Inle lake region of Nyaungshwe Township, Taunggyi district, is a place worth visiting if you are on a trip through Myanmar. It is one of the regulated areas that you have to pay 15,000 Kyat to be allowed entry.
UNESCO’s Biosphere Reserve
Within the region is the Inle Lake, a freshwater lake considered the second-largest lake in Myanmar. The lake has been inscribed as a UNESCO biosphere reserve in Myanmar hence joining the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.
Inle Lake Region
The region is fascinating, with several activities to do. However, I am afraid; if you want to get the best out of this region, then you have to take on a boat trip which offers a great experience of the different activities and a glimpse of the living situations of the communities- often referred to as floating villages. There is an array of activities that one may not be able to sample all in one day- fishing, weaving and knitting stations, long neck women from the Kayan tribe, silver smith, floating gardens and the unique pagoda- Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda.
I must warn you that plastic pollution in the lake is damning bad despite earlier stories reporting the cleanliness of the lake
How to move around
Inle Lake region is a vast area that you will need a couple of days to cover it entirely. You can quickly walk within the town area. Cycling is another good way of exploring the region. The good thing is that most guesthouses will offer bicycles to their clients at no cost. There are also plenty of bike-rental places.
In need of speed?- motor-bikes will be the best choice for you. Scooters are a common means of transport here. You can easily rent them at a lower price.
Trucks and taxis are also in plenty. Tuktuks will come in handy at some point.
Boats are your only means of transport to explore the lake and access the floating villages.
Long neck women
During our visit, we met three women from the Kayan tribe at one of the weaving factories. They were friendly and ready for us. I guess they are alerted about the arrival of tourists.
We found them weaving, which I believe is their main activity, aside from posing for tourists to take photos. You can learn a little about their history if you interact with the attendants at the store since the women hardly speak English.
From the information I captured, rings are worn from as young as nine years.
Majority of the women and girls seem to have done away with this culture
Weaving tends to be an everyday economic activity among the women living in the floating villages. They depend on the locally available materials to produce their raw materials, including mango tree barks and reeds. The best way to support their handmade items is to purchase them.
Expect to visit one or more silver smith stores. Watch them make different items from scratch to completion. The young men are dedicated to their job. Please support them by purchasing their items.
Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda
Out of all the pagodas I visited, Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda is unique- it houses 5 ancient images of Buddhas whose faces are invisible, as it is usually the norm. The ancient pagoda is the primary attraction in Inle Lake, I suggest you read here here.
Please note that women are not allowed to place the gold leaf or go past a specified area. In that case, only men can place the golden leaf. Any other person can, however, place ordinary flowers at different locations. It is free to visit.
Pollution in Inle Lake
While everything appears strikingly appealing, the lake is highly polluted. Plastic bottles and papers are floating along the lake shores. Both tourists, fishers, and the floating village residents are to blame for this. Watching children and adults throw wastes directly into the lake demonstrated the level of ignorance and negligence.
Heaps of solid wastes, most of which are plastic containers and bags, are rampant in several locations. The lake is the dumping site, and this risks jeopardizing the activities in the lake.
Fishing is at risk as the lake pollution may poison the fish.
The water which was reported drinkable is poison keeping in mind that the village dwellers wash their clothes and utensils directly from the lake
Invasive weeds-Water Hyacinth
The lake is chocking from invasive weeds with water hyacinth being the main culprit. The lake appears to be shrinking, and the fast-breeding nature of the hyacinth has left narrow canals between the villages to allow passage of boats. Native flora and fauna are endangered.
The fishers have been affected as they are seemingly confined to a small area because the hyacinth covers a larger portion of the lake.