in International Travel

Stogies and Mid-Lake Meals

imageThe breakfast buffet was served out of ornamental long boats on the deck of the dining hall facing the water. We lapped up coffee, shoved in crepes, got ready for the day, and met Lay Lay at the boathouse. After a 45-minute boat ride, watching the fisherman slap their paddles on the water to scare fish into the nets, we arrived at the very busy market.

The group got off the boat and wandered around the marketplace stalls, stopping every so often for Lay Lay to explain how the items being sold were prepared. This market was much like the one in Mandalay, but with more fish and many more tourists; I’d estimate half of the market stalls being oriented for souvenirs. After 30 minutes or so, we returned to the boat and continued back through town, stopping to see a boat maker’s establishment.


Two narrow wooden boats were being prepared by a team of artisans: a fishing boat and a tourist long boat. The fishing boats take about a week to complete, while the long boats take about a month. More souvenir tables were surrounding the workplace, which was situated on dirt underneath a raised house. We continued back on the boats until we pulled down one channel and stopped at another stilted house with dried leaves around the windows.

The cigar shop owner was a woman with three children who ran a small business out of her equivalent of a garage. She and four other woman sat on woven mats, each with a bowl of tobacco, glue, a knife and dried leaves in front of them. According to Lay Lay, each woman could produce 1,000 small cigars per day. The proprietor served us tea and answered any questions we had, using Lay Lay as an interpreter. We were walked through the cigar-making process and were invited into the woman’s home to see what it looked like.

We took off our shoes and walked upstairs into the living room, an open room that was obviously the center of the 300 square-foot bamboo-stilted, thatched-roof house. There were small, unscreened windows propped open for airflow. Lay Lay had us sit in a circle to talk about the woman’s home, being careful not to point our feet towards the image of Buddha, the obvious focal point of the room. The house had basic electricity with an non-enclosed electrical panel near where a selection of hats hung on the wall. Sparse, but modest; you could tell the woman the woman was happy. Her young daughter, maybe 6 years old, joined the circle and we went around, giving our names, what they meant, and where we were from. We parted ways and got back on the boat.

Our guide took us through town to another temple, where we unloaded once again, shoeless, and wandered through the marketplace of more souvenirs on the way up to the temple. I paid the 5,000 kyats (about $5) to bring my camera inside, where five statues of Buddha were housed. Visitors would rub gold leaves onto the statues and, over the course of a couple hundred years, the statues became unrecognizable. Now sat amorphous golden blobs, surrounded by tourists with gold leaves. As with any temple, women were not allowed on the platforms. Not for sexist reasons, but supposedly to avoid possible time-of-the-month-related messes.

imageWe started getting hungry and we got back on the boat once again, this time being taken to our covered lunch boat about 30 minutes away. Upon our arrival in the middle of a seaweed-heavy part of the lake, we switched boats and sat at a narrow table obviously only meant for two diners (or four children). Once we finally found comfortable seating arrangements, we were served more Myanmar beer and three courses of delicious food, cooked in an adjacent boat. It was beautiful scenery and, though the lunch was tasty, the uncomfortable seats and lack of space dictated our next move. We were tired from riding around long distances on the long boats and the sun was getting to us, so rather than continue our journey on the lake back up to the monastery, we requested our guide bring us back to the hotel to be lazy Americans and relax.

The tour group is keeping us busy, and I noticed most activities revolve around temples and marketplaces so that the souvenir stalls have adequate access to tourists and their money. Having spent the last four days being shuffled around from place to place at an aggressive pace, we enjoyed a quiet afternoon in the chalets, cooled by a breeze coming in off the lake, keeping the bugs at bay. I caught up on my documentation of our travels thus far and even started reading the book I brought from the comforts of the dining hall while watching the sun fall behind the mountains. Adam and Dan later joined me on the deck while Chris got his feet pampered at the spa. The bugs came out again, so we retreated back into the chalet to catch up with the world on the spurts of usable WiFi signal. Even the power was sporadic; more than once the AC, fans, and lights would turn off for minutes at a time, prompting a kick from the APS unit located in each room. Beer finished and frustrated from the WiFi, we called it a night.