Life on Inle Lake.

Inle lake in Burma is a highland lake nestled between the hills of the Shan Plateau, 900m above sea level. The mineral and nutrient rich runoff from the highlands result in a fertile ecosystem that the local people use primarily for agriculture and fishing. A number of indigenous groups co exist in the area and collectively are known as the Intha people who fish the waters and whose one legged rowing technique has become synonymous with what we come to know about Inle lake. Despite the lake being over 200sq km in size, it’s deepest point is at around the 2m level.

Life in the area revolves around the lake as the surrounding villages vie for the tourist dollar which is noticeable in the tours available and also in the pushy nature of the tour guides and vendors. There are options to rent a long boat and driver for an entire day at a cost of $15, with the price per person dropping with the more people you can muster up. We were fortunate enough to meet an American couple that morning who were interested in seeing the lake as well so we decided to charter a boat that afternoon.

It’s well documented on the usual travel review sites that the tours on Inle Lake are set up to take you to souvenirs shops. So we all decided that our plan of attack would to see a limited number of places and catch the sunset and full moon rising. The places of interest that we wanted to see were the local fisherman around the lake, floating gardens and and the local village where the Padaung women reside. The Padaung are known for their custom of wearing heavy brass coils around their necks giving the appearance of an elongated neck and I thought it would be a unique experience.

My original intention prior to arriving at the lake was to spend some time on the lake and explore it. However the previous three days trekking took the wind out of the sails and laziness had gotten the best of me. Despite being at a higher elevation, the thermometer was already peaking at over 30 degrees celsius and all I was craving by now was extra bed time and an air conditioned room.

In the end, despite how beautiful the lake wise, the same signs keep appearing that’s noticeable all over Asia as a result of the increasing tourism. Property development steams ahead at a fast pace in the main town of Nyaungshwe while other hotels and resorts dot the surrounding areas around the lake, accessible only by boat. What sticks the most in my memory is the the relentless rattling of diesel engines from the longtail boats ferrying passengers back and forth through the narrow channels – what seems like a sign of the unsustainable progress and a potential ecological disaster for the people and the lake.

I intended on going out again early in the morning before sunrise, however difficulty finding a local who would only take me for only a morning session compounded with exhaustion meant that I never made it out again. Hopefully it’s not a trend that will continue throughout this beautiful country.

inle lake

Despite the enormity of the lake, it is only one to two metres in depth

inle lake one legged rowing

The fisherman use a one leg rowing technique and somehow manage to not fall into the lake.

inle lake

A traditional triangle net which is used to trawl the bottom of the shallow lake. I couldn’t help but feel suspicious that this gentleman was already there just waiting to pose for tourists.

The only way to get around is via boat.


inle lake

You never know when you need an extra couple of metres of clearance.

inle lake

Only the wealthier folk can afford to have electricity.

inle lake pagoda

A pagoda is always within a short distance away. Unfortunately this one had plenty of souvenir shops inside targeting tourists.

inle lake long neck women

Padaung women at a souvenir shop are distracted by a dinosaur show on television. Despite their numbers in the area, they are actually from the mountain regions close to the Thai border and have been displaced due to the fighting between teh Karenni and the Burmese military. We originally wanted to see these women but upon arriving, we realised that their job was to elicit a purchase from tourists. Everything about this place felt forced and we were feeling quite uncomfortable about the situation.

inle lake bird

Thousands of birds use the lake for breeding or migration purposes.

inle lake farming

Agriculture is an important part of life here with farmers adapting their farming practices, creating a floating island. Aquatic plants attach themselves to floating hyacinth feeding off the rich mineral runoff into the lake and the islands are anchored to the lake’s shallow floor by bamboo rods.

inle lake

The shot that everybody comes to take.

inle lake

The best time of the day is sunset when there are few boats on the lake.

inle lake

A boatload of passengers rushes to its destination in time for nightfall.


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