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Introducing Inle Lake

Placid Inle Lake (အင္းေလးကန္) ranks among Myanmar’s top five tourist attractions, which ensures that visitors come here in droves. The once-sleepy village of Nyaungshwe at the north end of the lake has grown into a bustling traveller centre, with dozens of guesthouses and hotels, a surfeit of restaurants serving pancakes and pasta, and a pleasantly relaxed traveller vibe. If Myanmar could be said to have a backpacker scene at all, it can be found here.

On paper Inle Lake is 13.5 miles long and 7 miles wide but up close it’s hard to tell where the lake finishes and the marshes start. Looking down over the lake from the Taunggyi road, Inle sits like a puddle on an enormous carpet of greenery. Dotted around the lake are the stilt-house villages and floating gardens of the Intha tribe. You may also encounter Shan, Pa-O, Taung Yo, Danu, Kayah and Danaw tribal people at the markets that hopscotch around the lake on a five-day cycle.

Boats are the main means of transport around the lake – travellers tend to explore on motorised canoes (a little like Thai long-tail boats) but most Intha people get around using traditional flat-bottomed skiffs propelled by a single wooden paddle. The Intha technique of leg rowing – where one leg is wrapped around the paddle to drive the blade through the water in a snake-like motion – is unique.

The waters cool the surrounding air considerably. A pall of mist hangs over the lake before sunrise and during the morning, and evenings can be surprisingly cold. Bring a coat or buy a blanket in the market to keep off the wind chill on boat tours around the lake.