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Visit Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar)

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Visit Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar)

Floating gardens, leg-rowing fishermen and five heavily gilded Buddha statues on a visit to Inle Lake

Vast and serene, Inle Lake is the watery heart of the Nyaungshwe region, and a visit here gives you a glimpse into an unusual slice of Burmese village life. This is the home of the Intha people, who’ve created an amphibious world of stilted villages and floating gardens on the unruffled surface of the lake and its reedy shores. You’ll also find clusters of stupas, monasteries and, in autumn, a holy festival.

Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar)Every morning, Intha fishermen set out from their villages in a fleet of long, slim wooden canoes. The men here are known for their unusual leg rowing technique. It allows them to steer and row their boat using their right leg, which is wrapped around the oar, while standing on their left in the stern.

It’s thought they developed such a distinctive style to help them spot fish among the high reeds, to make it easier to handle their large cone-shaped fishing nets, or to improve their endurance.

The shallow, unpolluted waters are rich in nutrients and teem with life, including the lake’s floating gardens. Grown on reed mats, these garden beds are loosely tethered to the lake bottom by long bamboo poles, so they can rise and fall along with the surface of the lake and avoid flooding.

In the afternoon, the farmers here paddle along the garden rows, tending to their squash, flowers, tomatoes and other vegetables.

On top of fishing and agriculture, cottage industries have sprung up in the villages that spill off the land and into the water. Blacksmiths and silversmiths ply their trade alongside weavers and cheroot rollers. A floating market travels between the villages on a five-day schedule.

Stilted houses on Inle LakeThe best way to explore the lake is on a private boat tour. Your vessel, a traditional canoe, makes its way through the narrow canals between the stilted houses, giving you an up-close view of village life.

We can also arrange for you to visit some of the many stupas and monasteries that stand on the lake’s shores.

The most sacred of these is the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda in the village of Tha Lay. The giant, multi-tiered pagoda protects five 800-year-old Buddha statues, which have morphed into irregular, featureless blobs under countless applications of gold leaf. Devout worshippers come from around the region to add another layer.

Each autumn, during the Burmese lunar month of Thadingyut (roughly October), the statues are feted as part of a two-and-a-half-week festival that draws devotees and celebrants from around the region.

One of the country’s largest festivals, it includes rowing races as well as a flotilla parade, during which four of the five statues are processed around the lake. If you visit during the festival, your guide will regale you with the story of why the fifth statue is left behind at the pagoda.

You can also visit Nga Hpe Kyaung, better known as Jumping Cat Monastery for its monks’ one-time custom of training cats to leap through hoops. You won’t see feline acrobatics today, but plenty of cats still lounge around, preening under the admiration of those who come to visit.

Best time to visit Inle Lake

The ideal time to visit Inle Lake is during the dry season, between October and May. November, in particular, is very popular and hotels near the lake fill up quickly, so plan well in advance.

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Start planning your tailor-made trip to Inle Lake by calling one of our Burma (Myanmar) specialists on 01993 838 105

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