Escaping the tourist traps
‘On paper Inle Lake is 13.5 miles long and 7 miles wide but up close it’s hard to tell where the lake finishes and the marshes start. Looking down over the lake from the Taunggyi road, Inle sits like a puddle on an enormous carpet of greenery. Dotted around the lake are the stilt-house villages and floating gardens of the Intha tribe. You may also encounter Shan, Pa-O, Taung Yo, Danu, Kayah and Danaw tribal people at the markets that hopscotch around the lake on a five-day cycle.’ – Lonely Planet
Inle lake has become one of Myanmar’s top tourist destination. To get there, adventurous travelers might want to consider a three day trek from Kalaw, although direct buses to Nyaungshwe, home to most backpacker facilities, are readily available from other tourist hotspots. Located at the northern edge of the lake, Nyaungshwe is Inle’s life support system.
A recent construction boom has led to a vast selection of accomodation options as well as good value restaurants. Aquarius Inn is a popular pick among backpackers due to its cozy garden setting, a welcoming staff and good value AC rooms. An additional highlight is their diverse breakfast menu, which is included in the room rates.
Fishermen at work
Touring Inle on a motorized boat can make for quite a nice trip. Although, finding the right skipper is key. I headed out with a Russian couple and shared a boat for about 15$/day. Our skipper (hired by guesthouse) did not seem to need any instructions as we started our journey. Heading through the narrow canals to the open lake, we were able to get a glimpse of local life in Shan state: young fishermen checking the nets, food vendors heading to the village market and women doing laundry along the shore.
Soon enough we arrived at our first stop: a ‘jewelry workshop’. It took us 30 seconds to realize that this was just a disguised tourist shop. Slightly disappointed by the experienced we returned to the boat and hoped this was the only ‘tourist stop’ on our trip. It was only after another ‘cigarre workshop’ and ‘threading workshop’ that Olga, the chubby, middle-aged Russian, burst out:’You take us to shop only! I want to see real life, no shop! I don’t care about shop. This so boring! Bring me to real people life!…Please!’
I couldn’t help but smile. She must have left quite an impression on our guide, as the boy quickly redirected our vessel towards floating villages and local markets. The day turned out to be a hit. Over the course of the afternoon I found myself exploring abandonned temples, visiting remote monasteries, talking to a local English teacher and playing with a group of school kids. It was indeed a more authentic experience, as no other travelers were around.
Moral of the story: Always have a Russian aboard!
Stay: Aquarius Inn
Eat: Thanakha Garden