Inle Lake, located in western Shan State, is one of Myanmar’s most popular destinations. And with good reason!
It has an authentic unspoiled side and it has a side geared to tourism. We got to witness both during our day on the lake.
We booked a long tail boat tour for our visit through Mount Inle Lake Hotel in Nyaung Shwe. The tour came out to approximately $18.00 USD for 2 people and it included pick up at 8 am and drop off around 4 pm at the hotel, by Tuk-Tuk.
From the jetty in the center of town, we embarked on the wooden canoe-like long tail motored boat and set off down a busy muddy canal for our outing on the lake.
Once we buzzed down the channel, the scenery changed from a narrow waterway with murky waters to a breathtaking opening with mountain ranges on either side.
It felt so very different to the previous places we had visited in Myanmar. It greatly contrasted the hustle and bustle of Mandalay or the thousands of pagodas scattered throughout the dusty plains of Bagan. We were in a blissful lake surrounded by natures beauty. A sense of peace took over me while listening to the humming of the motor, feeling the breeze in my hair and just watching the amazing setting.
While crossing this great body of water, we had our first authentic lake experience. We encountered an Intha fisherman dressed in traditional attire.
The Intha people is an ethnic group that lives around the lake. The traditional fishermen use a cone like trap to catch fish and have a very unique technique for rowing. They stand at the stern and row by wrapping one leg around the oar. It seems difficult and unusual but it’s been a custom that has been passed on for centuries.
We kept on crossing the lake until we got to the floating gardens. The gardens are working farms, attended by the indigenous Inthas, and are harvested with fruits and vegetables.
We came across the floating villages. The small buoyant towns consist of homes, businesses, restaurants, schools, monasteries and pagodas, elevated on wooden stilts.
The locals get around on wooden canoes to navigate through the canals in the village.
Our boat driver proceeded to take us on to different workshops to see local handicrafts.
This is the less authentic side and geared to tourist. Its been said that the boat drivers earn a commission for bringing tourists to these shops.
After every tour we received at the different workshops, they walked us over to their shops to check out their products. Some may say they are tourist traps but I think it was pretty cool to visit the workshops and we found some amazing pieces that we bought.
Our first stop was at a silversmith atelier. We were greeted by a lovely young girl who gave us a tour. She explained and showed us how silver is turned into delicate jewelry pieces and bowls used for Buddhist offerings. We saw the whole production line from when the raw silver is manipulated into pieces to how they adhere the components using torches. It’s a family run business and everything is hand made. They had lovely items to purchase at all price ranges and for all tastes, from traditional to modern.
The next workshop we stopped at, was more of a shop than a workshop. They had a couple of long neck women from the Karen tribe weaving fabrics and sitting out in front. They aren’t from the area of Shan State and many feel that they are brought in as an attraction. After all, they are very fascinating to look at.
I’ve seen the Karen tribe before and they still amaze me. Seeing their necks and limbs elongated while their torsos are compacted by the many rings they use is so captivating. I literally can’t stop staring.
We continued on to a neighboring weaving workshop.
I have worked in the apparel industry for years and have visited many factories that mass produce knit and woven fabrics. Visiting these small workshops is so impressive and reminds me no matter how long you’ve been working in a certain field, you can always learn something new! Like making thread out of lotus stems. I know a thing or two about fibers used for fabrics – but lotus stems? I had no idea. I never came across lotus fibers during my professional career or even during Textile classes while at school.
They take the stem, gently cut around the middle and then pull the pieces of stem apart. Out comes thin hair-like fibers. After getting several strands, they roll them together to make thread.
Producing lotus yarn is time consuming and a bit more expensive than silk, which this workshop also uses to produce beautiful intricate woven fabrics. These weavers are truly skilled and able to weave beautiful patterns by hand looms using many colorful yarns.
Our boat driver took us for lunch at a restaurant on stilts. We aren’t sure of the name of the place but we had a decent meal overlooking the lake, the floating village and got to see kids jumping in for a swim and a bath.
After our relaxing meal we went to visit one last workshop that specializes in cheroot, cigars that are commonly smoked by men and women throughout Myanmar. The Inle Lake area is known for flavored cheroot and their options include banana, anise and tamarind to name a few.
While we saw the ladies hand rolling the green leaves and filling them in, we were given our own personal cheroot to try. I picked anise and it tasted really good! It’s not like smoking a cigar or a cigarette. You have the sweet smoke of the filling that passes through a corn husk used as a filter.
We continued on to Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, the most highly revered monastery in the Inle Lake area. Inside the temple there are images of Buddha heavily covered in gold leaf and there are shops throughout the first floor selling traditional Shan and Burmese merchandise.
The last stop before heading back was the wooden Nga Phe Chaung monastery, one of the oldest monasteries on the lake. It used to be known for the flying cats but they are no longer there.
Please stay tuned. We have more to come. Feel free to comment, share, like and follow on Facebook and Instagram.