Inle Lake is well established on the typical touristic route in Myanmar but it is possible to explore the country’s second largest lake off-the-beaten-path. For an authentic experience avoid the touristic boat tours that circulate around shopping opportunities and syndicated cultural phenomenon. The real joy of Inle Lake is interaction with locals. Outside of touristic Nyaung Shwe area are villages and pastures waiting to be discovered. Lola of Miss Filatelista recalls how she discovered the road less travelled on the Grasshopper Adventures Inle Bike, Boat, and Kayak Tour.
Our local guide took us off-road and into the lush landscape as we pedaled along secret trails that we would have never found on our own accord. We visited a sugarcane plantation where molasses is made and sent to Mandalay to be distilled for rum. Just down the bamboo-lined path was a rice mill where we gained a deeper appreciation for the simple staple after seeing the complex rice making process.
Along the rural route we tried typical treats like sticky rice in bamboo shafts which we were delighted to taste. We shared dirt roads with local children who zipped past expertly on their rickety bicycles as they shouted Mingalabar! Our ride continued along raised dirt ridges that cut through rice terraces sprinkled with water lilies and past sunflower fields with rugged mountains looming in the distance. Everywhere we looked there were farmers planting and harvesting crops.
The highlight was kayaking through the waterways of a stilt house community in a remote area of the lake. Here we witnessed everyday moments of life, men shaving their beards on the edge of their wooden boats, children joyfully using a single leg to row home from school, and women laying out chili’s, fish, and rice crackers to dry in the warm sunshine.
We boarded a traditional long-tail boat and wove through the massive maze of floating gardens where farmers cultivate tomatoes, pumpkins, and other produce. We passed by boats in the narrow water canals overflowing with chives. Intha fishermen may not wear picturesque outfits but they do also row with one leg as they toss their nets into the lake to get the catch of the day.
Travelers can curate a similar trip by renting bicycles and kayaks in town but having a local guide is what makes an experience in Inle simply magical. There are no maps or signs with directions to find the village trails where transformative learning experiences await.
While in Inle Lake be sure to visit the daily morning market that rotates between villages. We went to the Indein market day and explored the crumbling Shwe Indein Pagodas after a morning spent mingling with villagers, trying shan tofu, and admiring their traditional textiles. There is even a hot spring, Khaung Daing, not far from town where you can soothe your aching muscles after a bike ride. Another wonderful way to witness genuine local life in Inle Lake is to visit any of the nine ethnic groups of the Shan State, such as the Pa’O in Kakku.
Lola Méndez is a full-time traveler and sharing her adventures on Miss Filatelista as she adds to her collection of passport stamps. She travels to develop her own worldview and has explored 53 countries. Passionate about sustainable travel, she seeks out ethical experiences that benefit local communities. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.