At 22 kilometers long, Inle Lake is the second largest lake in Myanmar and is surrounded by 507 villages, but since the body of water changes according to the season, it’s hard to tell where exactly the lake ends and where the puddles begin. Inle Lake is home to the people of the Intha tribe, and the unique living conditions have made the lake one of the most popular tourist attractions in Myanmar. It can get very busy, but it isn’t that hard to avoid the masses and Inle Lake is still the best place to see bamboo stilt houses. Family homes, factories, restaurants, monasteries and even pagodas are built high above the water and the whole daily life takes place out on the rippled blue surface under the baking sun. The buildings are connected by bridges and people own rowboats to leave their accommodation, get from place to place, to wash their clothes, go fishing, and farm food and lotus in the floating gardens. Apart from the village life itself, the many water birds using the lake as a breeding site are interesting for bird watchers and there are lots of bike rides and hikes available in the surrounding area.
Internationally famous are the leg rowers of Inle Lake, whose incredible talent for coordination has fascinated many visitors. The young men stand on one leg on the back of their skiffs, pinch the rudder between the other leg and hold it with one arm. While one limb is needed for balancing and the other two for moving the rudder, the remaining arm is used for all the other tasks necessary for fishing. Just like the rowing method, watching the fishermen hauling in their catch is equally fascinating. Since the lake is mostly shallow with lots of plant growth, the fishermen have had to develop their own unique methods of swirling the water around with paddles and forcing the fish to emerge from their protected spaces and swim up into waiting baskets and nets.
Inle Lake is located in the center of Myanmar and to the southeast of Mandalay. The bus ride from the capital Yangon takes roughly 13 hours and the journey from Mandalay is seven hours. Overnight trips are available. Because the busses are slow and can be uncomfortable, some people prefer to get to the lake by flying to the domestic airport in Heho, which is located about 35 kilometers outside the main village. There is also a train connection available, which is the cheapest option, although it is extremely slow and the travel time is over 30 hours.