Inle Lake, Myanmar: It’s a Wet Dream….

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Inle Lake Fisherman

For the first time, I’m annoyed at Burma, probably even pissed, at having to pay an entrance fee to the tourist complex at Inle Lake, based in Nyaungshwe. I mean: preservation of an archaeological zone is costly, and expensive, too, but Inle has none of that, and Nyaunshwe is a bit shabby, if you don’t mind me saying, a coat of dust covering the entire affair, tourists included. What are we paying for, anyway?

But the main offense is the mere proliferation of tourist amenities, albeit without the aforementioned infrastructure. This is something that has been lacking—refreshingly—so far in Burma, and really the reason to justify the higher prices, like paying a premium bride price for a virgin. And the main marketing pitch seems to be toward millennial malingerers, looking for alcohol and a place to drink it…

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Mass tourism in the works

But my fears are largely misplaced, for now at least. This is hardly Vang Vieng in Laos of a few years ago, or Siem Reap, much less Khao Sarn Road, or, God forbid, the Full Moon party on Koh Pha Ngan. No, this is more like Panajachel, Guatemala, on Lake Atitlan, c. 1977, resting up in multifarious restaurants, for the hard road ahead…

In fact Lake Atitlan is the first thing to come to mind in comparison to Inle Lake, though the analogy quickly falls short and it’s probably closer to Lake Toba in Sumatra, that other great lake of backpacker fame. This lake is vast, but shallow, and should properly be described as a wetlands area, really. The incredible thing is that there are people living all over those vast shallows, making lives and having their being all at a few feet above water. Ah yes, the correct comparison would be Tonle Sap in Kampuchea…

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Tomato Express

So the big revelation here for me is this ‘water world’, in which people have a one-boat garage, unless they’re a two-boat family. There is only one country in the world that refers to their homeland as their ‘home water’, and that’s Vietnam, AFAIK, and this gives a clue to that mindset, this from their distant relatives, just like those others in similar straits in Brunei and elsewhere. This is life as they know it, on water…

And I start warming up to the town, also, once I realize that it’s not party central, though it still seems that’s the business plan. So I won’t make any future plans for here. What DOES bother me, though, is the organized desecration of temples, for the purpose of marketing to tourists, and that sticks in my craw to no end. It seems like religion everywhere is not only subject to corruption, but open to it, wide open, and this is not good, especially when I’m about to go into Buddhist retreat for ten days…

The irony is that in one of the temples, right there on the wall, in the picture history of Buddhism, in Burmese and English, about halfway through the story it explains that the Second Buddhist Council was held over the issue of monks soliciting funds—not food—in their begging bowls. Well, where I grew up in Buddhism monks don’t solicit anything. They accept offerings, but money does not touch the bowl, nor any monk’s hand. That’s the job of temple boys and designated drivers like me…

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Buddhist Temple on Inle Lake

And yet that’s exactly what they’re doing out on the streets here all day every day. Still even back in the forest temples of Thailand, there are issues to address, and I’m not sure that an abbot wheeling and dealing on the phone like some stockbroker on Wall Street is really any different, just because he hasn’t physically handled the actual legal tender. 

Isn’t renunciation the issue, and the proper role of monk and priest, that and the sale of indulgences, an issue that has also haunted Catholics over the years? Isn’t cash just a convenient symbol for money, in whatever form it takes? But these are not concerns of the average traveler, unless he’s a karma bum or a dharma dawg…

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