Inle Lake, Myanmar

If you’ve followed me for a while, you may remember I went to Myanmar (previously known as Burma) in 2014. It was a photography tour, and one that I enjoyed very much. This post is long, long, LONG overdue but I think still worth sharing… so here it is.

Inle Lake is a 13.5 mile (21.7 km) freshwater lake in the township of Nyaungshwe in the Shan State of Myanmar. We got on boats at Nyaungshwe town and travelled across the lake to reach our accommodation at Villa Inle Resort and Spa. Every day at Inle Lake began and ended with a boat ride as we travelled to and from the day’s activities (and restaurants, many of which are only accessible by boat).

Me on the boat to Inle Lake Me on the boat to Inle Lake (thanks to my fellow Aussie photographer Victor for the photo). The boats were very stable and not once did I feel like I would end up in the lake. Life-jackets were provided for every passenger, and I take full responsibility for not wearing one.

Arrival Porters met us at the Villa Inle Resort and Spa jetty and helped unload our luggage.

Chalet We stayed in chalets that were spacious and air-conditioned, with bath and shower, mini bar, complimentary bottled water, and coffee and tea-making facilities.

Bed My bed, complete with mosquito net. I kept my doors and windows shut and didn’t have any major issues with mozzies while inside my chalet. The black items on the bed are jumpers (sweaters) – a little note advised they were provided for our comfort as the nights can get cool. It was a little chilly out in the boat early in the morning, but for me, not cool enough to warrant wearing a jumper.

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DSCF0106There was a plate of red grapes on the coffee table when I arrived. Every day, housekeeping brought more fresh fruit.

Morning boats Every morning after breakfast, a couple of boats would be waiting to take us out. Life-jackets and blankets (again, for the cold) were provided.

DSCF0350Every boat ride began with paddling. The leg paddling technique is a unique characteristic of boatmen and fishermen of Inle Lake. Our boat driver didn’t crank up the outboard motor until we were out in the open water in the middle of the lake.

Inle Lake Fishermen

That distinctive style of rowing with one leg wrapped around the oar ensures that the standing rower has a clear view over the floating plants and reeds common throughout the lake – this technique came about because it is more difficult to see above the vegetation while in a sitting position. But only the men use the leg rowing method; women usually sit and row with the oar by hand.

We saw fishermen on the lake almost every time we were out in the boats, but as part of the tour, we had a pre-arranged photography session with a group of them. They were in their boats with their nets, while we sat in our boats, cameras in hand. We had the opportunity to photograph the fishermen from all angles, including capturing their silhouettes against the setting sun. I marveled at the remarkable balance exhibited by the fishermen as they perched on their boats, each manipulating an oar and net, all while wearing the traditional longyi (like a sarong, worn by men and women in Myanmar). It was an exhilarating session that ended when it grew too dark for photos, and the mozzies began biting.

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DSCF4470It was only I was back home editing this photograph, that I saw the fish in the net.

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DSCF0170This picture wasn’t from our ‘official’ session with the fishermen, but the reflections in the blue water make it one of my favourites.

Ywama Village

We visited Ywama Village, a popular stop for tourists to see local craftspeople at work and to buy souvenirs. We checked out the silversmiths, cheroot (Burmese cigar) makers and silk weavers. I spent some time browsing the Village shops and bought several handwoven longyis as gifts for Jac.

DSCF0182Our local guide Aung pointing out places of interest on a map of Inle Lake.

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Burmese Cat Village

As a cat lover, I was chuffed to see that our itinerary for Inle Lake included lunch at Inthar Heritage House, where there is also an art gallery and a Burmese Cat Village. We had a delicious lunch, but I must admit I was terribly distracted throughout the meal, impatiently eager see the cats.

Vegetable frittersWe started with vegetable fritters, a little greasy but packed with flavour and extremely moreish. We dipped the fritters in a tangy sauce made with fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, fresh herbs and green chilli.

Broad bean saladI loved the different Burmese salads we were served throughout the trip. This was broad bean salad.

Mohinga Main course was mohinga, a Burmese noodle soup dish made with fish-based broth and rice noodles, served with hard-boiled egg, perfect with a squeeze of fresh lime. I ate mohinga on a few occasions during the trip, mostly for breakfast, and would’ve eaten it many more times if I’d had the chance.

Banana cakeFor dessert, sweet and moist banana semolina cake

I knew most of our group were indifferent about cats, so I bolted down my cake and skipped coffee so I could spend whatever time remained of our visit at the Cat Village. Cat visiting hours are 11am to 2pm. There were 39 cats at the village, of varying ages and colours – I spotted brown, chocolate and blue. The cats are free to move around the village, which includes a large room downstairs within the Inthar Heritage House building, with various scratching posts and cubbies, and across a bridge, cute wooden huts on ‘Cat Island’. The cats looked relaxed and content, hanging out in their huts or snoozing in the shade, happy to say hello and be picked up and patted by visitors. They were simply gorgeous cats.

We were told that although Burmese cats had been in Burma for over a thousand years, inter-breeding with other breeds during the colonial years resulted in the demise of the Burmese cat breed in Burma by the 1930s. Luckily, several pure Burmese cats had made their way to breeders in the United States and United Kingdom in the early 20th century – ensuring that Burmese cats did not die out completely. In 2008, seven Burmese cats were brought from Australia and the UK to start a breeding program here at Inle Lake, to re-introduce the Burmese cat back into Myanmar. You can find out more about the Burmese Cat Village, and about some of its residents, at the Inle Heritage Burmese Cats page.

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Burmese stowaways!Our guide Aung took this picture, which always makes me smile. A beautiful brown Burmese cat jumped onto my shoulder while another made itself at home on my bag. They both purred non-stop and the one on my shoulder gently made biscuits the entire time. This is how I wandered around until it was time to leave, at which time these two cuties refused to get off me – they had to be gently removed so I could join the rest of my group back on the boat. PS. Don’t mind my sunscreen-stained eyebrows…

Some of you may know that the youngest of our three cats is a cream Burmese boy we named Elvis – it was from this experience at Inle Lake that I suggested to Jac that we consider getting a Burmese cat. We’d talked about it before, but not seriously, long before I went to Myanmar. A couple of months after I got home, we welcomed Elvis to our crazy cat family. He’s an affectionate, sociable boy (like most Burmese cats) who loves kisses and playing fetch. If you like cats, you can follow Elvis and his sisters Pixel and Truffle on Facebook and Instagram.

My hot air balloon ride over temples at sunrise in Bagan was a once in a lifetime adventure, but I think you can understand why I found Inle Lake so appealing. Interestingly, the hot air ballooning company, Balloons Over Bagan, has expanded its business to Balloons Over Inle.

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Myanmar, December 2014

I was in Myanmar from 4 to 16 December 2014 on a photography tour that included Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, Pindaya and Inle Lake. This trip was totally self-funded.

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