I've not cooked while I have been travelling. So, following a craving for a salad, which I continually have, I went to the floating market on Inle lake a couple of days ago, purchased a bag of tomatoes, a couple of bunches of spring onions, some onions and made a monster salad. Ok, its not strictly cooking, but It was rather good and I looked the part with my Lungi and Bamboo hat, both recently purchased. it tasted magnificent thanks to the wonderfully fresh ingredients, all of which are grown on floating gardens on Inle lake. Its a rather ingenious way to grow produce and its been this way for a long time. To grow a wide variety of produce, they float a lattice of bamboo on top of which they place a thick layer of weed followed by some soil dredged from the bottom of the lake. I saw tomato's, onions, many types of lettuce leaf and a bunch of vegetables I don't even know what they were or cant remember. As I say, rather ingenious and some of the tastiest tomatoes I have ever had.
Off to market with giant spring onions, with floating Gardens as the backdrop
We saw this on our day spent cruising round the lake in a speed boat, which for Inle lake, consists of a long boat with a monster diesel engine strapped to the back. It went quite fast, too fast, creating a lot of noise and a large plume of spray. It was a lot of fun to ride, especially when the driver allowed me to drive. The lake fishermen were interesting chaps, who fished using a rigid funnel net to trap fish against the bottom and then speared them from above. Apparently a net won't work because of the weeds, it's more efficient than a line and hook. I was quite impressed. And left with the feeling that I wanted a go...
Not quite at full throttle...yet !
We stopped at a floating village which was err not quite floating, but on bamboo stilts. They have notches in the bamboo to raise and lower the house as the level of the lake fluctuates. Just like everywhere else in Burma, we were invited in for another Burmese cuppa by a friend of the drivers and got chatting to the family. The young lady of the house worked rolling cheroot cigarettes, a 1000 cigarettes a day for 1000 kip. Thats $1 a day. The family were pretty much self sufficient with the men growing produce in the floating gardens and for protein, with little cost, they grew fish under house from fry, feeding the fish with rice every few days. I could not help but wonder why the lake families don't farm fish in large pens. I wish I had asked.
Rolling Cheroots for a Dollar a day
The income from the local produce and tourist industry that Inle lakes gives the place a rather wealthy and very laid back feel. It was a great place to spend a few days to chill out before we headed back to Yangon for the end of our trip in Burma. The next day we arrived back in Yangon and a few of things struck me:
Arriving in Yangon from Bangkok over three weeks ago, the city seemed really run down. Arriving yesterday it struck me that the city seemed really modern. How my views have changed over three weeks in Burma! I am sure our return to Bangkok is going to seem like Vegas in comparison.
Secondly there are no motorbikes in town. Which for a third world country like Burma is quite surprising. Why? Apparently the Military Junta banned Motorbikes from Yangon as one of their wives got hit by one. I guess you can do this if your a military dictatorship. Shame they have now decamped to their DisneyWorld capital in Nay Pyi Daw.
Finally I got thinking about the mobile phone industry in Burma. For a start, International roaming is not enabled which means I can't use my UK mobile. Surprising really, as I am sure it would be a big money spinner from tourists like me who like to stay in touch. But then I met a couple of Burmese chaps who explained the different options to buy a SIM in Burma. You can get two types of SIM cards in Burma. A Pay as you go SIM costs $20 for which you get $20 of credit. Its not possible to top up the SIM, so once you run out of credit, you need to buy a new SIM and therefore get a new number. You can however, buy a SIM which has a permanent number and can be topped up. That costs $1800, for the SIM alone, which is a princely sum to your average Burmese. What better way to prevent your population from organising themselves, if they don't know which number their friends have currently got? Another fine example of the extraordinary measures that the Military Junta go to, to prevent any mass organisation of feeling which could impact their grip on power.
My final afternoon in Burma was another trip to Shwedagon Paya. I took the afternoon out to sit and enjoy the ambience of this magnificent Paya. I was soon joined by a pair of girls, initially to practice their English who I then chatted to for a hour or two. When I declined a trip to their house, I need to return, they insisted on buying me a book on Buddhist Meditation. In return I paid one of the tourist photographers to take a picture of us in front of Shewadagon Paya. It came back laminated ready to be hung, which they said they will hang up at home. I promised to send a postcard from our next stop, Laos. I left with another reminder of the essence of Burma. The people here are simply fantastic.
Burma is a place I loved and ranks up their with my favourite places. I will definitely return one day.