When you go on a boat trip around Inle Lake you will be taken to the cigar factory, where 8 or 9 ladies sit on the floor and you and other tourists will be watching the whole process. It is interesting and (for some) quite exciting. However, it is so much better when the whole tutorial is on one to one basis, with a cup of tea and good company.
We were going cycling around the Lake, wanting to see some of the villages around. We decided to follow the Lonely Planet guide and visit the tofu making village and see the hot springs.
Prepared and armed with water and some snacks we set off. The guide says to follow the road, but a few meters after Nauyngshwe the road splits into two. We decided to see where the small, dirt path leads.
It didn’t take us long to reach a small village. It seemed like there was no one there, so we kept on going. Suddenly, a very small lady emerged from behind one of the huts. She greeted us with a smile and asked if we wanted to see how they make cigars.
It turned out that the tofu making village was in a different direction, so we decided to stay.
The lady led us to a small bamboo hut and poured us some tea. Her name was Aye-Aye (pronounced as e-e) and she’s been making cigars for 10 years with her aunt. This is her only way of earning money.
Step by step she showed us how to make a cigar. They take tabacco, some herbs and banana leaves and wrap everything in a tabacco leaf. Then they put a used newspaper as a filter and stick everything with some glue. It is a very hard and, dare I say, boring job.
We had a little chat with Aye-Aye about the life in the village and Burma in general. She asked a lot of questions about Poland and England and was astonished to hear that it is freezing at this time of year in Europe.
Then we had a chance to make our own cigars, which she gave us as a present. She let us smoke one, too.
After what seemed like the 10th cup of tea, we decided to make our way to another village. We didn’t leave without buying a pack of cigars from lovely Aye-Aye. If anyone would like to try some of the Burmese finest cheeroots, I have around 50 sitting in my bag.
If you want to meet Aye-Aye:
Nanthe village is around 10 minutes by bike from Nyaungshwe (Inle Lake area). After you pass the small bridge, leading out of town, first follow the main road and turn slightly left to a dirt path. You will pass a pagoda, standing in the middle of a field and after a bit you will reach Nanthe. Ask for Aye-Aye – she is always happy to see visitors. Don’t forget to buy a couple of cigars from her before you leave!