Fascinating Inle Lake

Watching basket fishermen gracefully cast out their fishing baskets while balancing on one leg is why people come to Inle Lake. We found these fishermen and even more remarkable sites on this fascinating lake in Myanmar.

After spending 3 days trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake we arrived at one of the narrow channels that lead to the open lake. A boatman drove us across this huge watershed to reach the boat docks in the tourist town of Nyuang Shwe.

Inle Lake is a massive watershed, but it is very shallow. At times the sea weed is only inches from the surface, even in the middle of the lake. The shallow lake has resulted in a unique fishing technique. Fishermen stand on the end of their long-boats to have a better vantage point to see air bubbles that indicate the location of fish. To keep this upright posture, they have an interesting way of paddling too. While balancing on one leg, they skillfully paddle with the other leg.

Once a fisherman thinks he’s above a school of fish, he gracefully uses his leg to swing a fishing basket into the water while balancing at end of his wooden dugout. The fishermen are so smooth, it’s as if they are dancing on the end of their boats.

Hoping that he’s trapped fish in the basket, the fisherman uses a long pole to excite the fish so they try to swim away. Instead of getting away though, the fish get caught in the basket.

The basket fishermen are a dying breed as most of them now use nets. Some reports say that it isn’t worth visiting anymore because so many use nets instead of baskets. While it is true that the younger fishermen use nets, there were still plenty of basket fishermen. As well, the net fishermen have the same technique except they cast a net with their hands. We found both fascinating to watch.

Much of the lake industry has moved from fishing to gardening. Locals have developed a unique solution to planting vegetables on this shallow lake by building floating gardens. Farmers build garden beds by piling layers of water hyacinth, seaweed and fine mud from the lake bottom. The result is hundreds of acres of vegetable garden beds floating above the bottom of the lake. The beds are 1 m thick, with 1/3 of it above the surface of the water. Beds are anchored to the lake bottom with bamboo poles. Farmers grow tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and beans in these specialized gardens.

In order to reach their gardens, farmers navigate beween the floating beds on wooden boats.

The vegetation used to build these garden beds is harvested from the lake. Standing on their long-boats they use long rakes to pull up plants from the bottom of the lake.

It’s amazing to see the way these tribes, mostly Inda, have adapted to living on and near the lake and its watershed. There are at least 20 small villages on and around the lake. Most of the houses and shops are on stilts. A few are completely surrounded by water, even during dry season, while others have been built partially on reclaimed land. It was fascinating to take a tour up and down the ‘streets’ of water.

There are many Buddhist temples and pagodas around the lake. Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda is the largest. It is on an island in the lake and therefore is only accessible by boat. The golden pagoda seems very elaborate in comparison to the modest homes. Inside the five Buddha statues have been covered by so much gold leaf that they are no longer recongizable as Buddha. Also docked at the pagoda is the Royal Karaweik Barge. This ornately decorated barge is used to carry the Buddhist statues accross the lake during Buddhist festivals.

Here’s our YouTube video from Inle Lake

Where to stay and eat

The town of Nyuang Shwe is a cute village along the canals of Inle Lake. Here and in Kalaw, they seem to be the best prepared for tourists in Myanmar. They have signs in English, a good selection of restaurants and hotels and they have much needed laundry services. Somehow these two towns have been able to understand tourism before the rest of the country.

We don’t often recommend restaurants but Innlay Hut and Indian Food really stood out. Not only was it the best food we had during our entire time in Myanmar, the owner is an entertaining character.

How to get to Nyuang Shwe

Heho Airport is the closest airport to Nyuang Shwe. It is 45 km away and services both Nyuang Shwe and Kalaw. Overnight buses go to/from Yangon (9 hrs), Mandalay, (6 hrs), Bagan (6 1/2 hrs). Mini buses travel these routes during the day. Or do as we did and hike from Kalaw (3 days)

Tours

There are many boatmen at the docks offering boat tours. You can hire them directly or through a tour agency or your hotel in town. We hired the boatman that brought us to Nyuang Shwe after our hike.

