Inle Lake attracts growing numbers of visitors to Myanmar

Home to floating villages and monasteries, and wrapped by mountain ranges, the pristine freshwater of Inle Lake continues to attract visitors. Even before the reopening of the country to the outside world, foreign tourists ventured to Myanmar, eager to soak in the lake’s natural surroundings. Today the lake is still one of the country’s top tourist attractions – alongside Bagan, Mandalay and Ngapali beach – with a growing number of five-star hotels propped on wooden stilts along its banks.

Life By The Lake

Located in the heart of Shan Plateau in south-eastern Myanmar, the lake is situated some 900 metres above sea level. Measuring 22 km in length and 10 km across, it appears virtually unending when viewed at eye level.

More than 400,000 people reside on or near its banks, including the Innthar community, who are known for their one-legged boat-rowing technique. There are other ethnic groups in the area as well, such as the Shan, Bamar and Kayah, which include the Padaung, meaning “long neck” in the Shan language. In this group, the women practice an ancient tradition of wearing neck-rings or coils. This gives the women the appearance of an elongated neck, with more rings added over time.

The lake is particularly attractive to photographers, thanks to its unique backdrop, surrounded by wildlife and bright red, yellow, purple and green vegetation. It may not be for the thrill-seeker, but culture-hungry enthusiasts who are fortunate enough to visit this spot have an array of tourism options.

Visiting one of the local monasteries remains a top attraction for tourists, with a wide variety of sites to choose from. Nga Phe Kyaung monastery, for example – also known as the “jumping cat monastery” – is a perennial favourite of visitors. Situated on the western shores of the lake, the monastery has become a home for stray cats. Over the years the monks have trained the cats to perform a series of tricks and, much to the amusement of visitors, the cats will jump through hoops held up by the monks.

Located in Ywama, the Hpaung Daw U Pagoda, one of the most well-known religious sites in Shan State, is also worthy of a visit. The pagoda houses five small, golden Buddha images, each of which has been covered with so many gold leaves that it is nearly impossible to see their original structure.

A good time to visit the pagoda is during the colourful Hpaung Daw U festival, which takes place in September or October. During the festival, four of the five Buddha images are ferried around Inle Lake on a replica of a royal barge.

Local Shopping

Travellers are able to investigate the surrounding area aboard a tail boat. Shopping at souvenir shops is another popular activity for visitors and also helps support the local community. Shops include weaving factories, where centuries-old techniques are used to manufacture traditional attire, and local blacksmith workshops.

The area also features a cigar shop, where tourists can watch local women carefully hand roll cigars known as cheroot, derived from a Tamil word meaning roll of tobacco. The cheroot is made with a blend of tobacco and fragrant wood chips, which is then rolled up in a dried and flattened leaf.

Over the past few years the conservation of Inle Lake and its surrounding environment has become more of a priority. While the growing number of visitors has helped to bolster the local economy, there are also concerns that rapid tourism growth – and in particular the construction of lakeside hotels – has been harming the area’s biodiversity, which includes birds, snails and fish. In an effort to preserve the lake’s ecosystem, the World Wildlife Foundation has been collaborating with the Myanmar Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry to ensure the necessary steps are taken to promote the sustainable development of the lake’s surroundings.

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The Report: Myanmar 2016

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