|It was a pleasant day, which started out with some lovely breakfast outside (included in the price). We had some Shan noodles (we are in the southern Shan State), fruit, and a 3 in 1 coffee mix (instant coffee, powdered milk and sugar). We took our bikes for a ride around the lake. Due to some major flooding in recent weeks, we started our ride by going through a section of ankle-deep water. The dirt road leading to the hot spring, was rough in some sections, but not too bad. We stopped to have some rice and sesame crackers, made on the spot, and interacted with the entire family. They were all really awesome. We passed a bunch of ducks, pigs and dogs on the way. There were many of locals going up and down the road, some carrying some interesting loads.
Once we hit a road junction we were urged to sit down at a small food stand, by a family of three. We joined a French couple at one of the tables. They proceeded to bring out a number of treats, fruit, drinks and even a bowl of spicy soup for the four of us to share. Later on, the mother ground some fresh Thanakha bark on a stone, and applied it to our faces. It felt really cool going on. It is supposed to protect one from the sun, and most local women swear by it. The little girl was really cute. She made us lotus flower necklaces, and made herself pink fingernails from the lotus flower petals. It was hard to leave, but at that point we felt like we haven't seen anything yet.
We started riding again, except we didn't get far. We stopped at the foot of a long flight of stairs leading to a stupa. As soon as we dismounted our bikes, a bunch of kids on bicycles started to congregate. They were all wearing school uniforms (white collared shirts, and green sarongs or logyis, all with colourful Shan-style bags). At first they just interacted with each other. Some were reading comics, while others just hung around. Later they all expressed interest in trying out our bikes. Myles lowered the seats and let each of the boys try our bikes, one by one. They loved it. None of the girls wanted to have a go at it, except one. After much persuasion from her friends, and from us she gave it a try. There was a huge smile on her face. Afterwards they all left, except one guy. We tried talking to him, but there was very little understanding. We tried using some of the phrases at the back of our guide book. He was able to read them, as they were written out in Burmese. Burmese being a tonal language, is very difficult in terms of pronunciations. We had a really hard time even repeating the words he was reading. But, than again, being a teenager he somewhat lacked in patience. It was fun anyhow.
After climbing the steps to the stupa, we checked out the views. It was very peaceful and quiet up top, except for the sounds of a few cowbells. From there it was just a short ride to the lake shore, where we decided to catch a boat across. A local took advantage of us, as to be expected, overcharging us for the ride. We loaded our bikes on board. It was getting to be late afternoon, and quite cool out on the lake. We passed a few people heading home on their boats, and a couple of fishermen casting their nets. Going through little clusters of homes on the lake, and navigating through floating islands of tomatoes and other veggies was beautiful. The water was very still, and clean. You could see perfect mirror reflections of homes, and boats in the water.
The boat ride was about 30 minutes shore to shore. We ended up in a shore village, and headed up to check out its monastery, which sat prominently in the distance on the side of a small hill. On the way there we passed a man unloading soil for the road off his cart. Three little boys were hanging out with him, probably his kids. We also passed a group of young women carrying large loads of firewood on their heads. There was noone at the monastery. We appreciated it mostly from the outside. Going back out through the village we were stared at by everyone, but mostly by little kids. Sadly, many have been exposed to tourists in the past, and some put their hands out asking for a 'present' at hello.
It started to get dark outside, and not knowing how far we had to go, we decided to keep a steady pace for a while. We followed a dirt road for a ways, which occasionally turned into loose rock and gravel. We went through a number of small villages. Several times locals invited us into their homes. We felt a little jaded at that point, and didn't stop. The scenery was quite beautiful, with patchworks of farms spreading in either direction. We stopped to watch a large group of mostly women on their way home from the fields. The setting sun cast a beautiful light on their faces. Many of them giggled when they saw us standing on the side, watching them go by. Some were stuffing large wads of betel nut into their mouths as they walked.
We arrived back in Nyaung Shwe in the dark.