Experiencing the essence of Myanmar…Inle Lake

Experiencing the essence of Myanmar...Inle Lake

In a village on Inle Lake we visit an amazing market.

Our Viking tour group flew up to Heho, a small town with a regional airport…which, believe me, is far easier than bouncing along on the narrow poorly paved roads leading to Inle Lake. Like most underdeveloped countries Myanmar suffers from substandard infrastructure…roads, bridges, trains and ports are either in poor condition or nonexistent. The country has 17,500 miles of roads but only about 2,100 miles are paved and during the monsoon season most of these unpaved roads turn into a quagmires.

It took us an hour to fly to Heho and another hour to drive around the lake to our resort hotel. A lovely bungalow complex set on the banks of the lake. From here we were going to explore the lake by boat, with its iconic fishermen and stilt villages.

Experiencing the essence of Myanmar...Inle Lake

Buying flowers at the market at Inle Lake

Inle Lake is a freshwater lake large in area (116 Sq KM) but very shallow. In the dry season most of the lake is only about 7 feet deep with some spots going to 12 feet deep. The population on or around the lake is about 70,000 living in 5 larger villages on land and other villages dotting the lake but built on stilts above the water. The village people survive on both fishing and agriculture with the vegetables and fruits being grown in floating gardens.

I found the construction of the floating growing beds from lake bottom weeds and bamboo poles fascinating. A lot tech hydroponic system which floats on the lake surface while gathering nutrients from the water and all the while rising and dropping with the water level. The crops can be weeded and harvested from small boats floating in the water lanes

Experiencing the essence of Myanmar...Inle Lake

Selling her fruits in the Inle Lake market

The fishermen move across the shallow lake in small boats similar to a dugout canoe but with a small platform to stand or sit on at each end of the boat. They fish standing on one leg at the bow of the boat and wrapping their other leg around a oar which they use to steer and propel the boat across the shallow water. They stand because the many grasses and weeds growing in the water makes it impossible to see into the water if seated. The most plentiful fish in the lake are Inle Carp a small fish that can be dried and made into fish paste. The traditional method of fishing used conical baskets that would be used to scoop up fish but nowadays they use a more conventional form of nets that they can cast out and drag in to greater effect.

Experiencing the essence of Myanmar...Inle Lake

Ancient Stupa at the Indeim Pagoda site

On our second day we rode a small bus from our hotel to the other side of the lake where we were scheduled to pick up some long boats for out lake exploration.  However,  first we were stopping in a small town to visit one of the local markets. The markets are held in five towns around the lake and are not fixed but move to a different one of the towns every day. So every five days the itinerant market is back to the original village. I was gobsmacked by the market we visited. Produce and product were jam packed into the market. Some stalls had the product on raised platforms and others were on the ground but no matter what level they were on, they were ready for business and customers swarmed the stalls restocking their kitchens after a five day absence.

I could not even begin to identify most of what I saw…strange greens, grains, fruits and peppers were piled high. The beautiful Burmese women with painted faces smiled and chatted with customers and other vendors and all the while I wandered the crowded aisles taking photos and gawking like a green tourist.  It was one of the best markets I have visited in South-East Asia.

Experiencing the essence of Myanmar...Inle Lake

Picking up our long boats in Indiem Village

Our next stop was Shwe Indein Pagoda. Legend has it that it was started by the Indian Emperor Asoka in 230 BC and renewed in the 11th century. Whatever the true story, it is a interesting collection of 1,000 stupas in this small village. The very oldest brick stupas looked very indian and very ancient while the more recent eleventh century ones are similar to stupas in Pagan, the ancient capital city of Myanmar. We took time to wander the stupas taking photos and getting a short lecture on the history of the area before we walked twenty minutes to the spot where we were to catch our long boats for our lake tour.

Experiencing the essence of Myanmar...Inle Lake

The floating villages of Inle Lake

We skimmed the surface of the lake in our long, low, narrow, shallow draft, boats on our way to view the floating villages. The boats are powered by a single cylinder diesel engine with a propeller on a long shaft .  A perfect design because the propeller  can be lifted in a flash if the water gets too shallow or the weeds to thick. Each boat holds four passengers, seated in small lounge chairs in a single row so there was total visibility and a feeling of being connected to the water.  A great way to travel…all that was missing was my pith helmet to make me feel like an old British Colonialist.

Experiencing the essence of Myanmar...Inle Lake

Weavers in one of the villages floating on the lake

The villages exist on fishing and agriculture for the most part but there is also a local craft business and much of the region is renowned for their textiles…both silk and cotton woven tin raditional Shan patterns. We stopped at one workshop to watch the dying and weaving process. Beautiful flying shuttle looms producing meter after meter of intricate geometric patterned silk…stunning.

Experiencing the essence of Myanmar...Inle Lake

Fishermen on the lake using modern nets

The people of Inle Lake are wed to this body of water and their way of life is under attack. The lake and its ecosystem are stressed. Agriculture uses age old slash and burn techniques to clear the fields and forest for planting and as a result the topsoil erodes into the lake. The effect is to bring nutrients into the water that causes the weeds to propagate and algae to bloom and at the same time silt up the lake. In the last two decades the open water area has been reduced by 34%.  At the same time, climate change has produced extreme temperatures that cause reduced rainfall and accelerated evaporation. All in all, a perfect storm.

Our long boats glided into the docks at our resort just as the sun was setting across the lake…a perfect ending to a perfect day. I loved our day spent on the lake…feeling connected to a unique, and perhaps vanishing way of life. It will remain one of the highlights of my visit to Myanmar.

Experiencing the essence of Myanmar...Inle Lake

About Larry Bosco

In 2010 I had one of those “Is this all there is” moments and so in January 2011 I retired from Real Estate Appraising, sold off all my worldly goods and headed out as a solo traveler in search of a new place to live. Since then I’ve traveled around the world, made new friends and had many great adventures and some not so great. After staying almost a year in Cuenca, Ecuador I have headed back to South East Asia where I began the journey in 2011. Currently I am living in Chiang Mai, Thailand
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5 Responses to Experiencing the essence of Myanmar…Inle Lake

  1. Julie Wright says:

    Great account of this section of your travels…..wonderful photos too.

    I bought a scarf on that lake…made from woven water lilies…or some such thing.

    A unique place indeed.

    It was cold when I was there and we set off early in a long boat to
    explore……then came the heat of the day.

    I remember looking around at the surrounding countryside and loving the
    fact that there was not one telephone mast in sight.

    I guess progress will come and the people certainly deserve it…..but oh…how beautiful and
    unspoilt it was.

    and yes, of course, I did it bouncing around in a minivan……you great softie you!!!

  2. Paula says:

    Great blog!……I felt like I was there with you, in the lake, wondering what I would do if the boat tipped over. Last two shots really great!

    • Larry Bosco says:

      The boats don’t tip over. However, I know what I would do..hang onto the boat for dear life. I’m not a swimmer. Thanks and I’m glad you like the images,

  3. Jim says:

    As always, beautiful photos. Your story and photos fondly remind me of our tours on the canals in Bangkok back in the 1970’s. I especially like the photo of the fishermen balanced over the water with one of their feet on the edge of their boats and and the other on their oars. As the world keeps changing and becomes increasingly uniform; finding societies like these becomes rare. Future generations looking for a new experience from their own culture or a new adventure will need to find them in space exploration.

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