If I were to recommend anywhere in Myanmar to visit, Inle Lake would be it. The lake is a world of it’s own. I still don’t think it has sunk in with me.
Inle Lake is one of the most unique, wondrous and most beautiful places that I have visited on this amazing planet. Even though tourism is growing, it still feels untouched since the people stick to their culture and traditions that they have had for centuries.
Inle Lake is more than just a lake- it is a series of small floating villages where the houses are built up on stilts. People make their way around the water roads in their traditional canoes with a small yet powerful motor attached to the back.
The people in Inle Lake are believed to have resided there since the 12th century and many of their customs are still. The lake is vital to the existence of the people that live on it and they use it to plant floating gardens, fishing and even making thread form lotus plants.
Many people get an early start on the lake to try and catch the sunrise. We were on vacation so we decided to sleep in instead. We ended up walking to the dock around 11 a.m. At the dock there will be many boat drivers willing to take you out and you can bargain with them for a price. The cost to hire a boat and a driver is around $20 USD per day . If you are a solo traveler you can book a boat tour with Ostello Bello Hostel so that you have other people to go with. It is an awesome hostel and they also probably offer the cheapest boat trip that you can find.
I just rented a boat with my friend so it was only the two of us in this quite spacious boat together. Once we got out on the lake it took a while to get out to where the floating villages were- but the ride there was beautiful.
Once we got to the villages I was just in awe. I tried to put myself in their shes and imagine growing up where my backyard was a lake. I couldn’t believe how sufficient the people were here. I saw a floating post office and even a floating mobile shop.
A nursery on Inle Lake
It is hard to say which is the most amazing of all the traditional crafts and trades that the people of Inle still continue to this day. Perhaps the most famous would be the unique style of fishing that they use. Fishermen go out in their long boats and balance on the tip of their boat and using nothing other than a net to catch fish. Often you will see these fishermen balancing on nothing more than just one foot as they use the other foot for pushing the net down into the water.
With some boats they use an ore to paddle them instead of a motor. With these you will also see them balancing with one foot since they use the other one to paddle. Yes- the paddle by holding the oar with their leg. I even saw a little boy who already had these mad skills of balancing on one foot while paddling with the other.
Calm waters on Inle LakeTo start our day off we walked down to the riverfront in New shung town. Here you will find many keen men wiling to take your business and take you around the lake. We heard that the average price was around $20 USD but we managed to bargain to a lower price. This split between you and one other person makes quite the deal for an amazing day out on the water seeing one of the most unique and untouched spots in South East Asia.
While on the lake you will make many stops in the different village and get to witness the local customs. Here are a few of the stops along the way that you can make:
The Cat Monastary. That’s not it’s real name but it started being called that because of the amounts of cats there and the tricks that the monks teach them.
Traditional Parasol Making
Hpaung Daw U Pagoda. Even the Lake has a pagoda!
See how they make their traditional boats.
Take a break at a floating restaurant with a beautiful view of the lake.Each of these stops will usually have someone to explain the process and tradition to you. Our first stop was the fabric making and our guide was excellent at telling us about the time consuming and patient process that goes into this art. I was expecting her to ask for a tip at the end- which quite frankly I was willing to give since she did such a great job explaining everything to us. Instead at the end we were taken to the gift shop where you could purchase items made at the shop.
I liked this a lot better because then I didn’t feel pressured to hand over my money instead I could chose to support the craft. I ended up buying a travel headband because it was something that would be both useful to me and be a meaningful souvenir- plus I would rather buy a headband from here than some store in the mall.
Most of the stops that involved craft making had a gift shop where you could purchase items. Some of these items do make for nice gifts and it is nice to support the local community and their beautiful work. However, don’t feel the need to buy anything just because you are having a look around. You have to pay a $10 fee for visiting Inle Lake that goes towards helping preserve the lake so if you feel bad not buying anything just remember that you already made a small donation.
One of the most interesting thing that I saw were the Padaung People.
I remember reading about them in National Geographic when I was a child and always being fascinated by the, It was a surreal experience for me to get to meet them in person and talk to them. I even go to try some gold rings on!
They told me that one gold ring added every year. However, this custom is no longer practiced because of medical reasons. Older woman still have them since taking the rings off would cause serious discomfort since their necks have been stretched and they now rely on the rings as their neck muscles. I was happy that I got to see this with my own two eyes before the tradition dies off.
Remember that you will be out in the sun all day. Because there is a nice breeze from the boat you will forget that you are actually sitting in direct sunlight. So wear a hat and sunscreen and bring plenty of water. If you run out of water don’t worry- the water comes to you!
When the market comes to you.
Once the sun goes down it gets quite chill so bring a sweater or something to cover up. Luckily, our boat had some blankets for us to use on the journey back home.
We couldn’t have planned our day any better, by the time that we started heading back the sun was setting in the sky and the fisherman were out catching their last fish of the day. It was the perfect kiss goodnight.
Other Things to Do Around Inle Lake (Nyaung Shwe Town):
Once you are on dry land there are still some things to keep you occupied. If you want to treat yourself there are many spas around. The manicures and pedicures aren’t that great but the massages are the best I have ever had and for dirt cheap!
The most popular activity besides cruising the lake is to bike a bike around it. You can get bikes for cheap at about $1 USD (across from The Little Inn – which is a lovely place to stay if you are not looking for a hostel). These are the cheapest bikes but not the best. If you really want to go exploring there are other shops that rent out mountain bikes. Okay, so it’s not that intense but they will be a lot more helpful when riding up some steep hills to the attractions along the way.
Places you can Ride:
This is a peaceful monastery situated on a hilltop. It is a bit more of a journey since it is technically in the next town over, Maing Tau. It involves crossing the lake- but there are many boat drivers willing to take you and your bikes.
Red Mountain Estate Winery
A winery in Myanmar? Stranger things have happened. For a girl living in Asia for the past year and a half this news was music to my ears. Sure it’s no french wine but it is palatable and a glass of fresh crisp white wine is the perfect reward for biking in the hot sun. The winery is beautiful and lush and also up on a hill. If you can get there for sunset it would be the perfect spot to enjoy a bottle of wine and dinner. There is wine tasting offered here too.
The winery is fine to bike to on the cheap bikes.