Sunday, February 22: This morning, I get a wake-up call at 4:30 a.m. and by 5:30, I’m at the Nyaung U Airport for a 6:00 check-in with Asian Wings. Though the hotel had told me the night before they’d pack me a breakfast, they forgot and so did I. After I check in at the very small airport, I ask if there is a place to grab a bite. A man gestures to “go outside,” pointing outside the airport gates. I walk across the parking lot and out the gate and have a seat at a small open-air cafe with a dirt floor, so typically found in Myanmar. I make myself comfortable at a plastic table covered in a colorful flowered tablecloth.
I order two fried eggs and coffee. They bring me two small plates with an egg on each plate, and two tiny spoons. After unsuccessfully trying to cut up the egg with the spoon, I ask for a knife. I’m surprised when they bring out a huge cleaver! I love how Myanmar is so innocent and at the same time so civilized!
While I eat my breakfast, I’m serenaded by a flock of birds chirping in a nearby tree. It reminds me of the birds that would congregate near sunset at the Golden Tulip hotel in Nizwa, Oman, singing their hearts out.
My flight with Asian Wings is at 7:35 a.m. We fly at an altitude of 7,000 feet and make a stop after 25 minutes in Mandalay. From Mandalay to Heho is another 25 minutes. At Heho, I take a taxi for over an hour drive to Nyaungshwe. At one point, we stop to pay a $10 fee for Inle Lake. I ask if there is a bathroom on the premises and they point me to an outhouse out back.
By the time I arrive in Nyaungshwe and check into the Inle Apex Hotel, it’s 11:30 a.m.
I immediately grab my camera and head out a couple of blocks to the canal, where I saw a lot of colorful boats on the way in. I walk along the waterfront, watching the bustling activity of the long-tail motorboats buzzing down the canal, most likely heading out to Inle Lake. While down at the canal, I arrange with a man along the docks to take a boat ride on the lake tomorrow morning beginning at dawn.
By this time, it’s noon and I’m hungry. After all, I just had those two tiny eggs for breakfast. On https://catbirdinthemekong.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/a-slow-cruise-down-the-ayeyarwady-river-from-mandalay-to-bagan/, someone had recommended a couple of restaurants, one being Pancake Kingdom. I find the sign pointing down an alley right beside my hotel.
I walk down the alley and capture a local woman carrying a basket on her head.
It’s plenty warm here in Nyaungshwe, so I’m happy to sit in the shade and peruse the menu. An array of sweet and savory pancakes (crepes) are offered, and I order a tomato, onion, cheese and avocado pancake for 4,000 kyat ($4). Every bite of this crepe is delectable, and I don’t want it to end! I vow to come back before I leave Inle Lake.
After my fabulous lunch, I rent a bicycle from the hotel. I’m sad to find that no e-bikes are allowed in Nyaungshwe. The proprietors show me on a map how to get to the Red Mountain Estate Vineyards & Winery. It seems quite a convoluted and confusing route, but I’m determined to go as fellow travelers had also recommended this experience.
I get a little lost on the bike ride, and somehow end up at Nigyawdayan Stupa. I wander around the deserted stupa serenaded by the tinkling of wind chimes in the breeze. It’s magical and I wander around for sometime enjoying the experience.
Biddakayasar Sawbwa built a stupa in sasana calendar year 235, enshrining a Buddha relic in it. In sasana calendar year 280, he built a monastery called Nigyawdayan Monastery, which he dedicated to Buddha. He also renovated the stupa, calling it Nigyawdayan Stupa. In Myanmar calendar year 1200, the stupa was destroyed by an earthquake; it was renovated in 1242. In 1274, it was destroyed again, and then renovated once more in 1296.
A long time later, the stupa was destroyed again and covered in wild grass, shrubs and trees. It was “like a forest and a good place for the wild animals,” says a plaque at the site. It was renovated once again in 1369.
After leaving this mesmerizing stupa, I hop back on my bicycle and head out to the main road toward the Red Mountain Estate Winery, after asking several people along the road for directions.