The glassy surface of Inle Lake reflects more than just the clouds and sun above. It represents the creativity of its residents who create a fascinating and ingenious lifestyle on the water.
At 45 square miles (116 sq km), Inle Lake is the second largest freshwater body in Myanmar. Forest-covered hills tower above its east and west shores as it rests at an elevation of 2,800 feet (853 m). Of the many tribes in the area, the Intha are perhaps the most well known. With dozens of villages scattered around the lake, most inhabit simple teak and bamboo houses supported by stilts just above the water surface. There are also some massive multi-story monasteries that are quite impressive and keenly demonstrate the acumen of local architects.
Across the lake, dozens of fishermen cast their nets to harvest the most abundantly found fish, Inle Carp. The fishermen have developed a leg rowing technique that is rather unusual. Balancing on one leg at the very end of their tipsy fishing boats, they wrap the other leg around the paddle. This allows them to keep their hands free to cast and reel their fishing nets. They propel themselves into position with this most remarkable skill.
With land around the lake at a premium, local farmers have developed floating gardens on the lake surface. This aquatic agricultural system uses lake weeds to create a base for the roots of the plants, which are held in place by bamboo poles. The gardens grow tomatoes, squash and flowers.
Pagodas, monasteries, handicraft studios, floating gardens, and special markets surround the lake. The only real way to see everything is by hiring a longboat for the day. The middle of the lake is quite calm and peaceful and is a magnificent location to view the sunrise and sunset.
A few hotel options offer bungalows where tourists can sleep like locals just above the water. The more common alternative is to stay in the nearby Nyaungshwe Township. With many hotel and restaurant options, the quiet town possesses a sleepy charm and is developing into a backpackers hub. Coupled with its warm and friendly inhabitants, Nyaungshwe is a perfect laid-back retreat.
Both Inle Lake and Nyaungshwe are located in an area known as Shan State, which is in the eastern part of the country. The region accounts for 25 percent of Myanmar's landmass and offers many other attractions that are near Inle Lake.
Just a ninety-minute drive through beautiful rolling hills of sunflowers brings you to the Pindaya Caves. With high ceilings and large amphitheater-like rooms, the caves tunnel deep into the limestone mountain and are filled with over 8,000 Buddhas. Pilgrims can be heard praying and sometimes even singing as they make their way through the holy statues.
Another short drive from NyaungShwe is the Kakku Pagodas. This impressive arrangement of pagodas has over 2,000 spires packed tightly together. Trekking has also become quite popular through the high hills of Kalaw, which have an elevation of 4,300 feet (1,310 m).
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