Inle Lake, Myanmar

The Dazzling Lakustrine Burma

Blue Shadows
Aung One Man Show,
Intha Balance
Straw hat fashion
Lone Rower
Providential Clothesline
Pa-O salespeople
Shwe Inn Dein
Pa-O Smoking
Folding Stilts
Serious Rowers
Golden Stupa
The Maing Thauk Bridge
On the way to the Monastery
Lake Dwellings
Buddhist Smiles
Overcrowded Canoe
Weights on Shoulders
Lake Twilight
With an area of ​​116km2, Inle Lake is the second largest lake in Myanmar. It's much more than that. The ethnic diversity of its population, the profusion of Buddhist temples and the exoticism of local life make it an unmissable stronghold of Southeast Asia.

By that time, we already had it well in mind.

The new journey we are embarking on makes a point of remembering this. We start from Rangoon about three in the afternoon. The journey north takes more than 15 hours.

The first six, spent in acceptable comfort. The rest, brushing the infernal.

Eventually, well after we cross the ghostly Burmese capital of Naypiydaw, the asphalt gives way to poorly beaten dirt that fills the bus with dust.

The detour to the higher lands of the Shan Hills takes us on a winding route that the driver faces with fury. As night and altitude settle in, the first cold we felt in Myanmar is combined with dust. They ruin our throats in three steps.

Finally, in NyaungShwe, the Urban Gateway to Inle Lake

Around five in the morning, exhausted by the journey of more than fifteen hours from Yangon, we entered NyaungShwe, the gateway town to the vast Inlé Lake.

We looked for a Remember Inn Hotel, pre-investigated in the most famous backpacker guide. Despite the early hour, the owner remembered when the buses arrived from the South, almost always with potential customers on board. Shortly after we settle in, we are served a providential breakfast of pancakes with tea and coffee.

We slept until one in the afternoon. Having recovered some of our energy, we set out to discover NyaungShwe.

Devoid of any serious architectural charm, the town expanded due to the large lake, as a commercial warehouse serving the surrounding villages and towns.

With the advent of tourism, much of NyaungShwe was dedicated to welcoming, entertaining and supporting outsiders in their opportunity to explore Inle.

Still, with 190 inhabitants across the urban area, local life teems with events and happenings that sustain a rewarding genuineness.

Shin Pyu, a Buddhist Initiation Ceremony

We are still getting used to the worn asphalt of the streets when a Shin Pyu procession surprises us, a way of initiating young boys and girls into Buddhist life, celebrating their entry into monasteries or convents, where the monks and nuns shave their hair.

A boy and a girl ride on decorated horses. They wear colorful and silky clothes.

Their faces, and especially their cheekbones and lips, are made up and pink.

A few members of the procession hold golden umbrellas that they hold above the crowned heads of the protagonists.

Preceding this part of the procession is a group of cyclists on tricycles loaded with bulky bags of rice, weighing 50kg or more.

At the opposite end, shaped like a broomstick, a tractor equipped with huge speakers broadcasts music and the voiceover of an entertainer who, at intervals, shows graceful dances.

The procession disappears.

Without the blaring music, Niaungshwe regains its afternoon tranquility. We took advantage of what the persecution of the ceremony had taken us through.

The First Temples and Golden Pagodas, by the Lake

Still within the scope of Buddhism, we continued in search of the duo of Kyaung Daw and Yadana Man Aung Su temples, the most important in the city.

Kyaung Daw and Yadana Man Aung Su Temples, Nyaungshwe, MyanmarA huge golden pagoda highlighted above the houses helps us find them.

Inside one of the temples, three young novices cross a polished courtyard with chrome lunchboxes shining against their maroon habits.

Prostrate at the feet of a statue of Buddha, an elderly monk ends his prayers.

Open an umbrella and get ready to face the tropical sun. We knew that, despite being central, these were merely two Buddhist temples in a profusion around them.

We thus shortened the time we dedicated to them as we prepared the forays to Lake Inle. But not only.

One Man Show Aung's Traditional Puppets

At seven o'clock at night, we gave ourselves body and soul to One Man Show Aung, led by a fourth generation puppeteer, licensed in that art by the Burmese state since 1985.

Aung, a brother and an uncle, create dolls and watercolor scenes inspired by their surroundings.

Set to strident folk music, the movements of the puppets and the plots generate a hanging animation that dazzles us. We would have to watch others across Myanmar. None preserved the authenticity of Aung's show.

We had dinner nearby. The tiredness of the trip to Rangoon resurfaces.

We returned to the Remember Inn with plans to do this and that. Without warning, a blackout leaves NyaungShwe in the dark. It was what we needed to surrender to sleep once and for all.

