Situated about 110 mi/180 km southeast of Mandalay, Inle Lake, Myanmar, (pronounced EEN-lay) is a beautiful resort area once described by the national tourist bureau as "outrageously picturesque." We can only agree.
The hill-rimmed lake is dotted with floating gardens and villages built on stilts. Watch as fisherfolk wield huge conical nets while paddling with one leg. Inle Lake provides an ideal spot to relax at the beginning or end of your tour. Boats can be hired to visit the Ywama floating market, one of the most spectacular in Southeast Asia. (Check to make sure the market will be open the day of your visit—it's usually open once every five days.)
Many of the islands in Inle Lake actually float. The islands form when clumps of weeds and water hyacinths come together to form a substantial pile of muck. When the "island" reaches a certain size, the people of Inle Lake anchor the new island in place with bamboo poles until the land is solid enough for growing crops.
On the west side of the lake, be sure to stop at the wooden monastery of Nga Phe Kyaung, built on stilts over the water. It's known for its collection of Buddha statues, as well as its jumping cats (the monks have trained some domestic cats to jump through hoops).
There are hotels in Nyaungshwe, at the northern end of the lake, and an hour away in Taunggyi, once a holiday hill station for British civil servants, where tribespeople sell their wares in the market. There are also a few basic hotels in the village of Yaunghwe, on the lake itself. In recent years, a number of vineyards have sprung up in the hills surrounding the lake.
If at all possible, visit Inle Lake during the Thadingyut Festival (October), when houses and streets are brightly illuminated to celebrate the end of Buddhist Lent.
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