Lonely Planet Writer

Pathfinder pics: Myanmar from the water


Lonely Planet Pathfinders Atlas & Boots give us a floating tour of Myanmar's distinct waterways.

Water plays a central part in Burmese culture and makes for a still, but stunning backdrop. Multi-day river cruises transport locals and tourists up and down the timeless Irrawaddy River. The boats drift by dense, jungle-clad riverbanks, endless rice paddies and rural river villages. Inle Lake is home to the unique Intha fishermen, who row their boats with one leg across the serene waters. Surrounded by marshes and green hills, the lake is dotted with stilt houses, Buddhist temples and tiny hamlets with floating gardens built from strips of water hyacinth. Wherever you are in the country – be it urban or rural – water is at the forefront of Burmese life.

A fisherman on Inle Lake demonstrates the balancing act of fishing on one leg

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The traditional and rather unusual technique of rowing with one leg has been developed over centuries so the fishermen can stand and row the boat while they fish. Standing allows them to see through the reeds that lie just beneath the surface in the shallow waters of the lake.

A lone fisherman punts his riverboat past the U Bein Bridge near Amarapura

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The 1.2km wooden bridge spans Taungthaman Lake and is the oldest and longest teak bridge in the world. The sun was beating hot when we stopped at this picturesque spot but the lazy, hazy mid-morning walk offered a fascinating insight into life on the lake.

Floating gardens and bamboo stilt houses on Inle Lake

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The local In-Thars grow vegetables on the floating islands, constructed from a collection of floating weeds and water hyacinth. The islands can be cut, rearranged and moved by boats, and even sold like a piece of land. They make for great silhouettes against the twilight tones of sunset.

A setting sun lingers over the iconic stupas of the ancient city of Bagan

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Founded in the second century on the banks of the Irrawaddy River, the kingdom featured over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries over the centuries. Today, the remains of 'only' 2000 can be seen, but it still makes Bagan the world's largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples.

Our boat glides through lotus plants and water hyacinths on Inle Lake

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We spent an afternoon relaxing on a boat ride around Inle Lake in Shan State. We slid past villages built on stilts inhabited by the local Intha people and leg-rowing fishermen as well as floating gardens built from strips of water hyacinth and mud, anchored to the lake bed with bamboo.

Looking across the tranquil Kandawgyi Lake in Yangon

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This vista pretty much sums up Myanmar: a setting sun over serene waters with glinting pagodas on the horizon. Our trip was challenging at times, but always deeply illuminating.

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