Vast and serene Inle Lake is one of the undoubted highlights of most trips to Myanmar. Its attractions are not just in its considerable natural beauty, however, but also in the stilt villages of the Intha (“Sons of the Lake”, descendants of Mon people from the far southeast), for whom it is home.
While the lake is very firmly on the beaten path, it’s big enough that you only really notice how many other foreigners are around when your boat pulls up at one of the stops. Even the markets are aimed more at villagers of the various ethnic groups that live in the area – among them Shan, Pa-O, Kayah and Danu – than they are at tourists.
A typical day-trip, taken in a long, narrow boat with a noisy outboard motor, will stick to the northern reaches of the lake. It will include visits to small workshops in stilt villages, some of the most interesting being cheroot making in Tha Lay and lotus fibre weaving in In Paw Khone, plus one or more pagodas and probably a market. You are also likely to see fishermen using traditional conical nets, propelling their boats using a distinctive leg-rowing technique, and other Intha residents of the lake tending to fruit and vegetables on floating gardens.