INLE LAKE in Myanmar’s Shan state has flourished in the last five years or so to become a must-see destination in southeast Asia. For a peaceful weekend away from the frivolities of everyday life, Inle Lake is a refreshing change from Asia’s many beach islands.
By now, you might already be acquainted with the postcard-worthy images of Inle Lake: the infinite blue waves bobbing against a backdrop of mountainous landscapes, the sarong-clad fisherman who gracefully balance their conical nets on row boats, and the still reflection of floating attap-roofed villages on stilts.
But before you make it out there, keep these things in mind.
Bring warm clothing and plenty of sunscreen
If traveling in the months of January and February, it can get quite chilly in the early mornings. If riding on a boat to catch the sunrise, you’ll feel the cold winds whipping against your skin as the boat whizzes across the waters so it’s always a good idea to pack in a cardigan or jacket.
At midday, when the skies are scorching, minimize the discomfort, it greatly helps to pack along sunscreen, insect repellent and a large hat. Also, for this reason, it’s wise to plan a boat ride at the crack of dawn rather than in the middle of the day.
Beware of ‘fake’ fishermen
Riding into Inle Lake from Nyaung Shwe, it’s common to encounter fishermen who perform theatrics on their boats. They’re often clad in white T-shirts and brown khaki pants, and dramatically dangle off the side of the boats while holding their conical fishing nets in compromising positions.
If you encounter these men, it’s fine to have a look but avoid snapping photos or getting too enthusiastic, as they’re known to put on a show just for tips. If you see them, simply tell your boat driver to ride by without stopping; there’ll be plenty of opportunities for you to see real fishermen going about their work on the rest of your trip.
Discuss the trip with your boat driver
As in any tourist-heavy spot in Asia, it’s easy to get ripped off or conned on Inle. It’s good to communicate with your boat driver the day before you set off to determine the places and villages you want to visit, the shops you want to browse and the restaurants you want to eat at.
If you simply jump on the boat without discussing the details beforehand, there’s a high chance that the driver will bring you to shops that he can get some commission out of. Language might get in the way if your driver doesn’t speak English, but it helps to jot down names of specific locations you intend to visit.
Traveling by bike can prove less stressful
Renting a boat will set you back about US$15 for an entire day, and if you leave it to the driver, you might just end up at sites like the floating market – a flea market where visitors are often ambushed into buying souvenirs and trinkets.
To save you a few bucks and the uncertainty of ending up at a tourist trap, traveling around the island by bike will offer you sceneries that match those you get out of the boat rides. Bikes can be hired at most street corners at under a dollar. About a half hour ride from town is a great little winery called Red Mountain Estate where the sunset views are quite spectacular.
Be mindful of keeping the lake clean
As much as the 15 or so villages are benefiting from the economic boom, this could also mean that the water-dependent villages are gradually being exposed to noise, water and air pollution. Plus, hotels, restaurants and shops have sprung at an alarming rate, leading to litter building up in the waters.
Do your part to preserve the purity of the lake by not disposing trash into the lake and keeping your voice down when at one of the lake resorts. Remember that many livelihoods are dependent on the lake, so it’s important to maintain the sanctity and cleanliness at all times.