Inle Lake Myanmar
In western Shan State, you will find the serenely picturesque Inle Lake, famous for its floating villages, gardens and markets and the unique way of life of the local Intha people, with their functioning communities based entirely on the water.
At 22 kilometers long, Inle Lake is the second largest lake in Myanmar and is surrounded by 507 villages, but since the body of water changes according to the season, it’s hard to tell where exactly the lake ends and where the puddles begin. Inle Lake is home to the people of the Intha tribe, and the unique living conditions have made the lake one of the most popular tourist attractions in Myanmar. It can get very busy, but it isn’t that hard to avoid the masses and Inle Lake is still the best place to see bamboo stilt houses. Family homes, factories, restaurants, monasteries and even pagodas are built high above the water and the whole daily life takes place out on the rippled blue surface under the baking sun. The buildings are connected by bridges and people own rowboats to leave their accommodation, get from place to place, to wash their clothes, go fishing, and farm food and lotus in the floating gardens. Apart from the village life itself, the many water birds using the lake as a breeding site are interesting for bird watchers and there are lots of bike rides and hikes available in the surrounding area.
Internationally famous are the leg rowers of Inle Lake, whose incredible talent for coordination has fascinated many visitors. The young men stand on one leg on the back of their skiffs, pinch the rudder between the other leg and hold it with one arm. While one limb is needed for balancing and the other two for moving the rudder, the remaining arm is used for all the other tasks necessary for fishing. Just like the rowing method, watching the fishermen hauling in their catch is equally fascinating. Since the lake is mostly shallow with lots of plant growth, the fishermen have had to develop their own unique methods of swirling the water around with paddles and forcing the fish to emerge from their protected spaces and swim up into waiting baskets and nets.
Getting around Inle Lake
Most boat trips around Inle Lake start at the town of Nyaung Shwe, a few kilometers to its north (go to separate section for information about the town), although some people may base themselves at the hotels dotted around the lake’s shores. There is a US$10 entry fee for the Inle Lake area, which you have to pay when entering Nyaung Shwe.
The boarding area is located around the bridge at the western end of Yong Gyi Road in Nyaung Shwe, where local fishermen and guides compete for mooring space. From here, you will want to set off early in the morning for your trip around the lake.
There is a huge amount to see on Inle Lake and in the villages that surround it, so, unless you stay in the area for a long time, you will need to be selective about what you want to see and do. Boat drivers, who also act as tour guides, will advise you on many of the best sights on the lake and its shores, but some of the highlights can be found listed below. You can hire a bicycle for around K1500 per day in Nyaung Shwe, allowing you to explore the beautiful scenery on the eastern side of the lake, including Maing Thauk and the Red Mountain Estate vineyard.
Having a swim in the lake is highly recommended, particularly on hot days – just jump off the side of your boat! But check with your guide first and be aware that the lake is very shallow (in most parts around 1.5 to 3 metres). And remember to pack your sunscreen before a day on the lake, because between stops there is no shade out there.