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Inle Lake, Venice of the East?

Inle Lake
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Inle Lake, Venice of the East?

story by: Tom Ricketts

The phrase ‘Venice of the East’ gets thrown around a lot in Asia. In fact, there’s an entire Wikipedia article dedicated to it with 15 entries from Osaka to Bangkok. Funnily enough, it does not contain the subject of this article either. But as you cruise through the floating villages on Inle Lake, it’ll no doubt be the first thing you think.

Inle Lake is the second largest lake in Myanmar (formerly Burma) and about one fifth the size of our Lake Taupo. However like most Southeast Asian lakes, the size does fluctuate in wet and dry seasons. Because of the frequent height change, the 70,000 people who live around the lake have built their houses, shops, factories, schools… in fact they’ve built absolutely everything on stilts above the lake.

From your accommodation a small skiff with an offboard will whisk you across the lake towards the townships. The first thing you’ll notice is the bizarre way the other boats on the lake are being propelled. Because the lake is full of reeds and submerged plants which are hard to see when sitting, the fisherman must stand so they can navigate through it all. To be able to row, the fisherman wrap one leg around their oar and somehow push with that. Any of us would no doubt be thrown face first into the lake on the first attempt, but the fisherman here have it down to a fine art.

Finally when you get to the villages you’ll be stunned at just how big the buildings are. Aside from their condition, some of the beautiful old villa like buildings wouldn’t be astray in the likes of Parnell, Karori, or Fendalton. Small canal or waterways (streets) dissect the village. Towering three and four stories in some places, the buildings contain homes, shops, factories, temples, and everything in between. You’ll hear the screeching of metal upon metal in workshops, see [alarmingly] smoking generators chugging away, and halls full of women on looms making the silk garments the area is renowned for. Stops are made at various factories, temples and souvenir stores so you can see the locals in action. Perhaps the best sight though is that of the village kids screaming in delight as they jump off balconies and dive out of windows into the water below.

Surrounding the towns are acres of lush green that you would think covers the lake shore. In actual fact, there are layers and layers of gardens floating on the lake. All sorts of food is cultivated and the crops are separated with waterways (streets) so you can cruise through it all and watch the farmers pick tomatoes, collect lilies, and slash away at bamboo.

Most accommodations on the lake are in the north, away from the villages but closer to the airport. This is the place to stay in that overwater bungalow you’ve always wanted to do! While it’s certainly no Bora Bora, the views are still great and the rooms are a fraction of the price. There’s several different options from three to five star, so discuss with your travel agent to find the best option for you.

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