Inle lake - A "stage" for dances under the sun
It is a moonlit night and I am walking by zigzagging slopes shrouded by the fog and low light. I have been travelling from Bagan for 6 hours and in 3 or 4 more hours I will arrive at Inle Lake, the third destination in our journey to Myanmar.
See more Myanmar travel guide at here.
Text and photos: Le Thang
Inle Lake is a very popular destination for international photographers. I myself saw many fascinating photos of Inle Lake which urged me to come here to experience this wonder and take my own unique photos. We arrive at Naunghwe when it is still dim and the moon still hangs in the sky. I hire a small car to take me to a riverside hotel by the wharf,the gateway for tourists to visit Inle Lake.
Naunghwe is a small town on the north of Inle Lake. It is very peaceful,yet features many small hotels, restaurants and a multitude of tourist services. You can taste a variety of traditional dishes here, especially dishes cooked from fish caught locally in the lake.
With the sun peeking out from behind the Eastern mountain, I check-in to my hotel room , then sit anxiously on a hired boat to take me into Inle Lake through the cold, thinning fog. I will spend two days in Inle and the first day is intended for discovering the lake as well as capturing the best possible photos here.
The boatcuts quickly through the fog to reach the lake before the dawn, where fishermen sail boats by one leg. The beauty of the lake makes itself apparent in the first few moments.Flocks of sea-gulls swoop down to land on my and others’ boats. The sea-gulls are friends that make the way to the lake shorter, although the water surface is still hidden in the morning fog.
The beauty of the lake makes itself apparent in the first few moments. Flocks of sea-gulls swoop down to land on my and others’ boats. The sea-gulls are friends that make the way to the lake shorter, although the water surface is still hidden in the morning fog.
I have heard much and seen many photos of the “dancers” and artists of Inle Lake, who sail the boats and draw up their nets by one leg in the sunshine.It is clear that this practice is a thing of the past and nowadays, it issimply an activity to display to the tourists and to preserve the local culture. As my ponderings of these dancers roll in my mind, I am unaware that they have appeared around me. Suddenly realizing their presence, they shift into focus.
I have seen thembefore daybreak, whilst the sun is still hidden behind the mountain. As the sun rises and starts spreading its light on the lake, they appear like swans waking up with their graceful movements. From a far distance, I see them showing off in front of cameras of international tourists. Asking the boatman to cut the engine and let ourselves float peacefully, I feel like an audiencemember looking at ahuge stage filled with dancers performing their elegant tribute to Inle Lake.
As the sun rises and starts spreading its light on the lake, they appear like swans waking up with their graceful movements. I feel like an audience member looking at a huge stage filled with dancers performing their elegant tribute to Inle Lake.
Inle is a very big lake with a harmonious ecosystem of nature and people. Here, mountain ranges tower over immense paddy fields and the lake surface.
The weather around the lake is not as hot as Bagan, providing a little reprieve. There are many traditional villages and pagodas in this area that display the special character of Myanmar.
I leave the “stage” of the fishermen, planningto see themagain at sunset. The boat takes me further to the South. Flocks of sea-gulls fly through this landscape to create a potent scene.
We pass by many floating houses that offer glimpses intothe local’s daily life. The boat moves along narrow channels bordered by houses and past small villages on the lake. The boatman stops by a bridge and recommends I visit a typical traditional village of Inle. I am quite amazed by the material used in thegarmentworkshopof this particular village. It iscalled the “Lotus” weaving village. Local people do not use silk or cotton but the fibers of lotus rootsfor their weaving. This may be the most unique clothing material I have ever seen. After buying some clothes as gifts, I continue to pass by some other traditional villages of the region.
I have a long day on Inle Lake, passing by many small channels and traditional villages as well as visiting Phaung Daw Oo pagoda and many other Buddhist pagodas of the Shan region. I enjoy lunch at a floating restaurant with some delicious fish caught fresh from the lake. Then, I meet and take photos of the famous “long-neck” girls of Myanmar as well as local people as they go about their daily life on the lake.
In the afternoon, I return to the “stage” of the dancers. Flocks of sea-gulls continue to swoop down to enliven our journey there. The sun is setting behind the mountain peak. There are only a few fishermen on the lake. The boat moves alongside to them. With the help of my boatman, I have a chance to experience something wonderful.I climb onto theboat of a dancer andhave him take me around the lake in the strong winds and grey clouds. Just sitting on the boat is very unsteady, but they can stand on one leg and make complex movements with the other. Along with the magnificent nature, these dancers are an indelible mark that adds to the enchanting nature of Inle Lake.
On the second day in Inle, I take a bike and ride around villages to meet many warm-hearted people. I am on the way to the wooden Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung ancient monastery, built with oval doorways, about 1km from Naunghwe town in the north. Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung monastery is iconic, appearing on many postcards about Myanmar. Being someone who does not like to go on pre-arranged tours, I decide will discover this localemyself.
Stepping into the monastery, I can see young monks having a bath and washing their clothes before their class. Of great impression is the image of an older child shaving the younger one’s head. The monks change their clothes and move to the main hall of the monastery to start their morning class. I spend a day there to discover the monastery; particularly the original architecture of a structured called the Prince Monastery of the Shan region as well as understand the life here.
I pass by sunny paddy fields and rows of trees to return to Naunghwe by sunset. I will leave Inle to come back to Yangon in the evening. Suddenly, I think of racing againstthe sun, returning to the “stage” to say farewell to the dancers under the sunshine.
Inle Lake is a magnificent lake in Myanmar. It was recognized as one of five new destinations of Asia by Conde Nast Traveller. Inle Lake is located at a height of 800m above the sea level with temperate climate.
To visit Inle Lake, you can choose your means of transportation with suitable expenses:
Airplane: Fly to big cities of Myanmar
Bus: High-quality buses from Bagan, Yangon and Mandalay
Transportation within the region:
You can hire a bike at 3000 Kyats/day (about 40,000VND)
Hire a cyclo hourly.
Visit Inle Lake by boat at 12,000 – 18,000Kyats/day. Guests can also hire a boat on an hourly rate or take a short journey.
In Naunghwe, there are various kinds of accommodation for you, from guesthouses to three-star hotels. Hotels are priced from 25,000Kyats (about 500,000VND). In addition, you can stay at resorts nearby Inle Lake.
Cuisine in Inle:
It is quite varied with many big and small restaurants in the town and on the lake. Apart from the traditional dishes of Myanmar, guests can taste seafood caught from the lake. The cool and fresh ecosystem also provides more local dishes than in other regions of Myanmar.
The life and culture in Inle Lake is a point of interest.
You can visit a floating market every five days. At the end of September and beginning of October, the region hosts Phaung Daw Oo pagoda festival.