Inle Lake in Burma is consistently a mesmerising tourism draw to the country. What makes it unique? Our resident explorer highlights the amazing things you’ll find here.
Located in the Taunggyi District of Burma’s Shan State, Inle Lake is one of the country’s most alluring travel destinations. Despite an influx of international tourists, the iconic freshwater lake has retained its rural charm and the authentic village lifestyle. Visiting Inle Lake not only offers tourists the chance to visit a host of specialised handicraft villages, but also get a fascinating glimpse into the daily life of the Intha people, who live in and around the lake.
As you travel around the lake by longboat, here are five amazing things to look out for.
Unlike fishermen anywhere else in the world, Intha fishermen row flat-ended canoes using only one leg. Requiring strength and precision balance, fishermen stand at the stern on one leg and wrap the other leg around the oar to paddle.
This unique style has evolved as a way for farmers to see beyond the thick reeds and floating plants that grow around the lake, and have a clear view of what’s going on below the surface.
You’ll also see Intha farmers adopting this technique whilst tending to their immaculate floating gardens that grow on the lake. As part of your tour, ask your guide to pull over so you can watch these amazing acrobats at work.
In addition to fishing, local farmers grow a colourful array of fruits and vegetables in large gardens that float on the surface of the lake. Everything from tomatoes, cucumbers, long beans and chilies are harvested on these floating garden beds, referred to by locals as “yae chant”.
Each garden bed is formed by gathering weeds from the bottom of the lake and naturally-occurring clumps of water hyacinth, or “sea grass”, before being anchored using bamboo poles. Rising and falling with the lake’s water-level, the crops become resistant to flooding and thrive off the constant availability of water.
Burmese Cigar Making
Most boat tours will stop at one of the handful of traditional cigar-making villages perched on the lake. Doing so provides a fascinating experience – even for the non-smokers – of witnessing the art of making Inle Lake’s cheroot cigars, renowned throughout the country their fragrant taste and smell.
The production of cheroot cigars is primarily carried out by the local Intha women, who you’ll find sitting cross-legged on the floor, hand rolling cigars and sorting tobacco leaves. Each cigar is hand-wrapped in a thanal-phet leaf and filled with an exotic blend of crushed tobacco, dried banana, star anise, brown sugar, tamarind, honey, and rice wine.
You’ll also have the chance to try your hand at making some cigars yourself – and trust me, it’s much harder than it looks!
A trip to Se-khong Village, a blacksmith workshop located in the middle of the lake, will give you a close look at how locals produce everyday items, including knives and farming tools, that are sold around the Inlay region.
The metal is held over a roasting hot fire, while up to four workers will hammer away in a rhythmic fashion until the iron has been flattened and compressed into shape. Even if you know nothing about metal, watching this loud spectacle is guaranteed to entertain.
Padaung “Long Neck” Women
Myanmar’s Padaung people are one of eight ethnic Kayah groups originating from the Kayah state in southwestern Myanmar. However, clusters of the Padaung people can be found in and around Inle Lake, where the tourism industry has flourished.
The name “long neck ladies” stems from the Padaung’s unique practice of wearing brass rings around their necks, arms and legs, resulting in the appearance of an elongated neck. The first brass coils are added when girls are around eight years old, with more coils being added as the girls grow older.
Although the practice is said to have started as a way to protect women from being attacked by tigers, many Padaung women proudly carry on this tradition today.