The motorized long boat roared through the lake waters coming from the boat landing site. It seemed funny that I have the whole boat all to myself as I sit in the middle chair. Each chair has umbrellas for passengers to use. I only have 2 hours to spare on my tour around the Inle Lake but Monterey, my boatman and guide said it would be enough to explore the top portion of the lake. We will visit a couple of villages, tomato farms and a small factory where they make cheroot, a local cylindrical cigar.
From Nyaungshwe, the vastness of Inle Lake is hard to see as only the tip extends into town. Inle Lake extends 13.5 miles long and 7 miles wide with several stilt villages and floating gardens scattered around the lake. The Intha Tribe, with their distinct boat-balancing and one-legged rowing talents dominate the area. Some Shan Hill tribes from nearby areas visit the markets as well to buy goods and trade.
Monterey took me to In-U Village to take a glimpse on their way of life. It is a small, self-contained stilt-community with a school and mosque. Their main mode of transportation here are boats of course but what I liked about the lake is the waters isn’t really murky at that time but somewhat a clean green.
We then headed to a floating garden near the village. They also call these gardens, Kyun-Hmaw where they grow different vegetable which are shipped and sold all the way to Mandalay and Yangon. Tomatoes are in abundance here, no wonder I got a hefty serving during lunch and I thought they were really juicy.
Monterey showed how these gardens were really floating by lifting a patch of soil and showing the roots under extending to the lake bed. It’s impressive how this natural build-up of water hyacinth and mud can be cultivated as farms making it the Intha Tribe’s main livelihood.
We head to the open portion mid of the lake where a few Intha Fishermen pass by but also a few so called “talents” or “fishermen” showing off their leg-rowing skills to earn a few kyats. As we approached, I was surprised some were barely teens. I gave a few kyats since they seem really knowledgeable of fishing and showed me how they use the conical nets they use for fishing.
Si-saw Village was our last stop so we could visit a cheroot factory. It wasn’t really a huge factory but a moderately sized stilt house that can take up to 20 ladies working on the cheroot. But with the festival, only 3 were there to demonstrate cheroot making. I watched how they swiftly and efficiently put the tobacco into leaves, roll it then put a paste to hold them together. I was told 1 person can finish 700-900 pieces a day working from sunlight to sundown. Burmese are very fond of smoking and chewing betel nut. I didn’t try the cheroot since I don’t smoke.
The tour did take almost 2 hours including travel time. I thanked Monterey for offering the tour. I wasn’t really satisfied with my tour since I was only skimming the surface. Another reason to come back in the future. As I head back to Aung Mingalar Hotel, I saw another foreigner with both his small and big backpack with him, seemingly in search for a place to stay. I wanted to help him but what can I do. I got back at the hotel just in time to quickly wash up and prepare to leave for the junction. I thank Aye Thwe for the help.
The bus at the junction came almost 7pm. I was glad I was on one of the back most seats by the window. Despite the high volume of the music videos playing on the screen, I quickly fell into slumber oblivious of what’s happening around. This bus seat is my bed again tonight as I head to Mandalay.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.