|Afloat in Myanmar|
Part 3: We tiptoe among a phalanx of languid cats snoozing on the floor.
By C. Lincoln Jewett — November 2002
By analogy, the longboats are “trucks” piled with vegetables, water reeds, or cartons of the Burmese equivalent of Coca-Cola. Some are “buses” shuttling workers to plantations. The countless sampans are either “bicycles” carrying small loads or water taxis. At first we wonder why most native boats are shaped like string beans or peapods. Finally we discover the answer: They have to pass each other in narrow “back alley” canals.
Further along we board a “textile factory,” where a charming, wrinkled grandmother weaves top-of-the-line ceremonial robes for Buddhist monks, taking months to make one robe on her aged, wooden handloom. Her exotic thread is delicately extracted from lotus stalks by two 20-ish granddaughters. Her daughter, our hostess, serves tea as we marvel at grandma’s prowess.
After cruising a few hundred more yards, we dock and, taking off our shoes in de rigueur respect to Buddha, reverently enter the sprawling, ornate, eight-story Phaung-Daw-U Pagoda, capped by a 50-something-foot, bell-shape, gold-leaf spire. Inside are doll- and life-size Buddhas, one of which is adorned with countless overlapped pieces of gold leaf that men stick on for good luck and as an act of devotion. We tiptoe among a phalanx of languid cats snoozing on the floor. A stately, red-robed monk welcomes us in sonorous fluent English; he’d once lived in Buffalo, New York. He entertains us by silently commanding the suddenly athletic cats to jump through a hoop he holds three feet off the floor.
As we exit the monastery, a 40-foot gondola-like vessel is pulling in, festooned with bunches of fragrant flowers and streamers of bright multicolored ribbons. Perched in the stern on a throne-like chair is a nervous but smiling ten-year-old boy in a regal, gold-emblazoned, white suit. Red rouge on his cheeks and brilliant lipstick add to his colorful appearance. With crowds of cheering friends and relatives hovering, he is, with pomp and circumstance, being inducted into a coming-of-age ceremony, as his gondola makes the rounds of the canals in his stilt village.
A little farther on, at a canal junction, we are “captured” by a sampan-armada of wildly gesturing hawkers, loudly peddling all kinds of trinkets, jewelry, veggies, Buddha statues, and boat models. After intense haggling, Truda buys a scale model of a leg-rowing fisherman, which is complete with a conical fishnet and tripronged spear.
As the finale to our Inlay Lake expedition, we cruise to a brand new boatel/hotel, the Golden Island Cottages, which caters to tourists with hard currency. With its causeway-connected, stilt-array of thatch-like cottages—all air-conditioned—it blends well into the native architecture. All amenities of a first-class hotel are here. On its expansive verandah we savor a tasty luncheon while overlooking the grandeur of the gorgeous lake, its surrounding rugged mountains, and the putt-putting or silent paddling of native boats.
This article originally appeared in the April 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.