Taking a boat down Inle Lake was something I wanted to do.
Won’t you be tempted too when you see a photo like this?
Often referred to as the Inle Lake Region, or Inle Lake, the actual “lake” is situated at Nyaung Shwe, in the Shan State of Myanmar.
First, a bumpy overnight ride from Bagan to Inle Lake
The bus-ride from Bagan to Nyaung Shwe wasn’t the most comfortable of journeys, even though the bus was rather cute-looking with three separate seats in one row, complete with Dora the Explorer neck pillows for passengers.
First, there was this passenger who wanted my Burmese friend to help her tell the bus-driver to speak softly, just so she could sleep (?!? Bring ear-plugs! Drivers need to use their methods to stay awake and keep you safe on the road – this includes them chatting with the co-driver or colleague).
In the middle of the night, during a pit-stop mid-journey (I didn’t dare to go to the toilet), outside the eatery, I saw a Burmese girl with a big circular tray of fried chicken wings, balanced ever so securely on the top of her head. I hoped my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me at this hour. She was walking and squatting to chat with her friend, that tray intact.
Along the way, the driver also kept stopping for unknown reasons, including needing to clean the bus toilet or something. The ride was really too bumpy for me to enter proper sleep. Sometime again in the wee hours, I was woken up by the driver’s relentless honking. My eyelids flitted open, only to see many white cows on the road. Cows were crossing the road.
Burmese overnight bus drivers are known for playing loud music on the rides. Bring good ear-plugs – you’ve been warned! (Or you can check out my post –> What to Know Before You Visit Myanmar) for my reviews of the bus companies.)
Welcome to the rural side of Myanmar
Finally, at 4am, my friends and I dropped off at Aung Ban, where we waited for my friend’s relative to drive our rented car to us. It would be another hour’s drive to Nyaung Shwe. I was too tired to snap any photos, but it was really something to watch the sky gradually light up while my friend
drove drifted confidently on the roads he knew since young. Once in a while, we’ll drive past a buffalo-drawn cart sharing the same road, or someone driving a tractor to begin his morning work. The Burmese countryside looks really beautiful.
When we reached La Maison Birmane Hotel at dawn, the hotel staff appeared magically and bless his heart, we got to check into our lovely rooms. My Burmese friend drove out to visit his relatives, while my Singaporean friend and I took our time to unwind. I was planning on washing up and taking a short nap, when our friend sent us a text message. His relative had rented a boat for us and we had to leave soon for our boat-ride, before the rain arrives.
So much for taking a rest! Desperate to hide my fatigued face, I quickly slapped on some face powder and put my cap on. Here we go for my highly anticipated boat-ride down Inle Lake – the reason I made all my travel companions come here for.
Hello, Inle Lake
Taking the longtail boat ride
Designed to be one-person wide and fitting 5 passengers on individual little chairs, it was a challenge and mini-miracle that I managed to step into the boat without losing my balance (I have a deep fear for deep/wide bodies of water). Once everyone got in and life-jackets put on for those who cared, our boatman started the engine.
(Ps: my usual camera lens stopped working in Bagan, so you’ll only get iPhone photos or photos from my zoom lens in this post.)
In no time at all, the views before us gave way to magnificent ones.
Of floating gardens, life & work at Inle Lake
22km long, Inle Lake is Myanmar’s second-largest freshwater lake. Known for floating gardens (farms) and wooden houses built on stilts above the water, a boat trip down Inle Lake quickly transports you into a magical world. Here, catch a glimpse of the locals going about their lives on the lake: working on the floating gardens, rowing, fishing, selling products, and also well-experienced craftsmen at traditional ‘factories’ using hand-operated looms to weave lotus-thread shawls. Elderly ladies were seated on the floor at the factories, vivid lines carved into the depths of their faces – a result of insufficient moisturizer and sunscreen. Small kids hung out outside their classroom/school. Monasteries were scattered along the length of the lake. Kids and adults sat by the side of the lake, washing their hair and clothes at the same time, using the same water from the lake. They were as curious towards us as us towards them. It was fascinating.
