A 10-hour bus ride took us away from the pagoda-filled plains of Bagan yesterday and up and over misty mountains, through villages and alongside rice paddies to our destination — Inle Lake.
We first heard about Inle Lake from two young, German men who were staying at our hostel in Mandalay. They highly recommended it. Then, our driver/tour guide in Bagan told us it was his favorite place in the entire country. He takes his family to the lake every year on holiday.
With such great recommendations from both visitors and local alike, our expectations were high. We put a visit to Inle Lake on our itinerary and it was a good decision!
Villages built on stilts speckle the shorelines while some villages seem to spring from the shallow water itself. Pagodas sparkle in the sun.
Surrounded by mountains, Inle Lake reminded me of Lake-town in The Hobbit, Tolkien’s tale of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins. I half expected to see Smaug at any moment, but this was the only dragon I spotted all day.
Inle Lake is somewhat similar to the Florida Everglades in that it’s a rather swampy ecosystem crisscrossed with canals. You won’t find any air boats here, however. Dugouts powered by hand or small diesel engines populate the lake.
John and I spent the better part of a day exploring the lake in a diesel-powered dugout piloted by a young, local man. Cruise ships aside, I have never spent a day shopping by boat.
We visited local markets, pagodas, a monastery and the workshops of artisans working silver, creating gorgeous paper umbrellas and weaving lovely cloths from silk or from the fibers found in lotus stems.
John even bought a lon-gee, the long, cloth skirt Burmese men wear. He got a lot of instruction from the local men in the market on how to tie it. Finally, a woman tied a string around his hips to ensure the skirt stayed put.
In addition to fishing, people grow vegetables on floating gardens in Inle Lake. I saw a lot of tomato plants grown this way.
Fishermen use this fascinating one-legged paddling technique that I have never seen before. Talk about balance!
Nothing stays the same for long in the technology age in which we live. I was thrilled to get a glimpse of Inle Lake before tourism drastically alters its appearance and way of life more than it already has.