It wasn’t until my 3rd visit to Myanmar that I actually made a detour to Inle Lake. The first couple of times I came to the country I focused more on Yangon and Bagan. However, it was certainly third time lucky for me, as now I fully come to appreciate the place that many people call “the most beautiful spot in Myanmar”. If there is one downside to being here, it is the sheer number of tourists that now plague the lake like locusts, although most locals no doubt benefit from the money brought the area by this blossoming tourism industry (taxi drivers and ‘fishermen guides’ certainly do).
One of the reasons I held off visiting Inle Lake was my belief that there wasn’t much to do here apart from look at a large body of water. I can remember my experience at Lake Toba in Sumatra, and while I enjoyed the sights and sounds, it was rather boring after seeing wild orangutans earlier on in my Sumatran safari. That said, Inle Lake is nothing like Lake Toba. The main reason for this is the aforementioned blossoming tourism industry (which is non-existent in Sumatra), which gives visitors to Inle Lake a chance to experience local life and check out some other ‘attractions’ in and around the lake that most people don’t know exist until they arrive.
One thing that struck me was the beautiful floating gardens on the lake. It seems that these gardens are tended to by some of the fishermen. On some of the smaller fishing boats, it may be possible to sail in between each section of the gardens, although on larger boats (the normal ones) you just kind of glance around the edge. The floating gardens are certainly impressive, though.
Perhaps even more impressive, however, is the Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery, which sits above the lake. This is a very old Buddhist monastery that seems to be made entirely out of wood. I didn’t go inside, but it was a great sight to behold as we were gliding over the shimmering water.
While the floating gardens could be used to cultivate crops for the locals, Inle Lake also has a floating market, much like the ones you would find around Thailand or in Kalimantan. This market is clearly set up to take advantage of the tourists here, with trinkets, statues, jewellery, and even items of clothing for sale. If you could find something genuine, then it may be good to take back a souvenir from your time at Inle Lake, although I don’t know if the floating market operates seven days a week; it may come and go with the tide…
Continuing the religious theme around Inle Lake, you can find on the perimeter (well, a short drive away), another Buddhist monastery and a really nice pagoda. The Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery is well-known by photographers for its cute oval-shaped windows, through which novice Buddhist monks stare and wonder what all the commotion is!
The Alodaw Pauk Pagoda is obviously not as impressive as those found in Bagan or Yangon, but it is nonetheless something else to see when in the vicinity of Inle Lake. This pagoda was but one of over 80,000 pagodas built at the same time, and much of it stands on stilts over the water. It is a great experience to approach the Alodaw Pauk pagoda on boat.
Of course, it wouldn’t be worth visiting Inle Lake unless you captured some great shots of the picture-postcard fishermen and their gigantic conical-shaped nets. The lake is home to a lot of freshwater fish and this is obviously the main source of ‘loot’ for these fishermen. It is nice to watch them go about their business from afar, although at the tourist boat docking stations around the lake, be warned that tour operators are competing for space with these local fishermen who are trying to earn a living, so while some of them will be happy to pose for photos, some others may not…