We are to spend the next two days on Inle Lake exploring all the villages and the life of the locals. The lake is about 15 miles long and anything from a few hundred yards to a mile or so wide. 125,000 people inhabit its shores, mainly living in small villages built on stilts above the water.
The houses are simple two room affairs built of bamboo and reeds. They last ten years before they fall apart, and then the entire village gets together to build a replacement. The people either fish or farm, and their method of doing both is part of the reason we have come here.
Our hotel has a jetty leading out to a small inlet and it is here we find our transport for the next two days. The boat is shaped like a dugout canoe, only much longer. It must be twenty five feet long and little more than 2ft 6 wide. It has an extremely shallow draught, because the lake itself is often a little more than a couple of feet deep. The front rises up out of the water, and the back end has what looks like an old lawn mower engine sitting on a platform with an eight foot metal rod running directly from it to a small propeller. In this way the driver can make sure the propeller just skims the surface of the water and doesn’t hit the bottom or get caught in weeds.
There are three wooden arm chairs for the tourists. Each chair comes with a rather worn cushion, and an umbrella. We are told the boat is extremely unstable because of its shallow draft, so we must step directly into the middle of the boat, and not on to the sides.
Once we take our seats, the driver starts the engine which coughs and sputters a few times and then lets out a high pitch wine. The boat shoots forward like a bat out of hell. The smallest turn causes it to lean to one side in the most alarming fashion. Conversation with the person behind you is almost impossible because of, one, the noise of the engine, and two, the act of turning round causes the boat to wobble. Strangely enough, just as an ocean going liner attracts a flock of seagulls following it, so does this small rocket boat.