fans are made; how lotus is made into thread and then woven; how longyis are woven; how cigarettes are rolled; and I can’t remember what else. At each destination, there were people employed to give tourists the overview of what used to be done there.
And just like Disney World, each one ended with a themed and overpriced gift shop. I’m being a bit cynical today, but it’s just funny. Some things are consistent wherever you are – and selling souvenirs to tourists is one of them!
As a tour of two boats, none of us bought anything. (Actually, Alex bought a fan, but that was it for the group.) Knowing that there has to be a whole system of kickbacks based on commissions, us not buying anything made me feel a bit better about paying for two boats. The people who needed work got it.
We also stopped at a temple with hundreds of pagodas, all perched overlooking the lake. I have to admit to being a bit over-pagoda’d at this point, so I didn’t properly appreciate them. But the view was great!
The day was fun – riding around the lake on the boat was the absolute highlight of it! We got to see so much of the lake. One other thing that’s unique to Inle, but also still in existence is the “water gardens.” Inle Lake is a bit more of a marsh, but it’s allowed them to create these extensive gardens that sit on top of the water. It’s incredible to see!
The weeds throughout the lake were also a sight to behold. There were people whose jobs it was to pull them out of the lake. I’m pretty certain these were not being paid just to pose for tourists! You can see why they have to keep up with the weeds – on our way back to the main jetty at the end of the day, our boat got stuck because the propeller got so congested with weeds!
And the other thing persisted – I think this is the greenest place I have ever seen!