After Yangon, we continue with the next destination.
Inle Lake, located in Shan State, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. Although we knew this, a friend recommended us to go. Over time, I have noticed that even the most famous places have something authentic that can be discovered. There are usually places where all tourists go, but in addition to these, within walking distance, there may be others that are more interesting but that require a bit of exploration. And we weren’t wrong this time either …
The nearest town from the lake and with an infrastructure for tourists is Nyaung Shwe. A small town, nice and fairly quiet. Tourists who come here are mainly interested in a day boat trip on the lake. But we liked the area and decided to stay for several days.
Instead of going to the lake, we decided to explore the area for 1-2 days and then see the lake. We rented 2 bikes, looked at the map and went exploring. The first day was more about the city and the surrounding.
The main means of transport is by water. Easier, more accessible and faster. The Nyaung Shwe canal goes straight into the lake and from there it is much faster than on land to reach the villages on the shore.
I could sit for a few days taking photos by the canal without getting bored. I found some good places out of town. Many people pass by or even just the boats are interesting. They are very long and carry absolutely anything.
Mostly Buddhists, they have pagodas or stupas everywhere. This one is in the city, close by to our hotel.
The next day we decided to go a little further. We wanted to go around the lake but we realized that it is impossible with the bikes we have. We thought we would go as far as we could and return in the evening. In this tour we entered all the villages on the road and on almost all the streets. That’s how we got to the places we were talking about at the beginning, not touristy but still authentic.
On Inle Lake, the locals built floating gardens, which unfortunately we did not reach, but we saw the results. Some of the vegetables are for sale in the markets near the lake, and others are taken to other more remote localities. Unfortunately, we could not interact too much with the people, although they were smiling and we saw that they also wanted to talk to us. We just looked at each other.
Close by the villages there are many other small lakes where people fish traditionally, by hitting the water with a long stick to attract fish and then collect them with the net.
After 2 days by bike, we decide to rent a boat to go to the lake. There are also group rental options, but the price difference is so small that it’s not worth it. Especially for photographers, I want to take some pictures and it’s probably hard for me to follow the group. We decide to avoid or quickly pass over places that seem too touristy.
The departure is before sunrise. Very cold and humid, we freeze even more when the boat starts. We took only thin clothes for Myanmar so that we could pack as lightly as possible, we left the thick ones in Malaysia to some friends. My shorts can’t stand the 7-10 degrees.
The fishermen are already on the lake.
On the shores of the lake, from place to place, various “workshops” are arranged. Firstly, they show you how they produce the goods, after which they invite you to the shop next door, to buy the fresh products from the workshop. Coincidentally, I recognized some clothes from Nyaung Shwe, but triple price.
The first workshop is silver, then fabrics, making boats and rolling cigarettes.
The cigars are made of natural materials. The tobacco is rolled in tobacco leaves glued with sticky rice and with different flavors – cloves, cinnamon, hot peppers, vanilla, etc.
We pass quickly and reach the next one, the weaving workshop where we meet the famous long neck women.
The necklaces from their neck are extremely heavy, for adults can reach 7-8 kg!
I asked if there was a reason they started wearing these necklaces. In addition to the neck, it is also worn on the wrist and below the knee. We were told that in the past, the region where they come from, was full of tigers and these necklaces were for defense. In time, the tigers disappeared but the tradition was kept alive.
Many believe that these women come from the Chiang Mai area, Thailand. In fact, Kayan women come from Myanmar, from a small region called Loikaw, Kayah State. They are now spread everywhere, and in Thailand they have fled the military dictatorship from Myanmar. In time, the situation got more relaxed and some returned to Loikaw with their families, where they are not seen as weirdos but normal women according to local tradition.
Another area where women have necklaces is in Africa. Although it is similar to those in Myanmar, it is a completely different tradition. Ndebele women wear necklaces as a sign of well-being and only after they get married, the richer the husband, the more rings (idzilla) they receive.
Contrary to the myth, it seems possible to take off the necklace. Yes, they will be more sensitive and prone to neck injuries. Personally, I have not seen a woman with and without a necklace, so I keep a trace of doubt until I am fully convinced.
The most interesting part of the trip comes next.
The location of the traditional market rotates every day between 5 villages on the lake. Today it is in one village, tomorrow another and so on. We didn’t catch the biggest one, but we were very happy with what we saw. In the rainy season it turns into a floating market where sellers and buyers travel by boat.
The entrance is full of souvenirs for tourists, but inside the market we see local goods – vegetables, fruits, traditional food, clothes, cigarettes, spices. I really enjoy the multitude of faces, colors, the general diversity around me. I don’t know which side to look at, all it’s interesting and worth immortalizing. I follow people and try not to disturb them with my camera, to catch them as naturally as possible and doing their usual things.
After a few hours we realize we have to leave, we could stay here for couple of days. I take some more pictures of the people leaving, the boats and the view.
We still have a location we wanted to get to. It’s further and we must go up the river.
Shwe Inn Thein in the village of Indein is a complex of 1054 stupas, most of them from the 17th and 18th centuries. We go up the hill to see the whole view.
Half of the stupas are like new and the other half show their age, but they’re in a process of reconstruction.
Also here we would like to stay longer but the sun goes down. We go to the boat and catch the sunset with the most photographed fisherman from the lake.
In the past, fishing was done with a net on a conical skeleton. Now this kind of fishing is no longer practiced, this man has the memories of his youth and he’s now a successful photomodel.
The experience on the lake ends here. We leave for another time the floating gardens and other places that seemed interesting from the description. I recommend, especially for photographers, dividing the trip on the lake into 2 days or, on the recommendation of someone who has been in the area, avoiding some workshops to keep as much time as possible for the market, Shwe Inn Thein stupas or simply admiring the lake and the life on it.
The next destination is 350 km away and another night by bus.
The photo equipment I used: Canon 6d body with Canon 85mm f 1.8 for portraits, Canon 17 40mm f 4 L, very useful for capturing busy markets and for landscapes and the Canon 70 200mm f 4 L for portraits, landscapes and pictures on the lake when a bit of tele was needed.
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