April 19, 2013

Stephanie Wears Silly Hats (in Inle Lake, Burma)

Sometimes, a place just isn't as impressive in real life as it is on paper. For us, Inle Lake in Burma was one of those places. You have to hear that with a few things in mind: 
  1. We're just 2 people with opinions.
  2. We had some overcast weather while we were there, so we didn't really get the views we wanted.
  3. We didn't do our homework in reserving a boat and guide for the day and I think we could have done a lot better.
  4. No matter what we say, you have to visit Inle Lake when you go to Burma.

Before we went to Inle Lake, I was expecting to get lots of shots like this:

You see, Inle Lake is famous because of the its lake and the way people live and work on it and one of the unique things about this area is how the fisherman and villagers paddle their longboats. While researching Burma, I had seen photo after photo of these fisherman, standing stoically on the back of their homemade canoe, paddle wrapped around their leg, conical fishing net in front of them, silhouetted by the sun setting in the blue sky over a glassy lake. I was psyched. "Surely," I thought, "Inle Lake must be like one big photo opportunity." Well, it wasn't (for us) so, instead, you're going to get a lot of photos of me wearing a silly hat because, one thing Inle Lake was…hot. Scorching. So I bought a hat for less than a dollar and wore it constantly while Tom mocked me. He just doesn't appreciate a great fashion accessory the way I do.

Because, in all honesty, I don't really feel like writing much about Inle, I'm going to tell you a few things we did there. 
  • We did the obligatory day on the lake with a guide where they take you to silk shops and silver shops and incense shops and wood-carving shops and you're given the low-down on the production process before the high-impact sales pitch begins. 
  • We biked a treacherous road for an hour into the mountains where there are some over-hyped, under-delivering, and overpriced hot spring hot tubs.
  • We shopped: silk scarves (presents!), silver jewelry, paper lanterns.
  • We ate pizza at 2 restaurants whose owners claim to have been trained by an old Sicilian woman.

Boys practicing their hip paddling

Coolest part of the day on the lake: the floating gardens where they grow tomatoes
and cucumbers and other crops ON the water!

Buying lanterns

Hand-dyed silk thread

The clearest shot of fisherman I could get in the haze
And that was about it. Why were we unimpressed by Inle Lake? For one, we just didn't get the jaw-dropping views we were hoping for. But, most of all, the locals in Inle Lake were considerably more aggressive in their selling techniques than elsewhere in Burma. We had gotten so accustomed to these laid back, low-pressure, smiling people, that this kind of took us by surprise. Along with this more intense money-making environment, the sites have become so commercialized and touristy that it's nearly impossible to have a unique experience. The market they take you to no longer sells food and wares for locals - instead, it sells overpriced bags and tchochkes for tourists. 

Still - we have met plenty of people who really loved Inle Lake so, if you're in Burma, you really should go. It's not a bad place at all. Naungshwe (the town where we stayed) is actually quite charming and there are a lot of beautiful countryside vistas to discover. Many people do get those amazing experiences we had heard about actually on the lake. But, for us, the reality of Inle Lake just didn't hold up to the hype. 

Check out all of our Inle Lake pics here. A few more of our favorites are below:

Check out all of our Inle Lake pics here.


  1. I am going to give in to the urge of finally commenting as opposed reading your blog quietly.. loved your pics.. and you are right about the aggressiveness of the locals. We ended up staying in a monastery since the hotels were sold out in the village u stayed and went to a resto close by where there was no end of Amna ordering mango lassis!! :) Did you go the vineyard there? Initially apprehensive, it definitely impressed me! I guess you guys are already in another part of SE Asia now.. Keep writing!!

    1. Vikas! After Burma, we did some diving in the Surin & Similan Islands of Thailand, then off to Cambodia for 3.5 weeks, and now we've been in Vietnam for about 3.5 weeks. We'll be here another week or so before we head to Australia (then Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Holland, Belgium, HOME). We didn't make it to the vineyard there - we wanted to, but we ran out of time! How are you? Are you home now?