Inle Lake: the Inaugural Incursion

We had planned to leave for the lake at 6:30 in the morning. In agreement, the hostess of the inn provided us with a packed breakfast.

On the way to the pier, we passed an Indian line of newly initiated monks. They collected, for their lunch boxes, the morning rice that Buddhist women offered them.

We board a wooden motor boat. A canal leads us to the immensity of the lake.

When we enter it, there is still a dense morning fog.

The Balancing Exoticism of Intha Fishermen

It is against this mist that we detect the region's signature characters, its Intha ethnic fishermen.

The Intha are stilt-dwellers, famous for fishing on one end of their boats, with bamboo frames and a net held between a hand and a foot.

The other hand holds a pole for balance and, when necessary, the remaining foot is used for rowing.

As photogenic as it may seem, the way of fishing intha has a logical and centuries-old reason for being.

Inle Lake is full of fish, even more so of aquatic vegetation.

Now, the Intha learned long ago that they could only understand where the fish were sheltering if they moved standing up, instead of paddling sitting down.

In a symbiotic way, other residents found use in collecting algae which, with the widespread use of phosphate fertilizers and floating garden agriculture, became excessive.

In Search of the Inle Day Market

We continued towards the lake town that hosted the day's market, one of five held from Monday to Friday.

Being Friday, the privilege belonged to Maing Thauk.

Along the way, the boatman navigates through canals that separate veritable neighborhoods of semi-detached and elaborate stilt houses, some with two floors and, as we saw them in the absence of wind, double open.

The dark surface of the lake reflected them perfectly.

We arrived at Maing Thauk.

We wander among the vegetables and fruits displayed on stalls and on the floor.

Most of the sellers are from the Pa-O ethnic group, one of which shares the lake with the predominant Intha but also with the Shan, the Taungyo, the Danu, the Kayah, the Danaw and the Bamar.

We identify Pa-O women easily.

Almost all of them dress in black, with the exception of the bright scarves that wrap their hair and which match their facial solar masks. tanaka.

At the Maing Thauk market we were also carried away by successive invitations from silverware dealers, weaving traders and others to appreciate their crafts.

We move between workshops and looms.

We are distracted from this entertainment by the hustle and bustle of selling areca nuts, a chewable addiction that has long been widespread in these parts of the world.

From Maing Thauk, heading south to Inle Lake

From the market, we walked inland, across a wooden bridge-bridge, comparable to the world-famous U-Bein bridge, but not much.

We look for the village's namesake monastery, located on a hill and with a panoramic view over the north of the lake, Maing Thauk on its shore and, on the opposite, the Lin Kin monastery.

After returning to shore, we sail towards the south bottom of the lake. We stop at the golden and monumental Phaung Daw O Pagoda.

We continue to Nga Phe Chaung. Built in wood more than two hundred years ago, Nga Phe Chaung is considered the oldest and largest monastery around the lake.

It is famous, above all, for housing a strange coexistence of cats with the resident monks.

By this time, we had covered a considerable portion of the lake.

We knew, however, that another, equally or broader, remained unexplored. We decided to multiply the formula. The next morning, we walked in a bicycle destined to have a puncture.

A Pleasant Forced Stop


Until we reach Maine Tauk, there are two that torment us.

In the middle of the day, we got fed up with so little cycling. We got into a boat destined for Khaun Daing, on the opposite bank.

Shwe Inn Dein and its Buddhist Stupa Forest

From here, we completed the journey, overland, to the Buddhist complex of Shwe Inn Dein, one of the furthest from NyungShwe, worthy of the effort to get there.

Two temples built on headlands stand out from a bushy plain.

We ascend to one of them. From its top, in the distance, we glimpse the golden stupas of the other.

Between them, in an unexpected Buddhist amalgamation, hundreds of smaller stupas emerged, built over time by the faithful.

Some, older and worn, showed the ocher tone of the bricks and clay from which they were made.

Others, the white paint worn by the sun that covered them.

Still others preserved a gold leaf covering that attested to the prosperity of the believers who had commissioned them.

Grouped together and standing out from the predominant green, they formed a scenery unlike anything we had witnessed in Myanmar until then.

We would find something comparable in the Bagan plain, on the banks of the Irrawadi River.

It starts to get dark.

The guide takes us to another stupa, isolated on a high point that assured us we would have the best views in the region.

The sunset was unfolding behind our backs.

Facing east, we appreciated how the disappearance of the sun turned the houses between the foot of the slope and the immediate bank purple. How the mountain range that rose from the opposite resisted blue.

How Inle Lake once again radiated a mix of grandeur and beauty with its sacred touch.

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