Inle Lake, Myanmar
Myanmar's Inle Lake (a 45-square-mile freshwater area) dazzles in a quiet, almost magical way. Villages of simple homes made of wood and woven bamboo rise on stilts above water that, in sections, is thick with reeds. Elaborate floating gardens growing tomatoes, beans, and lettuces are anchored by bamboo poles and are a labor-intensive agricultural-engineering feat. And awe-inspiring Buddhist temples, many decorated in glittering gold leaf, amply shine upon the shoreline.
What We Love
Cooking Classes: Inthar Heritage House and Restaurant Inpawkhon Village is a training facility for young Myanmar chefs and also offers cooking classes to visitors. There is a verdant vegetable and fruit garden from which you can handpick recipe ingredients. Learn how to make Burmese curries, fish soups, pennywort and green bean salads, and desserts such as banana bread with lime and sesame seeds.
Artisan Markets: On varying weekdays, tribal people take turns transporting their portable marketplaces — showcasing produce, jewelry, clothing, artwork, and weavings — to five spots around Inle lake, some selling directly from their individual boats, others setting up goods on the ground. Look for the distinctive longyi. This fabric is wrapped and tied like a lengthy skirt and is commonly worn by both men and women all over Myanmar.
Best Known For
Balletic Fishermen: It is mesmerizing to watch scores of fishermen, wearing conical-shape hats and longyi, balance standing on the stern of their lengthy, narrow wooden boats, doing a sort of dance, with one foot perched on the edge just so and the other foot and leg wrapped around an oar pole that helps move the vessel. This unique and graceful maneuver, difficult to master, leaves their hands free to cast nets and haul catch, usually carp, as the boat skims over relatively shallow waters, the surface of which often mirrors sun-silvery rays.
Phaung Daw Oo Paya: This revered monastery is the most important religious site in Myanmar’s southern Shan State. An enormous tiered pagoda holds five ancient Buddha statues, all more than 800 years old, which are dressed in gold leaf.
Temple-Filled Villages: The lakeside village of Inthein (also called Indein) has the striking Shwe Indein Pagoda, a group of ancient Buddhist structures. Walk a bit more to Nyaung Ohak, with its proliferation of ruined stupas (dome-shaped Buddhist shrines) covered with stucco carvings of divine beings and animals, amid overgrown greenery. A further climb gets you to the spectacular Shwe Inn Thein Paya, with its more than a thousand stupas, many brilliantly golden and built during the 17th and 18th centuries.
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Who It's Best For
Intrepid Travelers: Freshly opened to Western tourists, Inle Lake (and Myanmar itself), can be a heady leap into another place and time. Those who are filled with wide-eyed wonder and curiosity will enjoy it best.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Dress for Success: Myanmar's people dress conservatively, covering their shoulders and knees, and both men and women will be barred from entering temples unless they comply. Pack a few scarves or pashminas to carry in your bag or backpack and you’ll have an impromptu wrap when necessary. Also keep in mind that you will have to take off your shoes to enter religious structures.
Laura Manske is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Redbook, InStyle, and Cosmopolitan.