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Exploring one of the best lakes in the country, Inle Lake by boat Exploring one of the best lakes in the country, Inle Lake by boat

Exploring one of the best lakes in the country called Inle Lake by boat.

Exploring one of the best lakes in the country called Inle Lake by boat.

Inle Lake is the second largest natural lake in Myanmar. It is situated in the middle of the Nyaungshwe Valley, nestled between two mountain ranges that extend north to south. The lake has a length of 22km and a width of 11km and is 875 metres above sea level. Inle Lake is 35 kilometres away from the nearest airport at Heho, and there are flights to there from both Yangon and Mandalay (Mandalay Hill).

The shore and islands of Inle Lake accommodate 17 villages, all of which are on stilts. The lake does not actually have a shoreline; an individual cannot walk around it directly. The water of Inle Lake gets shallow as hyacinths and marsh paddies become dense; the path becomes impassable, and suddenly there is solid land.

The inhabitants of the island are called the Intha, and they are devout Buddhists. This is the reason there are about a hundred Buddhist pagodas and about a thousand stupas in this area. The most remarkable feature of the lake is the leg-rowing Intha fishermen: they drive their flat-bottom boats by standing on the stern with one leg and using the other leg with the oar to row in order to obtain better vision over the reeds.

Inle Lake was our favourite part of Burma and one of its most famous attractions. As magnificent as the scenery is what we loved most was seeing how life is lived on and around the water.

The lake and mountains were beautiful but it was the one-legged fishermen, the colourful tribal markets, the stilted wooden houses, and the impressive floating gardens that kept us at Inle Lake longer than we planned.

The best way to explore Inle Lake is by boat – we rented a motorised canoe with a couple of teenage drivers and set off in the golden early morning light for a full day of exploration.

The most memorable sight of any trip to Inle Lake is the fishermen who balance on one leg on the end of their canoes and use the other leg to paddle the boat, leaving their hands free to cast their nets.

Inya Lake by boat

The villages of Inle Lake are wonderfully picturesque. Stilted houses of teak and bamboo line the banks of the lake, and the narrow canals that feed into it. Some villages are even built on the water and access is by boat only. Maing Thauk village is a mixture of the two – the water-based section is linked to the land by a long wooden bridge.

Inya lake houses

There is a rotating system of five markets in the Inle Lake area when the surrounding hill tribes come to sell and buy produce. We visited the floating market at Ywama, which although is one of the more touristy markets we found it easy to move beyond the souvenir stands to the more interesting food section where locals shopped for fruit, vegetables and lots of fried snacks – we couldn’t resist sampling Burmese doughnuts and pancakes.

Ywama market in Inya Lake

One of the more touristy, but interesting aspects of an Inle Lake boat tour are the visits to craft workshops. We saw silver jewellery, paper, and lotus and silk fabrics being made. There are attached shops of course and although we were shown around there was no hard sell. It would be a good place to buy souvenirs so make sure you take enough cash – dollars and kyat are accepted.

Myanmar crafts

We definitely recommend you include the village of Inthein on your Inle Lake itinerary. We loved the boat trip down the narrow waterways to reach the village under bamboo bridges and through mini-dams built from straw.

The main attraction of Inthein is the hilltop temple Shwe Inn Thein Paya with 1054 pagodas. Some have been reconstructed in shimmering gold and others lean precariously, crumbling in the vegetation.

Shwe Inn Thein Paya, Inthein

The main base for visiting Inle Lake is the small, relaxed town of Nyaungshwe. We recommend the Princess Garden Hotel – you can find more details in our Planning a Trip to Burma post.

We rented a wooden longtail boat with padded chairs for 17,000 kyat ($21) for a day including Inthein. Boats can seat up to five or more people. You can arrange trips with your hotel or any of the travel agencies in town.

It’s cold in the morning and hot in the afternoon so make sure you take a thick sweater or blanket, suncream and a hat.

By Erin McNeaney

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