I have mixed feelings about my time in Inle Lake.
On one hand, it is a beautiful lake, and my time spent there was enjoyable, but on the other hand, it was easily the most touristy place I visited in Myanmar – and it was nothing like I’d expected.
I remember first learning about the existence of Inle Lake maybe 3 or 4 years ago. I came across a Vine (remember when Vine was a thing?) of a fisherman using his feet to paddle on a quiet and peaceful lake.
It may be due to the increased tourism in Myanmar, or it could be because my visit happened to coincide with a large religious festival, but whatever the reason, this quiet and peaceful image I had on Inle Lake was extremely far from the reality.
The boats used to take people out onto the lake have extremely noisy motors, so there is no respite from the constant barrage of near deafening clapping.
Much of these boat trips are focused on visiting and viewing overwater houses, but having previously seen similar communities in both Thailand and Cambodia, I simply struggled to rouse much excitement about yet another stilted community.
Then, as if that already wasn’t enough noise, due to the massive religious festival, we ended up floating around amongst hundreds of other boats watching a sort of parade on water. It was a rather strange thing to witness, especially because the music playing on these floats varied so much. On some floats there would be very traditional sounding Burmese music playing, and then on others it was total ‘doof doof’ music!
Many of the boats surrounding us were filled with local Burmese people, and though I never got quite to the bottom of what the festival was celebrating, it seemed very important to all those who had come out to watch.
While the festival and parade were interesting things to see, I still couldn’t quite get passed the fact that I had come to Inle Lake expecting tranquillity – and what I found was anything but tranquil!
Tranquility is not everything though, and I gotta admit, Inle Lake is all kinds of good looking – especially when it isn’t completely packed to the brim with boats and people!
During our time spent out on the water, we also had the opportunity to visit a small temple not too far from the lake. It was nice to see a smaller and more subdued example of a Burmese temple.
The absolute highlight of my time in Inle Lake was this absolutely incredible home cooked lunch.
We were taken into a locals home and fed this absolute feast, and honestly, it was easily the best meal I had whilst in Myanmar. We were each served a bowl of rice, a whole fish and then had a bunch of various side dishes to share between us.
After the meal was over we were given the opportunity to try out some thanaka, which is a traditional cosmetic made from ground tree bark. This ground tree bark is made into a wet paste which goes on white and then dries down to a yellow colour. Thanaka is worn commonly in Myanmar by both males and females, both as a cosmetic and also as a kind of sun protectant.
Eventually, it was time to head from the water back towards dry land, and along the way we got absolutely drenched to the bone!
You can see in these next few photographs how heavy this patch of rain was, and it ended up migrating over the top of the lake itself just in time to give us a rather full-on shower.
Near the mouth of the lake, actors display the traditional style of basket fishing. In the modern day, fisherman have discovered much more efficient ways of catching their bounty, and anyone donning one of these baskets is simply doing so to put on a show for travellers; and you better believe they will expect to be paid for their efforts!
Overall, Lake Inle just wasn’t what I had hoped it would be.
My dreams of a day spent relaxing on a vast, open and calm lake were not the reality, and though there was a lot of beauty to be found – both on the water itself and on its outskirts – it was the place in Myanmar that I found the most underwhelming and just a little bit disappointing.
Getting to Inle Lake: Inle Lake is well connected by both domestic flights and buses
Song of Travel Hostel: Dorm beds start at $17/night
Boats: Expect to pay about $20 per person for a full day out on a boat
Camera: Images captured with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in conjunction with M.Zuiko 12-40mm f2/8 lens
Remember: Bring mosquito repellent with a heckuva lot of deet in it!