Inle Lake: Home of the famous fishermen and atmospheric waterways

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March 8th 2015
Published: March 29th 2015
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Traditional fisherman on inle lakeTraditional fisherman on inle lakeTraditional fisherman on inle lake

The fishermen here row with there feet
One place in Burma we were really looking forward to was our stay in Inle Lake. A 45 square mile freshwater lake known for its abundance of fish (9 of which cannot be found elsewhere), secondly for the style of fishing adopted here and thirdly it’s floating gardens and villages within. Therefore the thought of staying in a laidback lake-town offering us the chance to enjoy what great scenery and ambiance the lake had to offer was very appealing. To be honest, it could not have come at a better time as after the trek we needed some downtime.

For the first part of our stay we opted to take a boat tour with the 4 others from our trekking group as we got a good deal after the trek and what’s more we all got on well and were comfortable in each other’s company.

The first thing we noticed about the lake was that it appeared to be what we can only describe as one huge water maze. Offering countless water lanes that are all divided by the floating lake agriculture; you could not really see the start or end of the lake. The only quite revealing thing illustrating the size was the many picturesque mountains in the distance that surround the lake and provide the very source of the lake when it rains.

Riding and floating through the lake, proved to be a lovely experience, wind in our faces as we all marvelled at the many floating gardens and farmers within, we sat there absorbing it all in. For us and many tourists here, these floating gardens are a major attraction as it’s not every day you get to see farmers using a lake to create small floating islands to grow crops. For us we were first timers and the mere sight defied all beliefs. How were these areas floating, like literally floating?

Okay we’ll try to answer this question. We came to understanding that these floating gardens are formed through a process of securing seagrass (water hyacinth) to bamboo that is then fixed into the lake bottom in shallower areas of the lake and allowed to grow. This does so at a fast pace until the grass begins to grow on the surface. This is then cut and burned, which is then topped with more seagrass and mud from the bottom of the lake. Over time these floating inlets become 1 meter deep, but 2 thirds of which is below water. They can be used for a variety of vegetables and fruit, the most common of which is tomatoes that are picked green and are then transported across Myanmar. Although we did not know what they were at the time we saw numerous of these tomatoes all floating from the gardens within.

As we passed through the gardens, it was amazing to see many locals making use of the lake for agriculture. The locals we saw were protected with log sleeved clothing and were often spotted from their pointed round woven hats that stood above the floating lands.

To our disappointment, the tour also stopped by many tourist traps including a weaving factory, a cigar factory and gold and silver shop. None of which we agreed to but went along with nevertheless. The weaving factory was interesting to see as it showed many production lines from people turning lotus into thread to others spinning it and others using machines to create bags, local skirts and other items of clothing. The jobs they had required a lot of concentration and they carried
Man in the weaving shopMan in the weaving shopMan in the weaving shop

Looked like a very mundane job but he never faltered even as we approached with cameras drawn
it out at a lightning speed. Not once did any of the workers get distracted by the groups of tourists that passed them by, with no indication that they were exhausted, tired or rushed off their feet apart from their focus and the odd line of sweat that trickled down their faces. I wonder how they felt about these groups of tourists watching them?

By the time we hit the monastery on the lake, many of us were tired so only took a quick stroll around. It was also very difficult to appreciate this place fully as it had turned into a bit of a tourism spot, with far too many tourists being loaded off long tail boats to the point I would say watching the tourists became more of a tourist attraction than the monastery.

On our final leg of the journey into the town we passed many men using traditional methods of fishing. It is amazing to see that these traditions have continued on for hundreds of years and still continue to dominate the method of fishing here today. Watching them all paddle with great ease had us all mesmerised. Using their feet to paddle while their hands were free for fishing we all watched, memorised and the many cameras began to click. One thing I love to participate in but the thing I dislike most about tourism.

Talking about tourism, one slightly disappointing thing about the lake was the level of long tail boats, speeding throughout its waterways all polluting the water as they went by. Thus tainting our impressions of its beauty.

Also the contrast between the long tail boats carrying no more than 4/5 western tourists sat in a row on big chairs with all that leg space compared to the same boats carrying 15/20 locals all squashed on the boat floor along with any goods the boat was carrying, was striking!!!. Tourism had clearly hit this place and seemed to create somewhat of a visual divide, between locals and tourists which was a shame. I'd like to say it was high end package holiday makers using this system but it was backpackers too. Think that’s just how it goes here.

Our hostel was located around Nyaung Shwe. This was a very atmospheric town area, with small building structures some concrete some wooden but barely any big developments. We loved the laid back feel of this place as we strolled the streets that followed a grid like pattern. We took in our surrounds and watched as many tourists causally rode their bikes, as the many local men chewed betlenut, children played their street games whilst dogs very cautiously roamed the streets.

Exhausted, tired and in need of some extended time with the toilet, we took the following day easy. Reading, sleeping, catching up with blogs, this was one of the least strenuous days here. The following day all energised again, we decided to explore some of the towns outer areas by bike. We cycled through local villages, up to the mountains and stopped by the towns market. For food and some time afterwards we sat at a lake side café and enjoyed the bustling narrow water way with chips (Chris) and an avocado salad (P). This was a lovely way to spend our final day.

Additional photos below
Photos: 34, Displayed: 26


In the cigar rolling shopIn the cigar rolling shop
In the cigar rolling shop

The ladies here could roll a cigar in 10secs flat

29th March 2015
Traditional fisherman on inle lake

Tradition and Tourism
Glad that you two had a chance to relax after your trek! Interesting the contrasts you point out between the idyllic, but difficult ways of the islanders and the upscale, polluting boats and tourist traps for the foreigners. Exotic sites that we love, and their exploitation that we hate. The balance is tricky, but you two are so aware of it, it's a pleasure to follow you!
3rd April 2015
Traditional fisherman on inle lake

tradition and tourism
Thanks Tara, its always great to hear that other people like our logs and can relate to our comments. Inle lake was beautiful in so many ways but at the same time we could not gloss over the contrasts tourism is beginning to create in this place.
2nd April 2015
Hut on stilts in the lake

Special moments. Blog, blog, blog so you will never forget.
3rd April 2015
Hut on stilts in the lake

Thank you. We certainly have had so many special moments and we really want to keep these memories alive as much as possible. We just have to remind each other at times when it is difficult. Perfect time to catch up today though as the whole town where we are in the Philippines has shut down.

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