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Ventana - An Enchanting Resort in BIg Sur

Summary: I love Ventana. I highly recommend visiting  and exploring the landscape at Lime Kiln and Andrew Molera State Park which I've blogged about here. Please note this is #notsponsored . Yes, that means we paid our own bill! Lots of details in the following review. including a Post Ranch vs Ventana comparison.  Can you tell there's something exciting beyond this beautiful gate? There's something special about Big Sur, a magic in the light, the presence of the Pacific, the cliffs, beaches, redwood forests and the murmur of the surf. It's one of my favorite places in California. I couldn't think of anywhere else I wanted to be to celebrate turning fifty, because it's a place where there's a sense of nature, space and light and a wide horizon. We've been to Big Sur many times and for a celebration there are two fantastic hotels vying for your attention. The exclusive, modern and very private, cliff top Post Ranch Inn and on the other side of the road the …

Inle Lake -

For additional Burma posts click here.
Inle Lake is one of the most beautiful places we have been, it really is glorious. This is certainly an area I would have been interested in spending more time. We loved our guide, T2 who provided considerable insight into the ecology and the cultures of the region. I would highly recommend him, he has the right temperament for the job and was like an old pro even though he had just qualified!
We got up early (not my favorite thing to do on holiday) and headed out from our hotel in Nyaungshwe for a short walk down to the river where we took our boat. We wanted to visit one of the local "five day" markets  and then go down to Sankar in the southern portion of the lake. This meant we would be out almost twelve hours and it was a tiring day. Unfortunately we missed out on a second day on the lake as I'd had a 24 hour bug the day before.
The lake landscape is spectacular and very varied, sometimes open and expansive while at other moments you are traveling through  narrow passages in the reeds, as you can see below. There are a number of villages built out into the lake as well as floating hydroponic gardens where all sorts of produce is grown on platforms made from reeds. 
The water is mesmerizing but so too are the small towns and villages built on stilts. When you've spent enough time looking at the lake and the villages there is still plenty more to see, with beautiful vistas of the landscape rising from around the lake. It's incredibly varied with temples, stupas, open farmland and hills rising in the distance.
Here was D.'s take in an email to friends "The lake itself, however, is fascinating.  An entire ecosystem of houses, villages, monasteries, and industries all perched on the lake.  Even tomato farms-- growing on soil that sits on bamboo frames, the soil just builds up until it gets too top-heavy, when they just dump it all and start again.  There's even (gee, why aren't you surprised?) stupas jutting out into the lake, although they used to be on dry land before the building of a dam downstream raised the lake's water level.While unique, Inle has definitely known the taste of tourism for a while now... it's not fishing season, but the famous "stilt fishermen" are still perched on their oars, majestically silhouetted against the misty lake, and doing nothing-- not even asking for tips.  The local chamber of commerce probably has something to do with this."
By the time we made it to the five day market some people were gathering their goods for their journeys home. Clearly these markets now cater to two groups, the locals coming to buy or trade and the tourists coming to look at them, and you can see the trinkets on sale for the later. We focused on the food market which was interesting.
T2 bought red ants (in the metal bowl) from these market women and at lunch asked the restaurant to cook them for us. They had a slightly sour flavor and a crunchy texture. He also bought a type of local tofu so we could try it. I really appreciated that he helped ensure that we would be buying and not just observing at the market. We tried a number of different fried snacks which was fun.
I was horrified and disheartened by the behavior of several tourists at the market who were extremely aggressive in taking their photos, clearly without having requested any permission. In one case I saw a man holding up an enormous camera photographing several children at close range while the parent stepped away for a moment. Is this what they mean when they say a photographic safari? Truly awful, I was ashamed to be there with them.
After the market we headed to Sankar which is certainly worth visiting, far fewer tourists make it this far south even in the high season. The village has set up a system where you buy a ticket with proceeds apparently going to ongoing restoration works and  two new toilets for tourists! Yes, there were lots more stupas are right at the marshy edge of the lake. where they looked so romantic, below.
 
It wouldn't be Burma without a statue of the Budhha and plenty of stupas, some in ruinous condition! I particularly loved the lion guardians above and the cow tied up amongst the monuments below.
 
As we strolled through Sankar children were noisily making their way home from school along the dusty roads.
On the way home we stopped at  another temple complex (very much like Kakku), a village where they made large pots and a silk making workshop, I'll be blogging about the crafts in an upcoming post. Overall it was a fascinating day. There is so much diversity in this region and so much to learn about the ecology and cultures.

Heading home at the end of a long day, we had a great time!
Tips: After our day out on the lake my lips were severely  and painfully chapped for the next week -  have fun but remember to bring Chapstick with you!

We stayed at the Amazing Nyaungshwe and the room was very attractive and comfortable. however if I went again I would opt for at least a couple of days on the lake. Ideally I'd stay at a locally run resort such as the Inle Princess Resort which is known for its ethical practices and has a good reputation locally.

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