My trip to Myanmar (Burma) was already off to a flying start, with highlights such as the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon and cycling around the temples of Bagan. I had heard much of these places so I was prepared to be wowed (which I was). What I didn’t figure on was how much of a highlight Inle Lake would be on my trip to Myanmar.
[Fishermen on Inle Lake]
Inle Lake is in Shan State and has an approximate surface area of 116 km2. While it’s impressive in size, what makes Inle all the more remarkable is the life on the lake. I had read a friend’s account of life on Inle, which gave me a general idea of what to expect, but seeing it is something else. I remember thinking during my time on the lake, I am somewhere truly exotic, which is something I haven’t thought for a long time.
Before arriving here I had imagined myself taking long walks along the lake front, like Westlake in Hangzhou, China. Inle Lake doesn’t really have a shore line. It is more of a marshy edge that seemingly has no beginning or end, so walking around it isn’t a practical option.
[A canal in Inle Lake]
The best way to see the lake is to hire a boat and driver for the day, which you will find plenty of in the market town of Nyaungshwe. A typical boat can hold five passengers and is run on an inboard diesel motor that looks like it belongs on a tractor. If you are by yourself add your name to a boat list at your guesthouse so you can split the cost of renting a boat.
Handy tip: if you don’t want your ears to be ringing by the end of the day don’t sit closest to the motor.
[Inle Lake motor boat driver]
Leg rowing fisherman of Inle Lake
The town of Nyaungshwe is a few kilometres from the lake itself. After cruising down the main canal we arrived at the wide expanse of Inle lake. Once on the lake it didn’t take long before seeing the iconic leg rowing fishermen.
[Leg rowing fisherman of Inle Lake]
The method of leg rowing is unique to the Intha people of Inle Lake. The fishermen row this way so they can stand and navigate through the reeds.
[Boys with fish net]
Somehow they manage to balance on one leg on the bow of the boat with an oar wrapped around the other leg while handling a net, and they make it look easy.
[Inle Lake leg rowers]
Life on the lake
In addition to settlements along the lake front, there also numerous villages, temples and markets on the lake. There is a whole every day working economy going on out there, hence the need for visiting with a boat.
[Typical water village]
[Utilities supplied to the lake]
[Village food market]
[Not your every day post office]
[And not your every day commute]
[Hpaung Daw U Pagoda - an important Buddhist site in Myanmar, located in the Lake]
[Floating market garden]
Paduang Long Necks
Something I wasn’t expecting to see was the Paduang long necks. Our boat stopped off at an ornamental umbrella factory, and next door was a Paduang woman and young girl. The Paduang are a tribe of Myanmar most famous for the woman who wear heavy brass coils around their necks, creating the illusion of an elongated neck.
The two saw us arrive came out and sat on a bench, welcoming photos and people to pose with them. They weren’t asking for donations, and if they were selling anything it was the softest sell I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t see what the catch was, and I didn’t know what to do. It’s a real ethical conundrum (of which is discussed at length at contemporarynomad.com.)
[Paduang Long Necks]
Before heading back for the day we dropped into the Nga Hpe Kyaung Monastery, better known as the jumping cat monastery. How could you not want to go to a monastery named that!
Upon entering the monastery there are cats everywhere, doing what cats do, just lounging around.
[Cats being cats at the jumping cat monastery]
Eventually a cat wrangler came out who had a gathering of cats around her (and no doubt some sort of kittie treats in her pocket). The crowd watched on restlessly as she waited for the first cat to jump. No self respecting cat would ever jump through a hoop right on command, but sure enough, the cats really do jump.
[Cats jumping at the Jumping Cat Monastery]
Heading back to Nyaungshwe our boatman stopped the motor and let us enjoy the sun setting over the lake.
[Sunset on Inle Lake]
For more photos visit Inle Lake Photo Gallery