Inle Lake Boat Hire
You may need to look past the sometimes intrusive manufactured-for-tourists moments on an Inle Lake Boat Tour. You can.
It’s easy enough to hire a boat at one of the docks in Nyaungshwe to take you touring on the nearly 45-square mile Inle Lake. Even before you spot the jetty, the hawkers have found you and begun negotiating the terms of your tour. The person you hire is unlikely to be the boatsman you get. Better English speakers do negotiations and others man the boats.
You’ll find a blanket on your boat seat to wrap in to protect you from the early morning chill. We found it easy enough to tune out the cold because of the ever changing visual tapestry along the lakeshore.
Boat Tour Begins
At the start of your journey, you are with many other boats and passengers. Some, the minority actually, are tourists like you. Most are carrying wares for the market or other destinations, or seeming to be locals commuting to other parts at the hours when the boats are most available.
You first go past wetlands that tourist signs announce are available for birders.
Soon you are in the same waters that the fishermen use. Their poses on oars with body-sized wicker nets are so iconic you may feel you are part of a picture in a wall calendar.
There are long expanses of marshland, many attracting birds.
Stilt Village Life
Stilt villages come into view here and there. Many of the lake villages have distinctive water entrances. Some of the houes on stilts in the water clearly have electricity.
Parents and children crouch on the docks outside their stilt homes, brushing their teeth or doing other daily ablutions. Teen-aged children are studying books on the docks in front of their home, seeming to cram as they wait for the boats that are their school buses, much as their peers do in the States.
Scenic Floating Gardens, Temples, Stupas
You see the floating gardens and farms, and the less-occupied stilt structures around them where you imagine the farmers will be resting in the heat of the day.
Beautiful temples appear, some with stupas surrounded by water in the lake when there is less drought.
You will detour to many villages en route to go to craft workshops. This can actually eat up a few hours of your journey.
Go on a Land Market Day
But if you are lucky, you too will find that the day you chose to take the boat tour is one of the five-day market rotations on land. (Or, you can have the foresight to plan your boat day for such.) These land markets are said to be more for the people of Inle Lake, with no noticeable sign of moments manufactured-for-tourists that one imagines are more the case when it’s a floating market day.
How friendly everyone is at the market! You are offered tastes of fruits and vegetables generously, even though they know you will never buy. Flashing smiles that tell you that you are certainly not the first Westerner they’ve seen, but also not one their life is dedicated to selling to. You are not a burning curiosity, though few Westerners do come to these markets. You are welcome.
Many of the women vendors wear the distinctive headwear of their ethnic grouping, adding to the color and festiveness of the scene.
Looking at the market bounty—spices, vegetables, fruits galore—it does seem to puzzle later why the tourist restaurants in Nyaungshwe seem to serve up foods from a relatively narrow band of choices, and without the vegetarian cornucopia of the market.
If this colorful market didn't seem to be winding down after an hour or so of our late morning arrival, we probably wouldn't have had the urge to leave for quite some time.
An Experience to Savor
The boat ride then takes you to the floating gardens where Myanmar’s best tomatoes are said to grow. For a spell you’ll be in hypnotizing water horizons in all directions with no visible shore. Then – back past the fishermen ending their day now, and then past the wetlands specifically labeled for tourists, and back to the dock.
It’s only mid afternoon, but you feel like you’ve been gone for longer. You walk on terra firma now with so many images of lives so different than yours. It’s an intriguing window to the variety of human experiences that are to be had on our planet circa 2016.