A day on Inle Lake

boys in a boat

We’re off in a longtail boat for a day-long trip around Inle Lake. On the way out, for a cool photo, the people next to us were throwing food in the air…they got their shot and the birds got breakfast.

birds chasing a boat


Myanmar, a fairly large country, is made up of dozens of ethnic groups. Long ago the Intha people were chased out of their old homes to the south and they fled here to Inle Lake. However, the resident Shan people weren’t keen on having new neighbors and refused to let them settle on land. The Intha cleverly set up on the lake, building houses, temples, villages, and even farms, living their whole lives on the water. Even today, some Intha children don’t set foot on solid land until they’re 5 or 6 years old.

Houses are made of woven bamboo mats perched on stilts.

inle lake house


sometimes getting fancier in a village:


Flat bottom boats are how people get around.

boat 1

boat 2

boat 3

Fishing is a main activity. Standing up, they’re able to look down into the shallow water and catch their fish with very fine nets or conical cages. They maneuver with a single leg paddle.

fisherman 1

I can’t imagine having the balance to be able to do that.


Among the many temples on the lake, the most important is Phaung Daw U Pagoda. It’s famous for five very revered Buddha statues.

Phaung Daw U pagoda

Rubbing gold leaf onto a Buddha statue is one way or making merit. After many years, these have become unrecognizable.

lumpy buddhas

Of course the local elders decided that only men are allowed to apply the gold. (jerks)

men only

That day there was a service of some kind, people were in considerable finery.


Everyone has a camera phone.

say cheese

Here’s a snippet of what it sounded like:

Outside it was a lively market scene. This lovely lass had something I apparently needed to buy.


Now seemed a good time for refreshment.

coconut juice

Not a big fan of coconut juice, Tom declared this actually delicious. Perhaps it was the technique in the making of it.

coconut chef

By the way, those five lumpy buddhas take an annual trip around the lake. This is their ride:

buddha barge


We visited a silversmith, where the methods seemed very basic, but produced lovely results.


silversmith 2

silversmith 3

In the shop we saw a toothsome (ahem) Shan headdress.

shan headdress

and some lovely carved buddhas. The variety was surprising – face shapes, ear lengths, poses.

shop buddhas

Time for lunch. Oh, here’s a place to eat.

lunch - restaurant

Shan tea, green leaves unfurled with sesame seeds.

lunch - tea

Astonishingly fresh fish. But cauliflower, really?

lunch - fish

And some yummy Shan noodles.

lunch - shan noodles

lunch - us

Nyaung Shwe, which encompasses Inle Lake, is one of the places that supplies mulberry paper and parasols throughout the country. Here pulping mulberry:

mulberry - pulping

A handle being carved on an foot-operated lathe. He makes other stuff here as well – baskets and the begging bowls used by monks as they collect alms every morning.

umbrella - lathe

assembling the parasols:

mulberry - parasol

Along with the Shan and Intha, Kayan people are also in the region. Like some ethnic groups in the country, many Kayan people are stateless, being denied full citizenship in Myanmar or Thailand.

kayan weavers

I cringe to remember that the Ripley’s Believe It or Not books I liked as a kid referred to them as “giraffe women”. The rings don’t actually lengthen their necks, but rather push their clavicles downward. Also those are coils, not rings – they are removable. The reasons for the long neck practice include beauty and protection. The least appealing reason is that they attract tourist dollars in Thailand.

kayan women

Here on the lake is made a very unusual fiber: lotus silk. Taken from the stalks of lotus flowers, the thread is spun into monk’s robes. Those fine white lines in the foreground become the thread on the spindle to the rear.

lotus silk

It’s also woven with cotton and silk into beautiful textiles.

lotus silk weaving

lotus silk weaving -

Another famous locale is the Nga Phe Kyaung monastery. Monks robes drying.


Once known as the Jumping Cat Monastery: apparently the monks used to train Burmese cats to jump through hoops. The cats we saw were of the ordinary lazing about variety.

temple cats

Far more interesting were the elaborately carved altars.



Here’s a monk on a break.

monk break

Sometimes as interesting as the sights we come to see are the other tourists.


Burmese temples usually have four entries set to the cardinal directions. Almost always they’re little shopping malls.

monastery mall

Tom’s girlfriends leaving. Toodle-oo ladies.

tourists leaving

The lake is very shallow, 7’-12’ deep. It doesn’t get much higher than that in rainy season and drought years can cause it to almost disappear. The Intha have use that to their advantage plus the nutrient-rich water to create floating farms.

farming 1

The growing beds are made by piling weeds on top of each other. This way, they really do float, rising and falling with the water, never being flooded.

farming 2

The amount and variety of produce that is grown is impressive – tomatoes, sugar cane, beans, gourds, even cauliflower.

In the end, one of the loveliest sights was flowering sugar cane, bent in the breeze.

sugar cane

And then, the boats were in for the day and so were we.

longtail boats

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