The massive fresh water expanse that is Inle Lake is located in the middle of Myanmar and is almost 115 square kilometres in size, with an average depth of only 2 metres.
Inle Lake is vital to this area of Myanmar as nearly 75,000 people live by and on the lake. They rely on it for their livelihoods and it is an important source for farming, fishing and tourism.
Just like we did, most tourists spend a few days at one of the resorts on the shores of Inle Lake and take day trips out on the long, narrow wooden boats that plough the water ways. This is a great way to get up close and personal with everything the lake has to offer.
There are a number of small villages that are built over the lake, the houses are built on platforms above the waterline (stilts) and even the gardens are floating on the water. Some of the houses have specially built pens for pigs and chickens that float under the house, some even have small fish farms floating under their houses.
Each of these villages specialises in a particular craft or trade and is known for it. For example, one village specialises in blacksmith work, making all the tools for the farmers and engines blades for the fishing boats.
In another village they make textiles and weave cloth from silk, cotton and lotus while another village make the cigars which every local seems to enjoy smoking.
As part of our touring we got to visit a number of these villages to see firsthand how they live and work over the water.
There are small restaurants built in some of the villages over the water where tourists can pull up by long boat and enjoy locally grown produce and traditional Shan cuisine. The tomatoes I had as part of my lunch were the freshest and best tasting tomatoes I have ever had (yes, all grown locally on the floating gardens).
One of the unique things to see on the lake is the local fishermen row; they have a very distinctive rowing style where they balance on one leg and row the oar with the other leg. Keep in mind that they are only standing on a small narrow canoe that is about 50cm wide. It’s difficult to imagine us Australians doing this as we would surely be in the water most of the day, rather than on the boat.
The floating farms are also very interesting to see. These are pinned to the lake floor by a bamboo shaft to stop them from floating away and are comprised of a section of dirt about 1 metre deep floating on the surface of the lake. They mainly grow corn, beans, garlic and tomatoes on these float ing farms. The floating farms use seaweed (lake-weed, I assume is the right word) that is harvested from the lake as a natural fertiliser. You can see this being harvested all around the lake by men in little boats, piled high with lake weed.
Spending time exploring Inle Lake was a highlight of our trip to Myanmar as it was just so different to anything we have experienced in Myanmar or any place else. It was fascinating to see how the locals live completely in tune with the lake. Daily life revolves around it, they live over it, they fish and farm it and they drink from it.