Above: Wooden walking bridge at Maing Thauk village on Inle Lake

Inle Lake — A Sojourn in the Shan Hills

Foreign travelers in Myanmar tend to follow predictable routes, as there are only a few places with hotels of a sufficient standard. A fixture on most itineraries is Inle Lake, which lies a 45-minute flight north of Yangon in Shan State, at an elevation of 2,900 feet. Fourteen miles long and in most places only a few feet deep, Inle is famous for its exquisite scenery and for the colorful Intha people, many of whom live in stilt villages built over the water.

In the 18th century, the Intha fled their homeland in southeast Myanmar to escape an invading Thai army, but the local Shan chief declined to give them land on which to settle, so they adopted their aquatic lifestyle instead. Today the Intha farm fabulously fertile floating gardens, which are attached to the lake floor by bamboo poles. They also fish using a specialized technique — as the margins of the lake are covered by reeds, they have adapted a distinctive style of rowing that involves standing on one leg at the stern of their boat and using the other leg to manipulate an oar. Standing enables the fishermen to see over the reeds and to spot fish (usually a local species of carp) in the clear, shallow water. These are then trapped in conical baskets. Each year during the Burmese month of Thadingyut (from September to October), during an 18-day festival based on the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, dozens of fishermen participate in leg-rowing races.

Fisherman on Inle Lake - © rmnunes/iStock/Thinkstock

I did not have time to revisit Inle Lake on my recent trip. However, nearly all first-time visitors to Myanmar will spend two or three days there, taking boat trips or visiting silk-weaving factories. During high season (November to February) Inle can become rather touristy, but it is still sufficiently picturesque to merit a brief stay. Although there are no hotels that I recommend unequivocally, both the Inle Princess resort and the Aureum Palace will meet the needs of Harper members.

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Above: Wooden walking bridge at Maing Thauk village on Inle Lake

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