5 Reasons You Shouldn't Miss Inle Lake, Myanmar
As I entered the wide expanse of Inle Lake at the end of a narrow feeder channel, two
fishermen appeared on either side of my Abercrombie & Kent longboat, performing what I could
best make out as a slow-motion, over-the-water ballet with conical baskets and oars for props—
all while balanced on the bows of their boats.
Life on the Lake
Life on the shallow, 13.5-mile freshwater lake is utterly captivating: locals and visitors alike get
around in one-person-wide wooden boats outfitted with outboard propellers, which emit a noisy
whine when at full throttle. Villages of rustic single- and two-story wooden stilt houses straddle
active waterways. Hydroponic tomato farming is also big here, based on an aquabiotic system
in use since the 1960s. Cruising along channels hemmed in by floating gardens is simply
The locals, known as Inthas, learn to fish from the age of 13 and generally continue until they
are around 75 years old. Wearing traditional wide trousers, shirts and conical hats, these iconic
fishermen have mastered an unusual and difficult technique. Carefully balancing on one leg,
wrapping their second leg around the oar to guide the vessel through the freshwater lake. They
can stand and look out for reeds in the water and keep both hands free to handle the
Over-the-water hotels and restaurants
You'll find over-the-water bungalows on Inle Lake, and eating at their restaurants is a must.
Tea is grown the world over, but only the Burmese incorporate it into their cuisine—a spicy tea
leaf salad that’s best consumed on a lakefront terrace watching longboats zoom by.
The ruins of 1,000 centuries-old stone pagodas are crammed together on an overgrown hillside
behind an unassuming Inle Lake restaurant.
Over 200 monasteries dot the lake, but all boats lead to the unusual Nga Phe Kyaung, known as
Jumping Cat monastery thanks to the dozens of resident cats trained by monks to "jump"
through hoops. The building itself is a splendid wooden stilt structure that dates from 1890. It
also houses an impressive collection of ornate Buddhas, brought by area residents for
safekeeping during World War II and never taken back.
Inle Lake has been a major Myanmar weaving center for over a century and its chief artisans
are based in the village of Inn Paw Khon. You'll hear the looms clacking away through open-air
windows as you come in to dock. Everything, from the dyes to the finished scarves and longyis
(the Myanmar sarong), is done here by hand, by women of all ages. Myanmar is the only place
to make lotus fabric—and Inle Lake is ground zero for it, as its shallow waters create ideal
growing conditions for the flowering plant.
Take some time to explore here with an early-morning cruise, a cycle through the countryside,
or sojourns into the surrounding hills and villages. Extraordinary are its communities, ecology,
and traditions. So don't miss this remarkable place on your first visit to Myanmar.