April 14-17, 2014: We loved Inle Lake when we first visited here in 2005. Everything was so new and exciting for us. There were daily markets held in different locations around the lake, stilted villages, artisan craftspeople to meet, ethnic minorities going about their daily lives in traditional costume, novel ways of growing crops literally on top of the lake, tasty Shan recipes to try, crumbling ruins of ancient payas and stupas to explore, fishermen that amaze with their leg paddling technique that leaves their hands free for working their nets, a monastery with jumping cats, narrow canals winding through rice fields and villages, incredible birdlife, friendly people and superlative sunsets.
When we booked three nights here during the water festival, we weren’t quite sure what to expect or even whether it was such a good idea to go back again to a place we loved so much the first time around. Certainly there would be changes. Some would probably be for the better, but we had our suspicions that others might be for the worse. Despite our misgivings, we were excited to make the return trip. It’s a photographer’s dream destination.
Inle Lake is located in the Shan State. We flew in to Heho Airport and from there it was an hour’s drive to our hotel, located on the west side of the lake.
If you can, we absolutely do recommend at least one visit to Inle Lake. Here are a few tips that will definitely make your trip more enjoyable.
- Don’t travel during the Thingyan Water Festival in April. The overwhelming crowds of mostly Burmese holiday-makers make hiring a boat for tours more challenging during this period. The markets are closed down. I could have cried. Most of the craft shops are shut. You don’t see many leg paddling fishermen out fishing. The water levels are low at this time of year, so that means some parts of the lake aren’t accessible. Our first visit was early December and the air was much clearer, the water levels weren’t a concern, and the temperature during the day was more tolerable.
- There are various options for staying around the lake, in a variety of resorts and guesthouses. Be prepared if you aren’t staying on the lake for a longer boat ride to and from town each day. Our hotel was very centrally located.
- Stay at least two full days, preferably three.
- Get up early to catch the sunrises.
- Arrange for your boat driver to stay out until the golden light in the late afternoon for the best photo opportunities.
- The boat drivers have standard routes that hit a number of different artisans and craft shops. Many of the villages specialize in one type of craft (silversmiths, blacksmiths, weavers, potters, etc.). Many of the crafts are beautiful, but don’t spend all your time shopping. Arrange to hike up to some of the religious sites. Be on the lookout for birds. Marvel at the agricultural and fishing techniques that are unique to the lake. Explore the markets, the villages and the canals off the tourist route.
- It helps if you can hire a driver who speaks good English, but don’t expect too much.
- Be sure to try local Shan menu items available at some of the restaurants.
- Drink lots of water. Bring a hat, or better yet, buy one here.
- Bring along some Immodium and broad spectrum antibiotics, just in case. Don’t let Burma Belly keep you from getting out there and exploring.
And one final comment. Don’t expect to see any jumping cats at the renowned jumping cat monastery these day. They are all too fat and lazy. All they do is sleep. Kind of like Nukaat.
Apologies again for another post with a profusion of photos, but Inle Lake and its people are just so photogenic. We’ve thrown in a few from our trip in 2005 too, mostly of things we missed seeing this time around (we expect because of the holidays).