A lot to see, much to say. Despite that the region suffers from major environmental issues (the combination of increased population, growing tourism and agriculture), I think that it is a major spot that one shouldn’t miss whilst visiting Myanmar.
I really liked Inle Lake, where I had the chance to spend roughly 5 days. Besides the boat tour on the lake (and the visit of the main touristic spots/markets/monasteries, etc.) I did also an excursion to the Pindaya Caves (with 8000 Buddha statues) and indulged great Shan Food (probably one of the finest in the country). I also spent a night at the Inle Princess Resort, probably one if not the best hotel I had the chance to stay at. Great service, tasty food, amazing Spa… Definitely a place to recommend.
The area has enjoyed a significant interest among the tourists for the last decade and I think it is totally justified. However, the area is suffering from it quite a lot. There are at the moment considerable environmental issues. During the last 70 years,the lake lost more than 35% of its capacity (net open water), due mainly to the development of the floating garden agriculture.
(For more detailed information, have a look on wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inle_Lake )
On another note, the trip to Inle was epic. From Ngapali Beach you have basically two options: bus or plane. The first option is adventurous and cheap, the second comfortable and relatively costly; bearing in mind that all the national airlines belong to the generals or to their affiliates, so when you fly, you sponsor them in a direct way. But with both of them I had to travel to Yangon first. So I took the plane (1h compared to the 12h-Bus-ride) and then jumped on the bus. However, the luxurious version was fully booked so I had to travel with the locals.
Great! Finally my first indigenous experience as you might think! And it was definitely indigenous in a sense. To make long story short(er), I spent 13hours in a freezer with 3 stops in the crappiest rest areas of the countries. And after 13 hours, I realized that the driver (who didn’t know a single word in English) didn’t drop me at the right station. He drove 15miles too far and I ended up at the bus final stop in Taunggyi at 6AM. I managed however to find a guy to drive me back to Nyaungshwe in exchange of a symbolic financial emolument of 15USD (almost the price I paid for the entire leg). And so I enjoyed the last hour in the dumpster of a battered pick-up, bumbing on a rutted road.
I’ll keep only the good memories as they say… (and I surely will)!
And now, my personal highlights