Located within the hills of the Shan State is the indescribable Inle Lake. It is the second largest freshwater lake in Myanmar and is approximately 2,900 feet above sea level. The culture of the people is not like the rest of the country, and they have preserved their customs and way of life for hundreds of years. The inhabitants of the lake are called the Inthar, and their unique way of living will surely impress. Everything from rowing a boat to growing vegetables and fruit is unlike anywhere else. A few days around the lake enjoying its cool climate and wonderful insight will give you a new perspective on Myanmar.
One of the first things you will notice on this 22 km lake is the fishermen. They have a very strange way of rowing their boats; they use their leg to assist in the work. Balancing on the tip of the boat the Inthar fishermen propel their handmade boats around the lake for work and pleasure. You will also witness the fishermen using strange cone shaped nets to catch various fish for their family as well as for the markets.
The floating gardens are another fascinating site to see. The locals support themselves by growing fruits and vegetables year round, including tomatoes, beans, cauliflower, cabbage, eggplant, garlic, onions, melons, and bananas. The plants are grown on a marshy soil based mass that is extremely fertile and staked to the bottom of the lake with bamboo sticks. Of all of the places you visit in Myanmar, Inle Lake will be the one you remember most fondly. The friendly hill tribe people, ancient pagodas, colorful festivals and natural beauty will give you a life time of memories.
Once you’ve experienced Inle Lake you’ll want to return again and again.
To begin your day on the lake you will meet with your local boat guide at the canal entrance to the lake. You will board your private long tail boat equipped with chairs and life jackets. As you begin your journey down the canal to the lake you will pass by local people going about their daily lives. You will quickly realize that Inle Lake is like no other place in Myanmar. Once you reach the lake, you will be mesmerised with the view of mountains surrounding you in every direction. The calm waters reflect the sun and give the lake a magical feel.
Your first impression of this lake will be magnificent. Seeing the local people going about their day as well as the splendid scenery makes this trip both scenic and cultural. There are many sites to visit on the lake including the floating gardens, monasteries, pagodas and local villages. The lake and surrounding hills are home to hundreds of tribes, and visiting their villages on the lake will really make you appreciative Myanmar ethnic diversity. As you cruise up and down the different, “streets,” waterways you will pass by hundreds of homes built on stilts, some are made entirely of bamboo.
You don’t want to miss one of the most amazing features of this lake, the floating gardens. Local farmers use a very unique way of growing vegetables on the lake. They use a combination of dead water plants and silt from the lake bottom to make a floating mass that will support plant life. The gardens are laid out in long rows, like on a land farm, staked to the bottom with bamboo posts. You can see bamboo poles sticking up out of the lake for what seems to be hundreds of acres. The crops are predominately tomatoes, as the locals have found that they really thrive on these floating soil masses. You will pass by hundreds of rows of gardens filled with green and red tomatoes, and you will also see local women paddling up and down the rows harvesting their crops to sell at the local market and then distributed all over the country.
While traveling around the lake you will witness the local fishermen using their unique leg rowing techniques to get around, truly an astonishing balancing act. Standing on one leg and using the other leg to row, the fishermen can multitask as they propel and steer their boat around. Although they make it look easy, it is not. It takes years of practice and extreme balance to master this amazing feat. As you glide across the lake, be sure to capture some photos of the fishermen, these will be some of the most prized photos you can get at Inle lake. After lunch, you can visit the Indein complex of pagodas on top of a hill overlooking the lake.
The boat trip up the canal is rather interesting. You will go upstream through a collection of handmade dams that restrict the water flow and make the canal deeper. It is more like a theme park ride than a river cruise, as the boat charges through these homemade channel locks. Along the way, you will pass some even more remote village people doing everything from fishing to bathing. If you’re lucky, you may pass an ox or two taking a dip in the water to cool themselves off after a long day in the fields. Once at the end of the canal, you will reach a small village. To get to the pagoda you must hike up a long set of shallow stairs, and as you venture to the top you will pass multiple vendors selling all sorts of local goods. At the top, you will find a very peaceful and tranquil spot. As you gaze out at the lake and countryside, the surrounding stupa bells will ring as the wind blows. It is an amazing place to just sit and relax.
On your journey around the lake you will also visit a silk, cotton, and lotus weaving workshop. Here you can witness the amazing craftsmanship that goes into weaving traditional shawls and longyis. It takes a day or two to finish one piece of clothing. Even more impressive that the weaving process is the lotus string. Pieces of lotus flower stalk are cut and separated to form a workable string. It takes hundreds of stalks of lotus to get just one roll of usable material. Although the finished product is rather pricey, the uniqueness is priceless.
Heho to Pindaya
The two hour drive from Heho airport to the town of Pindaya is one of the most beautiful drives in the country. You will go through the scenic Shan Hills and see a balanced collaboration between native people and their environment, creating a slow harmonious vibe that resonates throughout the hills. These rich green hills are covered in farmland and you can see the red dirt roads cutting through the countryside. Along the way you will pass ox carts and herds of cows, and don’t be surprised if your driver has to stop to let the local herders pass by. The rolling hills cut up with farmland provide an excellent landscape view for this wonderful drive.
Upon arrival in Pindaya you will find that the town is quite small, but it provides a delicate mixture of cultural exploration and pure relaxation. After checking into your private bungalow you can begin to explore the city. The main attraction, Pindaya Caves is nestled in the hillside above the city. At first sight you will find a gigantic spider which depicts some of the folklore behind the caves. Once you climb the stairs to the entrance to the cave you will find a tall pagoda inside the cave surrounded by thousands of Buddha figurines. At first glance the cave seems to be smaller than anticipated, but this is not true. After you wander through the maze of Buddha images you will find a small pathway that leads to cavernous open caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites. The cool moist air and the low lighting really give this cave a tranquil vibe. There are a few small openings throughout the cave that must be entered by hands and knees, and if you’re brave enough you will find yourself inside a mediation room built in the walls of the cave. One of the best ways to enjoy the cave is to sit in the serene silence and let this euphoric atmosphere take over your senses.
After exiting the caves, take a ride in the glass faced elevator that will provide stunning views of the countryside as you glide back down to the bottom of the hill. As you make your way back to the city center you will go through a small cluster of massive banyan trees. Their huge white trunks branch out to fill the view with lush green that provides shade for the local farm animals who seek shelter from the sun.
Your next stop of the day will be at a local Shan paper and umbrella making workshop. Locally owned and operated the family of craftsmen and women will surely impress you. Their use of simple handmade tools and traditional processes make their art of umbrella making look easy. Their sheer simplicity and calm relaxed way of life makes this stop a must see on any trip to Pindaya.
Throughout your trip to Pindaya you will find yourself thinking that you wished you could live here. The relaxing life pace and stunning countryside make it a welcomed stop on your journey throughout the heart of Myanmar.