Inle lake is situated in the south of Nyaungshwe Township of Taunggyi District. It’s an inland freshwater lake. A popular place for tourists coming to Myanmar hoping for a unique experience. No wonder it became famous knowing there are various sites to explore from cultural, natural, religious or their pagodas and also interacting with the local Intha people. it’s also the second largest lake in the country with a 44.99 square miles and an elevation of 880 meters.
Here's the map of Inle Lake, hover your browser to this map
One of the fascinating things to do in this place is the boat tour which is also the only venture that most tourists like to do first. Some are staying on the hotels located in the lake wishing to capture the best moment and experiencing a life being on the lake. There are quite a few available places to stay in Inle lake that you may check them here.
Others prefer nesting in the main town and visit the lake on a day tour. Like myself, I prefer settling in the town, thus, the Three Seasons Inn and Spa became my home for 4 days. Surprisingly, this place charged for $7 per night for this low season (I was here the month of May). With that amount, I could not contain the happiness as they give me a huge air-conditioned room (luckily as the temp was on 45C) with great amenities. Such a great treat for myself.
The very first day being on this town, I randomly speak to some tour agencies I saw nearby about the boat tour, and also talked to a few tour guides around the area including the one from Three Seasons Inn. I found out that most agencies go to the same places as those souvenir shops and some workshops which are set up for tourists. Apparently, this is not my kind of thing which leaving me to finally decide of hiring the guide from Three Seasons Inn. His kind gesture, fluent in English, great knowledge of the country and high energy are the reasons why I picked him. Although the rate is obviously expensive than taking a group tour, I strongly trust that having him on the tour will satisfy my craving for the informative trip, deeper understanding of the culture, honest advice and great interaction of the local people in Inle Lake.
Hiring a boat on same tour day at the canal is the best way to negotiate a price if traveling solo. The payment of $10 for the boat with only the guide and I as their passengers surely win my trading skills since it’s also on a low season. The usual rate for this is about 18,000-25,000 Kyat or $12-$25 The boat is structured as a long tail motorized boat with no roof, but organized chairs settled in front equipped with umbrellas to cover from the heat of the sun or in case it may rain. Please note that not all boat have umbrellas, in fact, only a few of them have this.
Fast forward to the first stop after minutes of riding is sighting a one-man fishing boat. Looking at the fisherman stands at the end of the canoe wrapping his one leg around the oar while the other leg guiding him in balancing his moves. This is their way of fishing casting out the cone-shaped nets as they hunt a carp. This an unusual fishing technique from Burmese fishermen has been my goal to witness before visiting the country. Although, it may disappoint a bit since the first fishermen we interact are doing it for the tourists and expecting a tip in return. With full awareness of the situation, because my guide shares the idea prior to this activity, I urge the tour guide of making a stop so I can catch a glimpse of this. Without a doubt, I politely and willingly give the fisherman a reasonable tip. I still believe it’s an experience I don’t want to miss because I clearly wanted a photo of them with their colorful longyi on and a slow movement of their fishing skills.
There are more fishermen come insight as we are approaching the village near the floating garden. The reality exists from this people, different ways of fishing where largely a group of local taking weeds from the deeper lake, placed them on the boat, making all the space full and a mountain of weeds on it ready to transport to the floating garden.
Before visiting the floating garden we first look around the lakeside villages where houses are constructed on bamboo piles and connected to the lake floor. Built in different sizes from small to third story houses having space below intended for their boats to dock in. Arriving at the place at almost 10 in the morning, we seldom capture people around as they have been roaming everywhere in the lake doing their daily work.
Floating garden. A huge one. Green environment. Well organized. Magnificent. Unconventional.
That’s how I vividly remember describing the floating garden on that day.
A floating garden is a place where Intha native people (a tribe from Inle Lake) produce or grow vegetables on floating islands which are an accumulation of weeds and water hyacinth. Tomatoes are the largest crop they grow in the area. There are also beans, gourds, cucumbers, flowers and other root vegetables.
After a great encounter in the floating garden, we set foot in Nga Phe Chuang Monastery a place where monks taught some of the cats to jump through hoops. It’s also where a collection of Myanmar’s Buddha images can be seen.
A few meters away from this monastery is the local lotus weaving factory in Paw Khon Village. There are a lot of these on the lake but I specifically asked my guide to visit a factory where more old women and men are working. The process is extracting the lotus stem individually from the plant which makes into a fiber thread. The lotus stem is being twisted then pulled revealing its thin strand. Putting this tiny strand into a wooden workbench splashing some water to keep its moist. Repeating the process to more stems and group together those filament creating a thick thread. The process is time-consuming, after extracting and pulling the thread, these will be dyed naturally or artificially. Artificially meaning they put a color on the thread rather than showing it’s natural color. These are then weaved traditionally using their own weaving equipment. Lotus cloth and fabric are rare that’s why it’s expensive. To get a lesser price they also have those lotus fabric mixed with silk and cotton. I didn’t buy anything which I regretted their products are worth keeping for. Poor me.
When lunch time came, we transport to another site. This time it’s the Cheroot Cigar factory. Yes, a cigar. I don’t smoke but I got curious and they also offer free stick for tourists to try. This cigar is known in the country as the sweet cigar. I tried one roll, no reaction as I obviously have no idea about smoking thus can’t tell the difference. They use the cheroot leaves creating the cigar. Blending with different ingredients rolled inside the brown sugar, tamarind, rice wine, banana and many others. Price is at 1,000 Kyat/packet or $1.30 from the factory, outside Inle lake the price more than that.
While I am really satisfied with my half day tour, my guide gladly sends me to a restaurant with a stunning view. From there, taking a great moment for my time, the food is great and their banana shake appeased my thirst. Aghast by the view, where the mountain from afar is calling for its own beauty. That moment is a moment of self-happiness, that I dreamed of having when in Inle Lake.
One of the things my guide did is giving me the flexibility of time, he made sure I am having a great time and making use of it the way I want it. Thus, after my delicious lunch and a great time at the restaurant, we headed to Phaung Daw OO Pagoda, one of the Buddhist site in Inle Lake. It has a Gold Leaf with 5 images of the pagoda where only men can place those gold leaf into the images. It is also a place where one can understand about their history for the 18-day pagoda festival.
The last stop of my long day trip is the Kayan (Padaune) Tribe. There are also women stationed in the northern part of Thailand, but this one from Inle Lake makes it a better site witnessing this tribe. Although it is set for the tourists, there is better place meeting them which is in the Shan State where, unfortunately, I had no other time to make a visit. Regardless of this set up in the lake, I still am dignified having met them in person. They don’t speak English thus my guide came to rescue. To know more about this tribe, you may check it here.
Paying for about $12 for the boat plus the $32 fee for my guide is personally all worth it. I don’t regret shelling that amount for the guide for he was a big help for all things needed during the day, most especially answering my questions and making sure my request is granted. After all, this is what we had agreed for.
You may contact the guide here: Yannaing Soe
Things to note:
- The boat tour is a whole day, there is group tour available too at a reasonable amount just make sure you know where they stop.
- Bring a hat or something to cover your head as the boat is wide open
- In case it may rain, a rain jacket will help bring them with you
- A mosquito repellent is needed as well
- Make sure you have a dry bag keeping your belongings dry.
- Bring drinking water with you to keep you hydrated.
- Kindly wear a proper dress as a respect to them.
- Please LEAVE NO TRACE.
Author: Ferna Mae
Ferna is a spontaneous traveler from the Philippines who had a great experience traveling her own country first before she embarked to other countries. She thrives to be more independent in her own skin. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org