The morning following our epic trekking adventure, we set out to meet up again with our guide So-So, who had graciously offered that we skip the tourist lines and head out for the day on Inle Lake with himself and his friend who owned a boat. After loading our daypacks into the boat, similar to a long dugout canoe with a small engine on the back, we set out onto the lake. A morning mist blanketed the entirety of the lake, adding a chill to the air and causing us to huddle under the old blankets we had found on our seats. Although the mist hindered any potential morning photography opportunities, it added a mysterious ambiance to the calm expanse of the still morning lake. After winding through a myriad of channels we opened up onto the lake itself. I was at a loss to figure out how the hell our guide was navigating us, as I was having trouble seeing my hand held up a foot away from my face in lieu of the dense fog.
After about forty minutes on the boat, we began to feel minor hints of the sun permeating the mist. Within minutes the entire thick layer of fog had dissipated, opening up the lake and the beauty it had been secretly holding back. At dimensions of roughly 20 km long by 2 km wide, and surrounded like a fortress on all sides by an expansive mountain range, Inle Lake is a sight that would make even the most jaded traveler take a moment and appreciate. The lake itself is surrounded by a twisting labyrinth of reed lined, maze-like channels, acting as pathways to various small villages on the outskirts. We spent the majority of the day visiting different areas of the lake, constantly in awe of the internal compass of our driver and his ability to navigate these complex lane ways with nothing but the sun and experience as his guide.
The villages themselves are an explosion of sights and sounds. The sides of the channels were strewn wooden houses standing on rickety bamboo poles above the lake, often comprised of only one large room for an entire family. Women were bathing their gleefully screaming children in the lake, planting or harvesting vegetables such as ‘water garlic’, and in every channel villagers in small boats headed to and fro in their private rendition of the urbanized traffic jam. I was struck by how much these people depended on the lake, their entire lives and livelihood deeply intertwined with this small body of water and its will.
Although seeing this way of life was certainly interesting, I was ready to head back out and catch a glimpse of what I had come to see, the traditional Burmese fishermen of Inle Lake. The fishermen here represent the iconic image of Myanmar, their techniques ranging from immersing nets into the water and repeatedly hitting the surface of the water with an oar to startle the fish forward to others that work the oar with their foot in a circular motion to draw the fish in. It’s an iconic image for a reason, though, and as a result there are hordes of tourists. I had very mixed feelings regarding this, the way tourist boats would surround fishing boats like they were fearful animals, anxious tourists frantically snapping photos of the men who were just trying to make a living for their family making me feel ashamed at times. I was glad that our driver was more considerate of maintaining a comfortable distance and not adding to the mass of hordes, rather electing to delve in different directions from the most ruthless tourists.
Although very touristy, Inle Lake represented a landscape unlike anything I have ever witnessed in my years of traveling. Despite the locals souring on some of the hordes of tourists, the people are still always considerate and smiling in the manner that has come to be synonymous with the wonderful people of Myanmar. It is certainly an experience not to be missed on any trip to this magical country.
To view the rest of my photos please visit my Facebook page.