Inle Lake is the main event in the Burmese tourist trail and it’s easy to see why: a huge glassy lake surrounded by hills with villages on stilts hugging the water’s edge. We spent 4 days pootling around on bikes exploring the area and, of course, went on a couple of boat trips.
We booked a whole day trip, starting before sunrise, which took in a nearby village with some crumbling temples, a lively market, and also avoided some of the more touristy stops. The boat journey took us almost the whole length of the lake past the infamous fisherman who paddle and steer their tiny boats with one leg and then through twisty little corridors of rivers. We cruised through what can only be described as a 1950’s style Water World, but without Kevin Costner. However, it was a bit of a mixed bag of a day, as we also stopped at ‘workshops’ which were little more than a room with some dusty souvenirs and a pushy sales person, the general vibe of these places was a tiny bit negative and a few people were actually quite rude to us.
One of these workshops was also home to some ‘long neck’ women from the Kayan tribe who were weaving in the back room. The women are from a community south of Inle where they wear thick gold rings around their neck, gradually increasing the number until their shoulders are pushed down, making it look like they have very long necks. Obviously these women were relocated solely for the purposes of tourism and, whether it was their choice to move or not, it’s hard not to feel like a voyeur. It was a very complicated feeling and, whilst it is great that via tourism they have a new means of income, I can only hope that it really was their choice to leave their community.
Our tour also stopped at an incredible market that was bursting with life, flowers and food. We wandered around the stalls, which were often no more than a blanket on the floor and their latest harvest of corn or this mornings catch of fish – still slightly twitching. We also popped into a tea shop and joined the locals for a breakfast of tofu salad and rice crackers. Weird, but actually quite delicious.
Rudeness and voyeurism aside, Inle had three very big redeeming features, the first was the company we kept, David and Tom. We had such a great time chatting, trying out Inle’s various restaurants and playing their favourite game, Quirkle.
The second bonus was a lovely winery perched on the hillside looking out over the lake. The wine was medium to okay and the garden area was fantastic – it was like we had been transported to Tuscany – we even had a plate of pasta to celebrate.
And the third: a village on the lake called Mieng Thauk, which was the perfect antidote to the touristy boat trip and definitely the highlight of Inle. To get there we cycled for about an hour along winding country roads until we reached the long wooden jetty which takes you to the village edge. From there, a local women offered to paddle us around the village. It was absolutely incredible: quiet, but buzzing with life. Women pulling buckets of lake water up into the house on pulleys; a tiny kid paddling a boat out to the outside toilet; cats perched on window sills; families paddling home from work; and kids being taken to the only dry ground so they can run around and play. Our guide dropped us off at her family’s restaurant and we had a beer watching the world float by. Oh and I made friends with their small child. Absolutely perfect.
Oh and we also took a boat out onto the lake for sunset, which meant we got treated to a bizarre and touristy acrobatic show by the fishermen.