MYANMAR // YANGON - BAGAN - INLE LAKE - HPA AN
November 22, 2017
5:30am - 85 degrees Fahrenheit - 95% humidity. Fuck. So sweaty.
November 28, 2017
Inle Lake, Myanmar
3:30 a.m. wake up call! I woke up with a good feeling about today. Yesterday's failed hot air balloon ride over the Bagan temples was bummer to say the least, but that left me with an opportunity to fly for a longer stretch of time over the massive freshwater Inle lake and the surrounding Shan hills. Apparently, this is a newer and lesser known adventure, so I thought that perhaps yesterdays poor weather was a blessing in disguise? A van picked me up at 4 a.m. and brought me to the main "stream" leading from Nyuang Shwe to the main body of the lake. With a a clear view of countless stars, I was sure today was the perfect opportunity for lift off. The air was brisk; since I hadn't packed a jacket, unprepared for this extent of a weather shift, I was only armed with a heavy cardigan and a scarf. Luckily, the longboat we were taking on the next leg of the journey to the launch point was equipped with thick, brightly colored fleece blankets to burrow into. At about 20 feet long and only a few feet wide, the boat held five passengers in addition to the captain who operated the motor in the back. Four wide chairs were placed one in front of another along the length of the boat, just wide enough for my American lady hips - the two balloon operators sat in front and back of me after tucking me in with the blanket for the hour long ride across the lake. This was one of the most breathtaking, unexpected moments of my journey so far. With a perfectly clear night sky, we cruised along through the darkness, lit by the moon and stars with only an occasional flicker of man made light to ensure we weren't veering too closely to the reeds lining our pathway. I could not have been happier - the lake was silent except for us and a few fishermen, it was all ours, all our little secret.
The sun finally started to peak through the horizon and I could see for the first time how extensively the lake expanded, how many little streams and branches spiraled off the edges leading towards villages and temples. We cruised on, turning down a branch of water towards a lakeside resort for one more passenger before docking at the launch site. Sixteen people gathered in a circle in the soggy grass, sitting on rickety folding chairs snacking on cookies, tea and coffee while absorbing the safety protocol. Teams of six per group started blowing up the two balloons; stretching them out flat across the field, giant fans at one end pumping air to fill a monstrosity able to lift nine people and hurt worth of fuel into high into the air. When they were just about full enough to fly, the pilots slowly walked back to the group with somber faces. A heavy fog was settling over the lake due to frigid nights and sweltering days; we would not be able to fly today. I tried to maintain a relaxed/chill/go-with-the-flow-there’s-nothing-anyone-can-do vibe, but to be honest I was pretty damn frustrated and had to hold back tears until I pulled myself back together. At least I was going to get another pleasant boat ride....and all this before breakfast.
December 1, 2017
Hpa An, Myanmar
My legs are so sore this morning. With yesterday's four-hour sunrise hike up the stairs of Mt. Zwegabin still ripping through my body, I planned a less physically active sightseeing day for myself. I rented a moped to cruise out of town and explore the caves in the surrounding area. It seemed like everything I'd want to experience was within four main roads that formed a square around the city; the receptionist handed me a highlighted map with detailed instructions that even I shouldn't confuse.
I love mopeds. I loooooove riding mopeds. Though I was once a polite midwesterner that would allow everyone to cut me off while continuously apologizing, I've lived in Boston long enough that my Masshole driving tendencies and confidence are very helpful in Asian countries that seem to use traffic rules more as suggestions. I sped out of town to visit the Kaw Ka Thawg Cave; a bunch of teenagers were jumping into the swimming hold cave fully clothed. The spot was clearly more popular at a hotter time of day; it's surrounded by restaurants and shops overlooking the lake which now stood empty. Not wanting to jump in with all the kids, I decided to drive around on some back roads and visit less popular pagodas. En-route back to the hotel, I decided to take one more detour; a small sign directed me down a long dirt road to what looked like a cave in the side of a mountain. I decided to pay the entry fee and check it out. I hadn't noticed this spot on the map or guide book, so I figured it'd be a cool unknown adventure. The monk handed me a card and told me "one hour up". Wait WHUT? I wasn't really dressed for exercise in a t-shirt and long light grey shorts, but I figured I had the time so I might as well. Thinking he was just overestimating the distance, I marched on up endless stairs, wondering where the cave entrance was. I climbed for an hour, then up to an hour and a half. Sweating and huffing, my thighs still on fire from yesterday I was starting to lose steam when I ran into an American couple on their way back down. They told me I had about another thirty minutes left to climb. Frustrated, I couldn't turn back now. I was on an adventure and dammit I was going to get to the end of this trail. The afternoon sun was ruthless and unrelenting. My face was dripping with sweat, I could literally wring my braid out, and my shorts looked like I had peed my pants. I turned a corner and could see through a break in the trees that I had finally made it. I stopped with 20 stairs to go thinking how familiar this scene looked. Did I see it in a photo? No. No that's not it. Then it hit me. This is the same temple I climbed to yesterday morning, but from the opposite side of the mountain. I. Hiked. The. Same. Damn. Mountain. Two. Days. In. A. F#$%^. Row. Someone get me a beer.