|We spend the entire day in a boat with a Dutch couple, and two boatmen on the lake. We went through a number of villages. Many of the homes appeared flooded. Some had floating floors inside, while the outer structure of the house rested on stilts. The lake isn't very deep, 15 feet at most. In the past, the surrounding hill tribes logged vast amounts of forests for firewood, causing massive soil erosion into the lake. If you look around you'll see that most of the surrounding hills have very few trees.
People living on the lake get around on a boat, naturally. They also use boats to fish, collect seaweed for fertilizer and ferry cargo. The locals have developed a hands-free rowing method. They row using the muscles of their leg, while balancing at the end of their boat, smoking a cigar, and casting a fishing net simultaneously. Everything is grown on small floating islands of soil. The region is especially known for growing tomatoes. In fact we arrived during the tomato-harvesting season.
We stopped at a few spots during the day, many of which were designed with tourists in mind. The first was a market, selling mostly souvenirs. Myles and I hung out at a tea shop in the middle of the market, sipping tea, watching a local clean another's nails, and I applied some thanakha to my face. The tea was good, and the company was good - no one was trying to make a sale. However, we'd be lying if we said we walked off with nothing.
Afterwards we stopped at a silk-weaving factory. Despite it being a tourist spot, it was also a place where locals weave silk, and earn a living from it. They were not very pushy in fact. Interestingly, the raw silk comes from Myanmar's biggest trading partner, China. They also make threads out of lotus flowers, which grow in abundance on the lake. The stems contain tiny, stringy fibers inside that are then rolled into thicker threads. Lotus flower fabrics are quite course, and thick, and way more expensive than silk. If you are an important monk, chances are your robes are made out of lotus flower. It is a laborious and lengthy process to make the threads. Myles got himself a longyi, and spend good half hour trying to figure out how to put it on.
Our next stop was a local cigar making place. It wasn't especially exciting, but the girls that work there were really cute. We hung out there for a while, and felt bad leaving having purchased nothing. The cigars are not exported outside Myanmar, and they are in very high demand among the locals. The older girls make up to 3000 a day. Myles pretended to enjoy one, and avoided coughing himself to death by not inhaling.
Then we went to the largest temple on the lake. A soon as we got off the boat, we were hounded by women selling gold-leaf. We each bought one, only to find out that women are not allowed to gold-leaf the Buddha. It was difficult to tell that it was in fact a Buddha, it looked more like four, irregularly shaped blobs of gold leaf, but than again I'm not an expert.
Our final stop was at place with hundreds of stupas at various stages of decay. Many were being worked on at the time. To get there, we passed a forest of massive bamboos. It was quite beautiful. Luckily, we arrived there in late afternoon, and all the sellers were in the process of packing their stuff away. We walked amongst the stupas. It was very peaceful. The sky turned dark, and it started to rain. We sat there for a while, waiting out the rain before heading back to town. It was a long boat ride back, especially when we ran out of fuel. It became dark, and cool. We huddled behind some umbrellas. Then another boatmen rescued us, pulling our boat into town at an excruciatingly slow speed - but, progress nonetheless.