Today we are exploring one of the villages on the west banks of the lake, about 30 minutes by boat away. Our water taxi and guide were picking us up at our Paramount Inle Hotel and off we went, accompanied by a flock of seagulls. The locals feed them sometimes from the boats so they fly really close in hope to catch a cracker or bread.
Khaung Daing is still a very traditional village, where every house and family has a small business going. Cottage industry at its best. We went and saw how roasted sunflower seeds were made (and snacked on handfuls of them). It’s not as easy as just roasting them in a kettle over a fire. First they are steamed with a broth made of ginger, garlic and salt, left to steam for four hours under tarps, then laid out to dry for a whole day, only then once dry they get roasted for 20 minutes in a hot iron wok, the fire fueled by empty corn husks.
Next, we watched the making of rice crackers with sesame. Everywhere we saw poppadum style crackers drying in the sun and following the steam of one of the huts, we saw how over cotton sheets the thin, fragile disks were made and steamed, before being put out to dry. Chris tried himself to make one. The first one was for the bin, but already the second one looked passable if small. We called him Kräcker Bäcker afterwards… ;o))) Esther tried to pound dry chilly pods into chilly powder.
We learned how all kinds of snacks were made from different beans as well as soy patties. Our guide was great. She just asked people, then marched behind houses to the working sheds and just chatted people up. The Inta (lake people) are very friendly and explain everything. They always offer a taste of whatever product they are making. We got to try fried tofu, pumpkin seeds, rice crackers popped over charcoal fires and roasted peanuts.
All are family owned small businesses and we sincerely hope that they remain so unspoiled from tourism. They were genuinely happy to explain their trade and never asked for money. We saw very little smart phones today, but hordes of playing and laughing kids, flying kites and building amazing mouse traps with bamboo sticks and rubber bands.
We learned that the government only asks for 30.000 Kyat in taxes a month (approx. 18 Euros) and provides a free education system. Nevertheless, while we only saw people that seemed very content and happy, there must be another side as well. No health insurance, no old age pension, no unemployment benefits. This would all need to be paid from savings and with the help of family and the local community.
We crossed the lake to our last village, Mine Thauk. Known for the second largest teak wood bridge after U Bein near Mandalay, this serves as a very popular spot to take wedding pictures. As if we ordered it, a very stylish couple in their full wedding outfit had pictures taken. As it was time for a lunch break we visited a local restaurant. The food was again excellent, only the chairs reminded a bit of Kindergarten.
We changed to a smaller boat as some of the waterways through the villages are very small and overgrown. Chance to see the one legged paddling technique up close. Chris was busy helping paddling (on his knees) and taking pictures. We have rarely seen such pretty villages as we saw here on Inle lake. Hardly anybody has running water but they have a working system how to get the water to the houses. The villages give the appearance of being laid back and sleepy. But all in all, in the 250 houses of the village we just paddled through live 25.000 people. It just appears much smaller, as there are no large gardens and parks anywhere and the central gathering spots are the monastery, school or community house, not a big space like we are used to. There are no soccer fields, baseball courts, skateboard parks, but the kids play all the time anyway. It’s truly a different way of life and a nice change to watch from our hectic world.
Tomorrow is our last day in this beautiful country. We are pretty sure that we will be back here to explore the rest of it.