Note – some of the basket fishermen are posing for pictures in exchange for a tip. Based on reports we thought they all would be fake, but in reality we saw a lot of basket fishermen actively fishing in the age-old technique.

Coming up next – The Roads Around Mandalay, Myanmar

For extra pics from this trip go to Gallery/Myanmar. For extra pictures from other blogs go to Gallery at monkeystale.ca

To read more of our stories from around the world go to Destinations.

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70 comments

    • Other than the current uprising it probably hasn’t changed much since the 80s. It was one of the most interesting countries we’ve been to as well. There are so many amazing sites and their culture is fascinating. I hope the political problems get sorted out soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Fascinating post and very interesting. Beautiful photos. I will have to visit Burma through your posts as Iโ€™m not going there anytime soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  • The ingenuity of humans never ceases to amaze. Talk about having great balance. Love the gardens that you would never have to worry about watering. Thanks for sharing this part of the world. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was fascinating to see so many unique parts to this culture all within the confines of one lake. The gardens were fascinating and I read they supply much of that region with tomatoes becasue they grow so well. Thanks for reading! Maggie

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  • Considering the travel pictures I have seen, I assume Inle lake is an incredibly popular place among travelers. This does look like a great place to visit and capture some authentic pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The people of Inle have such unique ways to manage living on the lake that it’s a great place to visit. So far it hasn’t been affected too much from tourists. Inle Lake is probably the second most popular place for tourists in Myanmar after Bagan. It was a little overwhelming to see so many tourists after traveling in other parts of the country. Having said that, there were (in 2018) very few tourists in Myanmar compared to neighbouring countries. Hopefully some day soon they will be able to bring back tourists again. It was a good revenue source for many areas. Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

      • Maggie, I always have this conflict in my mind. I’m thankful when there are less tourists as the overall travel experience is great. But when think from the perspectives of the locals, having more tourists is good for their economic well being. So I always find this contradiction; I find it hard to choose one. On another note, not having many tourists also allows places like Burma to retain their culture and charm. We have already seen how everything changes with the arrival of mass tourism. Just look at Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Tough choices!

        Liked by 1 person

        • I feel the same way, I’m sure many of these countries are hurting now with less international travel. And also as tourists we hate for places to assimilate and lose their uniqueness, but for the locals, their life is usually so much easier with some modernization. Than again it brings other problems, such as higher cost of living. It’s a very tough choice.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes, it is chicken vs egg situation. Everything has cause and effect relationship. Maybe we just want change to reflect in just one way but then it isn’t so. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Maggie.

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  • Inle Lake was such a fascinating place — it’s actually one of my favorites in the country. I still remember my excitement going around the village in the middle of the lake by boat as if the whole place was constantly flooded and people had learned to live with so much water around them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s really amazing how much they have adapted to living on the lake, from the homes to the gardens and the fishing technques. It’s understandable why it’s so popular with tourists, but it didn’t feel like it was touristy to us. I hope they are doing okay there now with the politcal problems. Thanks for reading Bama, Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • It’s a very different lifestyle from what we see elsewhere, and beyond the aesthetics of the fishermen’s poses, it gives us a better understanding of the diversity of the world. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s very true, they have a unique way to live and thrive on the lake. It was incredible to see how they live and have adapted their lives. Thanks for your comments. Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

    • It was unbelievable Diana, the fisherment were so graceful and the quiet lake added to it. I’m so glad we got to see it, hopefully you can go one day too. Maggie

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    • Yes, they looked like they were dancing on the boat. The royal barge is beautiful. It would have been interesting to see it during one of the festivals when it goes out on the lake. I imagine they decorate it even more. Thanks for readiing Rebecca, Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • That’s great that you got so much insight into these fishermens lives. I love hearing about local fishermen because all too often large fishing companies destroy local fishermen’s livelihoods. It’s great to see certain groups of local fishermen thriving ๐Ÿ˜Š

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  • It looks incredible – and the way it is still done the ‘original’ way and so manually is just great that they can still survive this way and in keeping with generations of tradition ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • That was the best part. Some people complained that they started to use nets, but it’s still by hand, on long-boats. You’re right it’s really incredible that they can still survive on these old techniques.

