Arriving at Lake Inle, after a couple of days in boiling hot Mandalay, felt like smooth velvet on our skin and the pure, cool and fresh air felt like the most expensive wellness.
This beautiful freshwater highland lake has the ability to calm you and make you feel at home in an instant. One of the main attractions in this region is, of course, boat trips on the lake. Therefore there are many many tour operators who offer boat trips, be aware of scams and shop around before you decide who shall take you.
Already on our first day, we met Jimmy. Captain Jimmy would take us on a full day trip out on the lake for as little as 20$. We weren’t interested in souvenir shops and other tourist traps. Jimmy fully understood and he arranged the ultimate perfect day for us.
At dawn the next morning we sailed out on the calm glassy lake wrapped in warm clothes and blankets as it was freezing cold.
Jimmy’s wooden canoe fitted with a long-tailed motor shot out on the lake as a fast flying arrow and the motor bellowed as ten dairy cows. Despite the speed and noise, we were able to enjoy the beautiful sunrise over the misty hills in the distance.
After 20 minutes Jimmy turned off the roaring engine and suddenly it got almost quite. We could only hear the water lapping against the boat. And as Jimmy found a thermos with hot sweetened tea and some delicious deep fried stuffed bread his wife had made for us for breakfast we felt very pampered.
While we sat on the calm water, we could observe Lake Inle’s iconic leg-rowing fishermen who stand in their wooden canoes like one legged flamingos and the other leg wrapped around the oar. Their hands are free to handle the large cone-shaped baskets or fishing nets, should they see the bubbles of fish.
After the breakfast stop Captain Jimmy fired up the engine and we practically flew over the water to our next stop. A small Buddhist temple where we met with one of the older monks.
He had plenty of time and sat on the floor with us and talked about his life as a Buddhist monk. We were fascinated by his tales of monastic life and Buddhism. He was a great storyteller and an hour flew.
Jimmy had planned for us to visit a Pa-O marked at the southern shore of the lake, an incredible experience. The Pa-O people are the second largest ethnic group in the Shan State.
Many of the vendors at this simple marketplace had been on their feet the whole night. Most of them live far away in the mountains.
It seemed that the major commodity was firewood. Especially women dragged away with large bundles of firewood. There was a lively trade in the marketplace and although the merchants should be tired after the night wandering they all seemed happy and satisfied.
Jimmy’s friend lived on the lake itself in one of the traditional stilt houses made out of wood and woven bamboo. We were offered a delicious lunch consisting of a lot of traditional dishes. We sat on woven rush mats on the floor with the family and even though we didn’t understand a word of what each other said we had a good time. Facial expressions and gestures get you far.
After lunch, we wanted to express our gratitude by giving a small amount of Kyat but our host would not accept the money. Using a dictionary, he explained that we had been his guests, it had been an honour having us in his home and from now on we were his friends. We were very humbled by his hospitality and left his home very happy and very well fed.
After lunch, Jimmy wanted to show us a local rice wine distillery.
We didn’t quite know what to expect but our captain surely did. He took us to another stilt-house where they made rice wine in large clay pots. We should, of course, taste the precious drops. We didn’t like this powerful potion with a clear high alcohol content at all……..but Jimmy did 😳. He couldn’t pass an alcohol test as we left half an hour later. He couldn’t walk a straight line and he surely didn’t manoeuvre the canoe as the rule says. Luckily there weren’t that many boats left on the lake that afternoon so we arrived at our next stop safe and sound. As we learned how local Intha women produces the green little Burmese cheroots, Jimmy took a nap.
After a little afternoon nap, Jimmy was fit as a fiddle and he steered the canoe with a steady hand to some of the incredible floating gardens.
These amazing constructions are made out of naturally occurring clumps of seagrass and other lake debris. It’s captured and secured in position using long bamboo poles. The gardens are driven into the deep mud at the bottom of the lake, in areas of water between 1 and 5 meters deep. Finally, a fine layer of mud from the bottom of the lake is placed on top. The floating sea gardens are approximately one meter deep with about a third above water level.
The local farmers grow big red juicy tomatoes, cucumbers and flowers on these island gardens. Jimmy allowed us to climb out of the canoe onto one of these floating wonders. It felt like walking on a waterbed. While we jumped around in the shaky gardens like frisky spring lambs on a green field the sun began to set and we had to return to Nyaungshwe. We were tired but happy after a long eventful day. It has been some years now since that absolutely perfect day on Lake Inle but we remember it clearly and will never forget the happy friendly people, their smiling faces and waving hands.
We are sure that things have changed in Myanmar over the last few years. More and more tourists have discovered this fantastic country. Our best advice……..GO BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE 😀
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