Nyaung Shwe is a scruffy little town by the shore of Inle Lake. At first glance, it seems rather bland, with the usual assortment of boorish medium to large hotels and overpriced foreign-styled restaurants (The French Touch), filled with elderly tourists waning in the muggy afternoon heat.
It’s mostly used as a stopover point for Inle Lake devotees, who rent narrow boats to visit a smattering of temples and villages making ‘traditional’ craft, although the real labour is done in much grittier conditions, far from the lenses of tourists. So we eschewed the lake and took off on bicycles to explore the town and its immediate vicinity.
To our pleasant surprise, we found numerous nooks and crannies in Nyaung Shwe, and a very vibrant market, which happens once a week, on Mondays. People come from all over the lake and the surrounding hills to sell goods at the market, from fresh fish to spices, fruit and vegetables, tea, peanut oil, rice and a mind-boggling assortment of chili. But to us, it was a healthy indication that the wellbeing of the town isn’t dependent on the tourist trade, and that life chugs on, in roller skating rinks and pints of draft beer.
At the local skating rink