The sun is just rising over the mountains surrounding Inle Lake as the fisherman rapidly makes his way over to our long boat, positioning his vessel perfectly between us and the sunrise, then beginning his morning routine, a dark silhouette “fishing” for a living.
Of course, he isn’t actually fishing for food. He’s hoping for tourist tips for the series of poses he’ll hold for photos while balancing on he now of his canoe. While a beautiful scene, and impressive balance, we just weren’t into the extremely staged shot. We kept our cameras in our laps, waved thanks and he was on his way to another tourist boat.
From my description so far, it sounds like a tourist-trap, but relatively speaking, tourists are still very new in Myanmar (the borders only officially opened a few years ago), and it’s possible to find seclusion and authenticity amongst the burgeoning tourism.
There are many boatmen who will take you out on Inle Lake for a half-day, but we opted for a longer, more authentic tour booked through our hostel. How can a tour be more authentic when booked through a hostel shaped like a boom-box? Well, for example, while most boats stopped off at restaurants for lunch, we ate in a local family’s home. And while many boats did a quick half-day, we spent a full day on the lake hitting a super-busy local market and a temple where we were the only people (not just only foreigners… the only people).
Our boatman/guide didn’t really speak English, which added to the charm. At the market he bought tomatoes. We had no idea why, until later when we drove past the huge tomato farm right on the lake and he offered us all a taste.
Along with the stops for sunrise, the market, the temple and our lunch, we also stopped off for a pottery lesson with a woman working on a hand-spun wheel, a group of women hand-rolling “cigars” (a local favorite), and a stilt-warehouse full of women working looms to make fabrics out of lotus-silk.
Individually, these are all pretty random things that I honestly probably wouldn’t jump up to see… but man am I glad we did this tour. I was so impressed with everything… the craftsmanship, the skill, the creativity.
Tips and tricks…
- Do… check out Inle Lake. Really unique, and worth a visit.
- Do… bring earplugs for the boat ride. The longboats have huge diesel engines and you sit just a couple feet away. Amazing the drivers aren’t all deaf already.
- Do… bring small bills if you want to buy any cigars, pottery, etc.
- Don’t forget sunblock. No shade on your boat (though it was a little cool before sunrise. Long sleeves would’ve helped).