Much like the night before, activity started as suddenly as it finished. The monks were out and about at nearly 5 o’clock exactly and the floorboards bounced with them marching across the monastery to head outside. Katherine rolled over and went back to sleep where I was now wide awake and ready to get going. Thus, I wasn’t taken aback or woken up abruptly when 40 young voices started chanting at 05:20. It was certainly one of the most unusual alarm calls we’ve ever had, but it was so cool.
After another feast of a breakfast – with neither guide nor chef listening to us to serve less – we set off at seven o’clock and were soon at the counter to buy our Inle Lake zone tickets. We were the first customers of the day and didn’t realise how far ahead of schedule we were until we arrived at a garage/shop at 08:00, when Ko Aung normally arrives there at 10:00 with his groups. Knowing that we had in fact broken our guide, we rested for half an hour before setting off again. The rain picked up a bit and we trekked along the main road so as not to be on the slippery trail all the time. We were told that it would take us approximately 3hours to get to our destination and we could do it in 2.5 if we were fast walkers.
Heading in to the wilderness, making for a path between the hills, the pace did slow down a bit. The soft red earth was sticking to the bottom of our shoes and needed to be removed every few steps on a root or bit of stone. The extra weight of the mud was surprisingly heavy and made the legs tired, the feet a bit cramped and the already slippy trail a bit more treacherous. But, we started to see better views of the lake in the distance and the scramble down gullies and across ravines was becoming less and less. Soon we were levelling out and walking across a soccer pitch, past stupas and dashing across a main road towards our final destination. We had made it to Inle Lake (in 2.25hrs) where our guide pretty much collapsed.
With breakfast less than 4hrs ago we were slightly shocked at the amount they had prepared for ‘lunch’. There was no way we could eat all of it and it was a small relief that the pineapple pieces were too sweet to eat. Waddling around the corner to the jetty it was so weird to see Gouramis (a type of fish) living in the streams. I used to sell them at Squires at £3 for the small species. There were hundreds of them and a few small shoals of killifish or something similar (the nice ones that eat the mosquito larvae and look like guppies). We thanked the guide and chef with a small tip each which they were totally taken aback by. Katherine said the chef was so confused with the money he thought I had given him rubbish and/or had dropped it. Ko Aung (still no idea how to pronounce it properly) waved goodbye to us as we popped up our umbrellas to protect us from the sun. We were about to start our journey on the lake and he could return home to put ice between his legs and sleep some more before his next group.
The section leading out to the lake was brilliant. There are bamboo sticks driven in to the bottom that are piled up with mud and water hyacinth and with barely enough of a gap to allow a boat through. As such, there is a tiny bit of a drop between each section, much like a mini weir. The boat would pick up a bit of speed and we would have to slow down for passing boats and to line up for the next gate. We motored past houses on stilts and fields covered in trellises and bamboo poles. The area is used really well with the boats able to pass underneath the trellises to gather marrows and pumpkins and pass down between the dikes to harvest aubergines and tomatoes. We spotted gentleman selling veg between boats and a hive of other activity before we even got out on to the lake proper. In total we must have been on our little boat for a bit over an hour. It was a bit nerve wracking when we stopped and had to clear the propeller of plants, with us tilting more and more towards the murky brown water, in the middle of a lake which we had no idea how deep it was and a few miles from a shoreline of any description. But, we needn’t have worried and soon we were not only in Nyaung Shwe, but our inn for the night.
They hadn’t received the message attached to our laundry (or chose not to do it), so we had an hour and a half of scrubbing before we could enjoy a nice hot shower. With clean clothes and a pot of green tea from the valleys we trekked through, we were able to take on the town. Unlike the Dutch guy whom chatted to us over tea! On the similar 3-day trek he was heading to bed when we went in search of the market (frightening a tuk tuk driver with some karate) and a decent coffee. Katherine had an amazing Cafe Latte (noted by the absence or need for any sugar) and I had a Coconut Mocha (reminiscent of Hoolympic days). Before the rain became too heavy we headed back to watch some friends and chill out. We headed next door to Mr. Cook for some local Shan State food to celebrate and finish the day. The Kim Pound-Kyam were pretty much spring onion tempura and the fried rice poa pyat (red bean paste) smell worse than it tasted. It was accompanied by a really flavoursome soup, but not as good as the mango lassi to wash it all down. With no sudden lights off like the monastery, Katherine checked some Facebook were I’m positive I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.
Tuesday 31st May 2016