(Editor's Note- This is about the touristy side of Inle Lake. Read our pages about the authentic tour experience as well, starting here.)
Especially if you are a boomer whose picture of the world is frozen in older issues of National Geographic, be forewarned that a tour of Inle Lake—though a wonderful window of lives along the lake that are so different from your own—also has more than its share of manufactured-for-tourists moments.
Whether the boatsmen get commissions is unclear, but your itinerary for a day’s boat tour of Inle Lake will likely involve stops at lakefront shops along the way, that boast original crafts and curiosities.
Long neck women—exotic and picturesque—don’t really hail from Inle Lake but they are there almost like freak show exhibits from an earlier carnival time.
Silversmiths, weavers, boat builders, cigar makers and more--- you’ll stop to see their shops and wares and no doubt will pick up the disappointment of the young women who have given you the tour, claiming to be related to the shop’s owner. This could be their pedigree, but their perfect English and elaborate mani-pedis that we had heard separately from a Bagan area hotelier you could only get in Yangon or Mandalay seemed to be a red flag to note.
It’s not hard sell exactly—but there is situational pressure to buy and you do feel it and it does get old.
Some of the shop tours were very interesting, such as the weavers using lotus flower stems. Then came the sticker shock in the shop selling the wares on display. Ouch!
Be forewarned—Inle Lake was one of the first areas of Myanmar opened to tourists and today’s overdeveloped tourist infrastructure is a filter you need to look past. Manage your expectations ahead of time to minimize the annoyance. Our boatsman realizing how little interest we had in making purchases did begin to solicit our interest in further craft shops such that we could put this forced tour to an end, other than the oversized craft store at the toilet stop en route back to shore.
Continue your reading about Inle Lake, learning more about the authentic tours of Inle Lake.