Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Day 9 -- I've Had The Time Of My Life

Leaving Inle, this is a leisurely travel day. We left the hotel a bit early so we could spend some time in Nyaung Shwe, the main town at the near side of the lake. Some last thoughts on Inle: I felt a bit like an intruder here. Although this is on the "tourist route," it is not like Bagan, where you come to see the pagodas and the stupas. Here, you come to see the daily life, and as a result you are imposing on it. And you can see it changing almost before your eyes, as old ways of doing things (fishing, market days, etc.) are becoming tourist spectacles, and not real life. People are still friendly and willing to show you their homes and their way of life, but soon I think there will be two lives here - one that caters to tourism and one that rejects the intrusion. It will be interesting to see how Inle adapts.

Anyway, back to Nyuang Shwe - next week there will be 4000 monks in town to take their exams, and the entire town is preparing for it. Everything is being cleaned and repaired, the dining halls are being prepared, and many traveling merchants and people have come from around the region to care for the monks while they are here. I'm sure it must be quite a sight, to see them all here at once.

Although not a market day, the market area in Nyuang Shwe is quite large, and there were still many stalls open and selling. Not as colorful as others we've seen, but more practical in some ways. There were a few stalls manned by women from the hills, Karen I believe, but most were hard goods stalls owned by locals. After walking around for a while, we headed back to Heho to catch our plane for Tachileik, in the golden triangle. Our guide and others seem quite surprised we would go this way. "No tourists go to the Golden Triangle.". Well, we shall see. Tourists - backpackers and groups - seem to be everywhere.


Pretty close. We were the only foreigners on the plane, and there were only a few backpackers to be seen in Tachileik, but then again, we only drove through quickly to get to the Thai border. Still, in many ways, Tachileik is a world away from the rest of Myanmar. It is a mountainous region and the fact that it is a border town gives it a very different feeling. People are dressed in western clothes, the cars are newer, the houses built of cinder block and concrete rather than thatch. And here the Thai baht is accepted more than the Myanmar kyat (about $15 dollars worth I'm now stuck with).

The border crossing was typical. A few stern looks, a few questions, our "special papers" (the ones that let us leave the country from somewhere other than where we arrived) scrutinized, and then a short walk across the river, where entry into Thailand was a similar process. After changing some money, we hit the road for the Golden Triangle, about 40 minutes away. I suspect that this town, which sits on the borders of Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos, has a real name but it isn't used. There are a few nice resorts here, they blend here, like in Bagan. Ours is a bit different; an older building (or so it seems) right on the Mekong River, turned into a stylish boutique, not unlike the old motels in Hollywood now chic hotels. We have a terrific view of both the huge (and I mean huge) Buddha that looks over the Golden Triangle, and of a large casino on the Laos side of the river.

Walking along the road back from our restaurant before the sidewalks roll up at 9pm, two pick up trucks with speakers in the back and flashy wheels drive by - this appears to be what passes for "cruising" here. And the song they're playing? "I've had the time of my life".