      Liked by 1 person

  • I don’t usually think of fishing as being particularly graceful, but this post sure changes that. Those fisherman have such amazing balance (and strength). It looks beautiful. It’s interesting to read about the floating gardens, and how life and livelihood are adapted to living by/on the lake. I’d love to visit this fascinating place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’d love it, even though it’s one of the most touristy places in Myanmar, there still weren’t many tourists and it retains its charming culture. We were so impressed by the fishermen, how lovely it looks. And how resilient they are to build the floating gardens. It’s truely a gem.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Basket fishermen are incredibly graceful. I was half-wondering while reading if the performance was just for tourists, but it’s good to hear that many of them still genuinely live and fish the old way. I can only hope that the current political instability will subside.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s one man at the beginning of the lake that doesn’t fish, he just performs. I think I’ve seen him on everyone’s Instagram ๐Ÿ™‚ On the lake though there were dozens of real fishermen who really didn’t want much to do with tourists. I really hope the instablilty settles down and these people are able to return to their regualar lives. It’s so sad.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It is definitely worth visiting, there’s so much to see on one lake. Hopefully Myamnar will settle down soon and it will be open for tourists again. Thanks for reading! Maggie

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  • Great photos. What an interesting place. It’s amazing how humans have learned to adapt and thrive in so many environments. And it seems as if theirs is a more sustainable adaptation than Western Culture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, these people have really shown us what is possible with a litte ingenuity and work. They certainly are able to do a lot without modern equipment. It’s such a fascinating place. Thanks for reading! Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • Beautiful photos! I was especially interested in this post because I was at one of the stilt villages during a time of year when the roads were not under water. Sadly, at the time I visited (about 5 years ago), Inle Lake was being polluted by chemical run off from fertilizers and pesticides used on local farms. The run off was affecting the fisheries in the lake. Hopefully, this is changing….

    Liked by 1 person

    • We didn’t hear about the pollution and the lake seemed very healthy, so hopefully it’s being managed better. We visited a different stilt village during dry season so I’m glad it was entirely in water when we were in Inle. Thanks for reading!

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  • What a fabulous looking place to visit, looks pretty unique even by Asiaโ€™s standards. Posts like this really make us all yearn to be free again, Iโ€™m sure we all feel the same. Those fishermen must have the body control of ballet dancers or yoga enthusiasts!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Myanmar has a few of these spots that have a very unique cultures. The fishermen were amazing to watch. They could out do any yoga class I’m sure! Hope we all get to travel somewhere, anywhere soon. ๐Ÿ˜Š Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • A lovely post … I was listening to music while reading and it almost looked as if the fishermen were really dancing on their boats … I think you must have a lot of balance to master this way of catching fish!
    Thanks for your YouTube video – it was great to watch after reading your story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! You’re right it was like we were at a dance performance, all across the lake. The long-boats are not the most stable boats either, so they really have amazing balance. Thanks for reading! Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

    • It really wan’t too busy when we were there. We saw quite a few people in town, but not many on the lake. Good timing for us I guess.

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  • Wow. Really fascinating. Incidentally, I can see basket fishing morphing into the latest SUP workout here in the west. Goodbye SUP yoga, hello Basket Fishing SUP Pilates Fusion. Now, if they could somehow get goats or puppies in the mix they’d really have something.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Another wonderful read!! Like you, I was fascinated by how big some of the floating gardens were! One thing I never managed to establish was whether that crocodile farm in the floating village was actually a commercial enterprise or something for tourists.

    Liked by 1 person

  • This is quite fascinating to watch the fishermen balancing on one leg and casting the basket for fishing. The Buddhist Pagoda is so beautiful. It must be definitely an immensely interesting tour .

    Liked by 1 person

    • The fishermen are incredible, it’s like watching a show. Inle Lake and many places in Myanmar have such interesting customs unique from neighbouring countries.

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    • Yes, it was like watching a performance rather than someone fishing. They have so many unique solutions to living on a shallow lake. Thanks for your comments ๐Ÿ™‚ Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

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