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I awoke from a deep sleep to the sound of the telephone ringing. 'Good morning sir, this is your wakeup call'. It was 4.30am and we were waking up at this very early hour in order to catch our Air Bagan flight from Yangon to Heho, the nearest airport to Inle Lake. After a comfortable flight via Mandalay we disembarked the plane and were soon met by our guide and on our way.
En route from Taunggyi we stopped at a beautiful vineyard called Ayetharyar, where, despite it being half past ten in the morning, we tasted four very palatable wines. An interesting detour.
The first stop was Taunggyi where we were to pick up our Pa-O tribal guide to accompany us to Kakku. Kakku is around an hour and a half’s drive from Heho and is famous for its collection of 2500 Buddhist Pagodas. It is also primarily populated by the Pa-O tribe who are very striking. The men wear smart black trousers, plain white shirts and brightly coloured 'turbans', and the women all black tunics accompanied by a head scarf. They all seem rather partial to chewing betel nut which leaves their mouths stained bright red. They are extremely photogenic!
Back to Kakku, the pagodas are really quite remarkable as they are all but piled up on top of each other and stretch for as far as a typical camera lens can see. Quite a sight. After our sightseeing we ate a quick bowl of Shan noodle soup (very garlicy but delicious) and climbed back into our minivan for the drive to Naungshwe which is the main town surrounding Inle Lake.
Waiting for us at Naungshwe was our very courteous boatman who after helping us onboard the long narrow motorboat soon had us whizzing along a narrow canal towards the lake itself. By now it was around 4.30pm and the heat of the day had passed leaving in its place a lovely soft light and a very welcome breeze. The narrow canal soon spread into a vast expanse of very placid lake bordered by jagged mountain peaks. Inle Lake. I had really been looking forward to this part of the trip and it didn't disappoint. Within minutes we had seen the famous 'leg rowers' and lots of beautiful egrets, stark white against the dark still water.
After an hour or so we had reached our accommodation - the comfortable Golden Island Cottages. Each cottage is raised up above the lake on stilts and the setting is magnificent. We were soon tucking into a delicious medley of local dishes including a fantastic tomato salad (tomatoes are widely grown around the edges of the lake) and a delicious potato curry. The only thing left to do was hit the hay and get some sleep ahead of the next day's sightseeing programme.
I have gone on long enough already but suffice to say that the full day sightseeing trip around Inle Lake is superb. Local markets full of tribal people, beautiful pagodas, stunning scenery, Burmese cats and excellent food. I have fallen head over heels for Burma and Inle is the jewel in the crown thus far!