In a country with very rough travel if you’re taking local buses, Inle Lake is a welcome respite. Like much of Myanmar, life in the main lakeside town of Nyaungshwe hasn’t changed much in 100 years. The horse and buggy is still a viable, non-touristic form of transportation.
Looking down from the surrounding Shan hills, Inle Lake is idyllic. The long, narrow, glassy body of water shimmers in shifting light, reflecting the hills and low clouds. My wife and I went for a long hike in the hills, through tiny villages of several ethnic groups, including the Pa-O and Intha peoples, as well as rural schools, homes, and monasteries. One day we rented a boat and guide, who took us through canals, past the famous floating gardens and leg-rowing fishermen, to the Inn Dein temple complex, and to a Pa-O market next to the Hpaung Daw U Pagoda, where five gilded Buddhas have had so much gold leaf applied they are now just blobs.
The market rotates around to different villages, and the “parking lot” is a throng of boats. The market provided amazing people-watching, including many people wearing thanaka—the yellow tree bark worn on the face of Myanmar people. Usually applied in large circles or squares on the cheeks, it sometimes contains artistic patterns. We wandered through stalls, sampling sweets and checking out various ethnic groups who self-identify with colorful scarves on their heads. One of my best memories is sharing an enormous, juicy jackfruit with our guide.