In western Shan State, you will find the serenely picturesque Inle Lake, famous for its floating villages, gardens and markets and the unique way of life of the local Intha people, with their functioning communities based entirely on the water.
Inle Lake is the second largest natural lake in Myanmar. It is a beautiful highland lake situated in the middle of the Nyaungshwe Valley of the Shan Plateau, nestled between two mountain ranges that extend from north to south, feels like a different world to the rest of Myanmar.
Inle Lake is 35 kilometers away from the nearest airport at Heho, and there are flights to there from both Yangon and Mandalay. There is an entry fee of around US$10 for the Inle Lake area, which you have to pay when entering Nyaungshwe.
The lake area is an example of a rural countryside town that is calm and peaceful, perfect for a vacation of relaxation. Although the lake is not large, it contains a number of endemic species some of which are found nowhere else in the world. The views are also amazing.
The beauty of Lake Inle comes not just from the nature but from its relationship with the people who live on it. An estimated 100,000 Intha (Angsa) people live on and around the lake. In their own language the word Intha means "Sons of the Lake". They are devout Buddhists and places frequently visited in their area are proof of their religious beliefs. Their way of life is certainly well adapted to this environment. With no roads or sidewalks to speak of, 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 and can be raised and lowered depending on water levels. Fishermen work the lake, using a mesmerizing one-legged paddling technique you won’t see anywhere else in the world. This unique way of rowing has make them famous. The Intha have also developed a singular form of aquaculture: a network of interwoven seaweed and hyacinths creates a thick layer of humus over the years, and this is attached to the bottom of the lake with bamboo poles, and then planted with tomatoes, cauliflower, aubergines and flowers.
Towns growing from the islands, houses suspended above the water, and floating commerce that takes place between them all. The villages of Inle Lake are wonderfully picturesque. Stilted houses of teak and bamboo line the banks of the lake, and the narrow canals that feed into it. Some villages are even built on the water and access is by boat only. Some homes are simple huts, while others are multi-story structures of sturdy teak and come complete with satellite dishes. Life is carried out on the banks of the lake and rivers – this is where children play, people bathe, do their laundry, and wash everything from buffaloes to motorbikes. And as with all of Myanmar, religion plays a massive part in local life, and numerous pagodas and monasteries can be found on the lake and its shores.
The lake is the livelihood of these people – the fish beneath the surface provide their daily meals and also the means of trade with the communities on the shore. But increasingly the lake is bringing the residents of Inle a new source of income – the tourists who arrive by the boatload every day. There are many restaurants dotted around the lake where you can indulge in their delicious catches of the day. Along with fishing, traditional handicrafts are an important part of the local economy, and you will get to see silk weavers and silversmiths plying their trade on the lake.