Inle Lake is one of those very special places, of which there are few left on Earth. Local life is simple, slow and pleasant, light and color are strangely unique. In some sense, it is the essence of Myanmar. We arrived to Nyaungshwe, the town on the northeast of the lake and its logistical base, in the middle of the night, via a 9 hour bus from Bagan. After sleeping in the whole morning (most guesthouses will let you check in at 4 am for free), we ate some delicious curry and walked around the market area. We were planning on chilling, but found ourselves at Talk Nan bridge, where most boat tours depart… and couldn’t resist booking a ride to the village of Inthein.
We sat down in our private long boat and in a few minutes reached the open water. The lake was dark and calm, extending beyond our eye sight. Soon, we started to observe some of the scenes that have made Inle famous among travelers: fishermen rowing with their legs (a technique unique to this lake), farmers transporting tomatoes or collecting seaweed (to use as fertilizer) on their boats,… After about 30 min crossing the lake to the southwest, we entered a narrow canal, surrounded by lush foliage and several huts, where children played in the water and adults washed themselves.
The boatman dropped us off, and we walked through the village and up to the pagoda on the hilltop. On the way, we saw hundreds of closed souvenir stalls, and once again, celebrated traveling in low season. More than a pagoda, Inthein has a crowded cluster of stupas, I believe over one thousand, in various states of conservation. We climbed to a higher hill behind the pagoda, about 15 min to a golden stupa, and were rewarded with great views of the temple and the surrounding valleys.
For our second day in Inle Lake, we booked a full day private boat tour (again with Inle Boy, the operator we used yesterday and that seemed one of the most bullshit-free). Because we had already visited Inthein the day before, we would be able to go much further south to Kyauk Daing, where the 5-day rotating market was happening that day. Although we were a bit late for the market action, the landscapes and life scenes we got to see on the way were awesome.
During the rest of the morning, we made several stops, at Thaung Tho pagoda, at a silk weaving shop, a blacksmith, a silversmith, a cigarette rolling shop, some long neck women center… It was a bit too touristy, but an interesting history lesson, and a good way to understand the lake economy. We stopped for lunch at one of the numerous floating restaurants in a fisherman village, right on time to scape a brutal storm. So far, we were getting lucky, and the rainy season was proving to be a good time to travel in Myanmar.
In the afternoon, we shortly visited the quirky Phaung Daw Oo pagoda, which holds five Buddha images covered in golded leaf to the point that they’re unrecognizable, and the so-called cat monastery. Then we reached the floating gardens, a huge area where locals cultivate tomatoes, squash and other veggies directly on the lake water. The tour was approaching its end, and we told our boatman that we wanted to get closer to the fishermen, who were setting up for some evening fishing. He navigated slowly past a few of them, and finally stopped the engine right by a group of four canoes. The fishermen graciously paddled on one leg and caught some fish in their nets (they couldn’t use the bamboo cages there because of the seaweed). It was serene and beautiful, by far our favorite part of the day.