*This post is a part of a series. Click on the link to read more of the story. – The Monk and the Infamous Inle Lake: Nyaungshwe, Myanmar (Part I)
We had read from the guidebook (the Lonely Planet Myanmar to be exact, but the updated guidebook is here if you need it.) that it was easy to rent and ride bicycles just out of town to visit Khaung Daing Hot Springs. Right next door to our hotel, there was a small bicycle rental/restaurant that we rented from. For just 1000 kyat each, (which equated to a little over US$1 per person) we could rent the bicycles for the rest of the day. We gladly accepted the price and we headed out on our journey to a local hot spring that we had read about.
The road leading to the springs passed rice patties, monasteries, and buddhist temples along the way. The road (along with many others in Myanmar) was currently being paved by streams of workers, which made for a bumpy, slightly uphill, ride.
We had decided to stop at a couple of temples along the way, as well as a small food stand. After having an amazing lunch at the roadside restaurant, we continued on to the springs, only to become sorely disappointed. The cost was US$10 per person and the concierge had allowed us to take a quick look at the springs. Upon inspection, we discovered that they were simply man-made pools surrounded by tourists (willing to pay the $10 for a dip).
We decided that we would pass on it, due to our travel budget. After our failed attempt to dip into some springs, we decided to head back to town. Thankfully, it’s all downhill from there!
Back on the road, we had made the decision to take a closer look at one of the monasteries we had passed earlier along the way. Watch the video of part of our bike ride to the monastery here. It had seemed empty, and we approached it assuming we were going to be openly trespassing. We peeked in the front door and saw that there was a pair of flip-flops at the bottom of the stairwell.
Curiosity led us inside, and out of nowhere, a man appeared and asked ‘You want?’ We replied that we were just looking around. He then gestured for us to wait at the door. After a few minutes passed, an old monk appeared, saying ‘Hello, welcome! Please come in!’ Arianna and I looked at each other and knew that this was going to be an interesting experience. We walked into a large room where a display of all types of buddhist statues and shrines were placed. The old monk came out with a plate of local bananas, and kindly handed them to us.
We sat with him for about an hour, discussing all the different topics of the day, including one I remember most which was the genocide in northwest Myanmar involving Buddhists and Muslims. The monk had his take on the subject, and was obviously disappointed in his countrymen. After many subjects were discussed, he offered for us to take his portrait. He explained that his previous visitors had sent him photos of them together and would come back for a visit after many years of being away.
Apparently he had spent over 30 years as the only monk in the monastery, and was very happy to have visitors. He was never completely alone, but spent most of his time in solitude, meditating and contemplating as the years slowly went by. I have to say, that even though the photographs do not reflect it, he seemed like a very happy, kind, and humbled person.
All in all, this was one of the more memorable moments of our trip through Myanmar and one that I will cherish for years to come. He offered for us to come back for a visit, and if we do go back to Myanmar, we will most certainly take him up on his offer.
Once we headed back out on the road and back into town, we ran into a group of small children playing near the rice fields. I gotta say, the children in SE Asia are some of our favorites, not only because they are so cute, but because they are great to chat it up with (even if you we don’t speak the same language).
After we made it back to our hotel, we packed for our next leg of our trip to Golden Rock. It was due to become a long journey, having to head back through Yangon, for a connection to Kyaiktiyo Pagoda.
We had an amazing time in Nyaungshwe and Inle Lake. As touristy it is compared to most of Myanmar, it is still a great place to visit. One could easily spend many days there and feel that their time was well spent.
I would definitely recommend booking a hotel in advance (this is true for most of Myanmar, but especially the Inle Lake region), and to be sure to set aside at least 3 days while you’re there to take it all in. Happy trails!