Inle Lake

A SCENIC 22 KM LONG AND 11KM WIDE LAKE, located in the heart of Shan State and ringed by salient mountains, is one of the most charming places in Myanmar. Inhabited by self-sufficient Intha tribe which mastered a unique technique of leg rowing the lake, Inle is dotted with villages and houses built on stilts in the water and floating gardens that are movable afloat farms anchored to the lake’s bottom with bamboo poles. During your day on the lake, you will explore local villages that produce local crafts, learn about the traditional way of silk weaving, boat carving and cheroot rolling and watch blacksmith and silversmith on their daily routines. Inle Lake’s morning market, which rotates its location around the lake’s villages every five days and attracts villagers from surrounding areas, will allow you to encounter hill tribe people dressed in colorful, traditional outfits coming to sell and trade their wares and fresh produce. On the western banks of Inle Lake lies the remarkable Indein Complex, filled with hundreds of stupas and nestled in the hills surrounded by unique Pa-O tribe villages.

Majestic Inle Lake is, without a doubt, one of Myanmar’s highly recommended peaceful region which has forested mountains rising to its west and east. Its attraction goes beyond this great intrinsic beauty, for surrounding the lake and its immediate vicinity is several stilt villages of the Intan – inhabited by “sons of the lake”, and offsprings of the people of Mon from the far south-east (although now considered the Shan's subgroup). You will come across fishermen making use of traditional conical nets, pushing their boats with a unique method of leg-rowing and other Intha inhabitants of the lake caring for vegetables and fruits on gardens that are afloat. Although the lake is situated firmly on the busy pathway, you only truly become aware of the number of other strangers around when your boat pulls up at one of the stops due to its size. In spite of this, its markets are targeted more at residents of the different tribal groups that dwell in the vicinity which include Pa-O, Shan, Danu and Kayah, than they are at sightseers. The majority of these areas are visited as part of a boat trip while other surrounding sights include the Nga Phe Kyaung, formerly known as the Jumping cat monastery, the beautiful Phaung Daw OoPaya and the beautiful hot springs close to Khaung Daing. It might interest you to know that the above-listed sights are in a clockwise order around the lake which is the route often used by boatmen. Along with the other parts of Myanmar, December to February is when they get the highest number of visitors. Another great period to visit is in October, during the Thadingyut Festival of Lights, when it's especially enjoyable to take boat rides at night through the stilt villages with lanterns and candles.

Thit Tha Kyaung (Forest Monastery)

The stunning “forest monastery” is cited at the top of a hill east of Maing Thauk. From the level of the lake, you can see the front of the Stupa, the views from the lake are outstanding, though tainted by electricity wires. The forest monastery itself offers the same opportunities to take great pictures such as monks having their meals or washing dishes against whitewashed walls, however, do not disturb them. It’s quite a distance on foot to Maing Thauk, could take as much as one hour; if riding a bike, you’ll need to drag it up the final one hundred meters or more, but you'll be joyful on your way back down because it's fast and easy. Nampan, one of the lake’s big villages, is the initial stop on most boat tours. When you get here, you will be guided towards cheroot factories, goldsmiths or weaving workshops, most likely. However, if the location in particular is suitable, take advantage of the opportunity to go for a walk around some gorgeous stilt houses. There are also some good spots for lunch around, and the people that are very tired could ask to be dropped off at Alodaw Pauk, one of the oldest religious structures in the region.

Phaung Daw Oo Paya

Boats assemble on the layered lakeside Phaung Daw OoPaya, south of Ywama and west of Nampan, so much that you might find it difficult to find a footpath to get to the store. There may be nothing special about the pagoda building, but men gather around it to place gold leaf on five Buddha figures that are already so covered that it's impossible to recognize their human shape. It is forbidden for females to carry out this activity, or even go close to the figures directly, however they are allowed entrance into the building.

Inthein

The canal ride west from Ywama to get to the over touristy village of Inthein begins from the reed beds before progressing between more solid banks with jungle on both sides; an outstanding contrast to the lake's wide-open space. Immediately behind with carvings of Buddhas, devas, chinthe, peacocks and elephants. Top of the hill, down an enclosed pathway to access Shwe Inthein Paya, lies a collection of 17th and 18th century stupas which are gradually and heavy-handily being renovated. Going down the path, look toward your left for a pathway that leads through a bamboo forest and returns to the waterside.

Floating Gardens

When you're going around the lake, look out for boats stacked high with twin heaps of fertilizer. This weedy reward is gathered from the shallow lakebed, and old floating tomato farms, the crops bound to the earth with tall bamboo poles. It feels so surreal to walk around on these floating gardens and it’s a very beautiful experience – don’t be surprised if your boatman tries to convince you to have a few tomatoes just to prove to you that the practice works.

Ngaphe Kyaung

Formerly known as the “jumping cat” monastery, Ngaphe Kyaung was once famous for its cats, which had been trained by resident monks to jump through hoops in exchange for edible rewards. Most people still come to see this happen, but the recent cats are yet to be trained on anything. All the same, the monastery still remains an extremely beautiful place packed with intricate carvings; if you are fortunate, the ceiling will be a shimmer with sun rays reflecting from the lake. Located right behind the monastery is a little, touristy market which houses some of the lake’s best souvenir-shopping spots.

Khaung Daing Hot Springs

This is situated on the west side of the lake and can be accessed easily beneath your own steam from Nyaungshwe. The incredible Khaung Daing hot springs are a real treat to people who are having a rough travel. The place was recently renovated to accommodate more tourists with the opening of a stylish new wing – more pricey but far prettier, and it has a bar that serves soft drinks and cocktails. The pools here are a sight to behold whereas those in the old wing are just basic and provide more of a local experience. Just before Sundown is the best time to be around here, when the shadow from the mountains to the east starts to inch, then race, across the surrounding fields. 
 
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