A Boat Tour of Inle Lake – Nyaungshwe, Burma

While we didn’t see a single other tourist during our time in Mandalay, we did finally meet a nice couple as we left the city on a bus to Inle Lake. This large, shallow lake in Burma’s Shan State is one of the country’s top tourist attractions, famous for its striking natural beauty and traditional culture.

The bus left us on the side of the highway at 4am, about 10km from the main town near the lakeshore, Nyaungshwe. Luckily, we were able to split a cab for the ride in, and agreed to meet up with our new friends later in the day. Exhausted from the long bus ride, we hit the sack and slept in late.

Street cows in Nyaungshwe.Street cows in Nyaungshwe.
Street cows in Nyaungshwe.23-May-2012 11:25

Nyaungshwe is a small and touristy town. There really isn’t that much to see or do in the town, but we didn’t mind taking a couple days to chill out and explore the area.

We enjoyed checking out the local market in Nyaungshwe.We enjoyed checking out the local market in Nyaungshwe.
We enjoyed checking out the local market in Nyaungshwe.25-May-2012 10:42

We rented bikes and cycled out to Red Mountain Estate Vineyards – the only winery in Myanmar. Having had disappointing experiences with other wines in Southeast Asia, I have to say our expectations were pretty low. The winery has a small restaurant with a fantastic view over the lake. We sampled the Sauvignon Blanc and were pleasantly surprised – it was actually pretty decent!

Decent wine in Burma - who knew?!Decent wine in Burma - who knew?!
Decent wine in Burma - who knew?!25-May-2012 16:34

Back in town, we headed to the Traditional Puppet Show one evening. This show is put on by the third-generation puppeteer, Aung, in his small theater. Using some basic lights along with a hissing cassette tape soundtrack, Aung masterfully moves his handmade puppets, making them jump and dance to the audience’s delight.

Aung's traditional puppet show.Aung's traditional puppet show.
Aung's traditional puppet show.23-May-2012 19:40

Finally, we joined our friends from the bus for a boat tour of Inle Lake. This large, shallow lake is home to communities of fishermen that live on stilted houses right over the lake.

Stilted houses on Lake Inle.Stilted houses on Lake Inle.
Stilted houses on Lake Inle.24-May-2012 11:51

The boatsmen are famous for their unique rowing technique, where they wrap the oar around their leg and row the boat from its bow. This allows them to get better visibility for navigating the shallower sections filled with reeds.

Rowing, Inle Style.Rowing, Inle Style.
Rowing, Inle Style.24-May-2012 12:54

We made a few stops during our day out on the water. At one place we saw women weaving traditional bags and outfits. They are particularly famous for their Shan bags – messenger-type bags worn over the shoulder by both men and women throughout Burma.

A traditional loom.A traditional loom.
A traditional loom.24-May-2012 12:11

Later on, we stopped at the cheroot cigar factory, where a bunch of women were hard at work hand rolling (and smoking) these small cigars which are flavored with honey and tamarind.

Making Burmese cigars.Making Burmese cigars.
Making Burmese cigars.24-May-2012 13:02

Inle Lake is home to a huge series of floating gardens, which are used to grow fruits, vegetables, and flowers. We navigated through a massive maze of tomato plants right in the middle of the lake, a surreal experience.

Floating gardens cover a huge part of the lake.Floating gardens cover a huge part of the lake.
Floating gardens cover a huge part of the lake.24-May-2012 11:30

It might seem strange to grow plants on a lake, but there are some huge benefits. For one, they are resistant to the severe flooding found elsewhere in the country. The floating beds of fruit and veg simply rise or fall with the water level of the lake. In addition, the lake water is packed with nutrients. Unfortunately, fertilizers and pesticides used to cultivate these gardens are quickly polluting the lake. Combined with oil leaking out of the increasing number of boats criss-crossing the lake for tourists and the trash dumped by communities living on stilted houses, Inle Lake is in peril. Already, fishermen have noticed a significant drop in fish stocks.

Large-scale aquaculture is threatening Inle Lake.Large-scale aquaculture is threatening Inle Lake.
Large-scale aquaculture is threatening Inle Lake.24-May-2012 15:28

In the middle of one of these large floating garden sits a beautiful teak monastery, famous for its jumping cats. The monks here have trained their resident herd of cats to leap high into the air, jumping through hoops. We hoped to see this, but unfortunately the head monk had recently passed away and everybody was in mourning – including the cats. Instead, we saw a bunch of lethargic cats, lazing around and looking much like…well, cats.

Not very jumpy cats.Not very jumpy cats.
Not very jumpy cats.24-May-2012 15:49

I spoke to a young monk that seemed a little annoyed by all the cats sharing their stilted island here in the middle of the lake. “They pee everywhere and smell bad”, he told me.

Lake Inle's teak monastery sits on stilts above the lake.Lake Inle's teak monastery sits on stilts above the lake.
Lake Inle's teak monastery sits on stilts above the lake.24-May-2012 15:57

We were taken to a deeper part of the lake and told we could swim. Knowing about the terrible pollution problem, we decided to give it a miss, opting to dangle our feet in and watch the sunset.

A setting sun over the lake.A setting sun over the lake.
A setting sun over the lake.24-May-2012 17:39

Our time in Burma was drawing to a close and we were soon ready to head back to Yangon.

3 thoughts on “A Boat Tour of Inle Lake – Nyaungshwe, Burma

  1. Pingback: Assignment #3: Part 1 | ENTERconnected

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