When I was reading about, and planning my trip to Myanmar, I learned that a “must visit” destination in Myanmar was a place called Lake Inle. For some reason, I didn’t spend a lot of time researching the place because I was more enamored by places like Mandalay, Bagan, and Yangon. Places, steeped in history, with romantic and tragic pasts. Lake Inle was just (in my mind) a destination where we would spend a night or a couple of nights while we traversed the highways between Mandalay and Yangon.
So, as we drove to Inle from Mandalay, I had zero expectations. Somewhere, in my mind, I sort of vaguely imagined it to be like the lake in Nainital or Ooty or even like the Hussain Sagar Lake in Hyderabad. I imagined it to be the sort of place where you might spend time cycling around the lake or at the most, take a day hike and complete the lake circuit. So, it was a huge-huge surprise to me when we got there, and in less than a few hours, I was so in love with the place that I didn’t want to leave.
Inle is a freshwater lake in the Shan state of Myanmar, surrounded by hills and is one of the most picturesque places in Myanmar. It is about 350 km from Mandalay and 660 km from Yangon. We actually drove to Inle from Bagan, which was about a distance of 340 km. Since we were on a road trip we made several stops along the way, so the drive took us about 9 hours. On the way out of Inle, we drove to Yangon, which took us about 13 hours with stops. Of course, if you are not on a road trip like we were, you can always choose to fly into Heho airport, which is about an hour’s drive away from the lake.Once you get to the shores of the lake, you don’t need a car at all. All travel is done via the vast network of waterways that make up Lake Inle. We commandeered 2 or 3 slender wooden boats for our group, outfitted with rather noisy outboard engines and cheerful boat captains. As we traversed the waterways we saw a myriad of similar little boats ferrying tourists around. The boats are these tiny narrow wooden boats with 4 wooden chairs in a row. Almost like a Kashmiri shikara!
We began our day with a visit to an outdoor market filled with the most beautiful carved curios and other touristy items. Then we went to Inthein, which is filled a plethora of weather-beaten ancient stupas. From there we went to a cigar making unit, where the ladies in charge showed us how to make hand rolled cigars. I really loved this experience because they make unique flavored hand-rolled cigars with flavors from rum to banana and everything else in-between. Then it was a mulberry paper making unit and also a lotus stem silk weaving unit. The people of Shan province, (where Inle lake is situated), are famous for cottage industries as mainstream jobs are hard to come by.
We experienced local cuisine at the floating restaurant on the lake, where the fish was probably caught a scant 30 minutes before we ate it and was simply delicious. After lunch we were out on the lake again, exploring floating markets and farms. The kind of fresh produce that they grow here is amazing. We checked off our tourist “to-do list” when we saw the indigenous fishermen of the area do their thing and row using only their legs.
Watching the sun rise or set over the water on Lake Inle is almost a spiritual experience, so don’t miss this for anything. Life on the lake moves at a different pace than the rest of the world. You are forced to slow down and take a breath, relax and reset your life goals and expectations. If you get the chance, don’t miss a trip to this fairy tale destination.