After experiencing the African-esque woodlands of Bagan, filled with it’s 2000-odd ancient temples, I decided to take a bus to the seemingly un-explored region of Inle.

I had 3 choices really.

9 hour bus, 19 hour train, or 1 hour plane.

After already having taken a plane from Yangon to Bagan, and hearing of the untouched beauty of the region, which apparently made even the 19 hour train ride worthwhile, I thought I would split the difference with a bus.

Still perplexed at how a 400km ride could take a whole 9 hours, at 8am I hopped on the back of the half-motorbike-half-pickup-truck that was doing the hotel rounds, and squeezed in with 15 others who seemed to have the same idea.

Soon enough, after picking up a pair of Swiss girls, a French mother and son, and some locals, we arrived at the depot, jumped on the slightly worn, but better than expected bus and settled in for the journey.

Most were going to Kalaw, a town on the way, but my sights were set on this lake town that reminded me of the one fabled in The Hobbit.

And although a 9-hour bus ride is lengthy by any standard, it was made much easier by the breathtaking scenery of the thick jungle and winding mountain roads, and coincidentally, a black-and-white screening of Lord Of The Rings.

Finally, at around 5pm, the bus pulls up at a little blue building on the side of the road, and a characteristically scrawny local man hops on and starts trading Inle Lake Zone permits for $10 bills.

I had arrived.

The landscape changed in an instance.

The foreground, mid-ground, and backdrop changed from thick jungle to water and stilted huts shadowed by mountain.

And suddenly we were in the thick of it, in Nyaung Shwe on the final evening of the festival of lights.

The whole town was about.

But for me, my destination awaited, and it was to a longboat taxi I would be sent.

Reminiscent of the ‘mokoros’ gliding through the reeds of the Okavango Delta, the longboats of Inle were a little more sophisticated.

Making highways out of waterways, and laneways through the floating gardens, they had truly replaced bitumen with water, and tire with propeller.

Down the highway we flew, wind in my hair and sun setting over the mountain ranges.

In the blue hues of the evening, I was able to photograph the last of the lingering fisherman for the day as we jetted past them.

And just as the sun disappeared, the longboat pulled into the private dock of my accommodation for the next 3 nights, the Paramount Inle Hotel.

Like the locals, my private cottage was perched precariously on stilts in the water, connected only by a decked pathway to the rest of the hotel.

With my own deck facing the ‘street’, I took some time to take in where I had just landed.

Never in my life had I experienced a culture and landscape like this.

Like Venice, the people lived off the canals, but no concrete did they build on. And like the Kavango people of the Okavango Delta, the natural habitat was entwined in their lives, but it wasn’t the hippos that engineered their community.

This was a deliberate and sustained culture of aquatic real estate, with signless streets, local markets, and electricity poles in the middle of a lake 3hours ride long and 30 minutes ride wide.

And it was my home for the next 3 nights.

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