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The rain started as soon as we left the factory in our boat. After a short time of ducking under umbrellas held low enough so that the boatman can navigate above our heads, we scurried off the boat to take shelter at Hpaung Daw U Pagoda.
To the locals, this is a famous pagoda at the lake. In the middle of the inner temple, at a raised platform where only men can enter, there were four ‘globs of gold’. Once, these globs of gold had been little statues of Buddha, but have since been coated with so much gold leaf from faithful devotees that the statues no longer resemble their original form.
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The iconic fishermen of Inle Lake – are they for real?
Inle Lake’s Fisherman is someone I really wanted to see I wanted to see them in person – how they row the boat using one leg curved around the oar, their body slanting to one side, as they balance expertly at one end of the boat. During our return journey, my friend called my name in excitement and I spun my head around.
There he was.
Our boatman killed the engine so I could take some photos. (The fisherman is actually very far from our boat – I was using a super-zoom lens.)
This fisherman’s current role is actually a befuddled one – he’s part actual fishing, part posing for tourists in exchange for tips. True that sometimes, these fishermen do row their boats that way; they row the boat in normal ways too using both hands.
After this trip, I realized, there’s more of life here at Inle Lake other than that fisherman decked in his white-shirt orange-pants ensemble.
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Travel tips for Inle Lake
- Shopping trips to silver and jewellery shops might be disguised as “cultural tours” as warned by this blogger. Make sure you know what to look out for before booking your boat tour. We went with Burmese friends so we were always in good hands. At the weaving factory, I bought some shawls to support the local community.
- Watch the weather forecast. The weather at Inle Lake can change pretty fast, a small umbrella in your bag will be helpful. Sunscreen too. (Read my post on what to pack for a trip to Myanmar!) It started to rain when we were on the boat after finishing the craft factories, so we got off at Hpaung Daw U Pagoda to wait it out. Our boatman also had umbrellas ready on the boat.
- Visit the lake with an open mind to experiences. At one point, our boat ran out of fuel and we were stuck at the lake, floating along till the boatman got the fuel replenished.
Where to stay at Inle Lake
We stayed for a night at the charming La Maison Birmane Hotel in Nyaung Shwe. Our rooms were basic, cosy, and considered an eco-lodge. There was no aircon, fridge and the bathroom was an open concept (no door). Not to worry, there’s a ceiling fan, the sounds of nature as you fall asleep, and a toilet door. Breakfast was standard fare for everyone, but tasty nonetheless.
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If you’re looking for more unique hotels AT Inle Lake itself, check out Inle Princess Resort. It looks amazing!
| Check rates for more Inle Lake hotels (Nyaung Shwe) via Booking.com or Agoda.com |
Do you wanna visit Inle Lake too?
Visited: Sep 2016
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Further reads on Myanmar:
• What to know before you visit Myanmar
• Falling absolutely in love with Bagan (Myanmar) in two days
• 15 ways Myanmar surprised me
• Packing list & what to wear in Myanmar
• 21 photos to make you consider visiting Myanmar
• Is Myanmar worth visiting? Life lessons from a Myanmar trip
Follow my footsteps on social media!
Image credits: First photo after header pic is taken by Thomas Schoch, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic. • Photos of Inle Princess Resort are courtesy of the resort’s Facebook, used with permission of resort, thank you! –> visit Inle Princess Resortt’s website‘ • Photo of me is taken by my friend, Sui. All other photos are taken by me.
Information credits: Go-Myanmar
Other great posts to read about Inle Lake: 5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Miss Inle Lake, Myanmar (on Fodors) | Myanmar’s water world: exploring Inle Lake (on Lonely Planet) | Myanmar’s Tourism Boom Endangers Fragile Ecosystems
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