Monday, February 23: After visiting the 5-day rotating market and pushing off from the dock at Khuang Daing Village, we cruise around Inle Lake, looking at the villages along the lake and the fishermen plying the waters for food. It’s a gorgeous day out. Though it was quite chilly in the early morning, it’s now warming up nicely.
I love watching all the activity on the lake. Locals are going about their business while tourists are also zooming by in long-tail boats. As Inle Lake is 13.5 miles (22km) long and 7 miles (11km) wide, the lake never seems too crowded.
The floating gardens at Inle Lake are an example of a large-scale traditional hydroponics system. In the distance, I can see the wooden poles which hold the gardens in place.
Inle Lake is famous for its tomato crops that ripen around December each year, providing both a sustainable food system and income for locals. The lake is also full of fish, the most common being a breed of carp that combined with floating gardens has helped sustain the communities around the lake for many centuries (Inhabitat: Myanmar’s Inle Lake Shows Bridge to Ancient Hydroponic Farming Systems).
A common sight on the lake are the flat bottom skiffs “propelled by the unique Intha technique of leg rowing — in which one leg is wrapped around the paddle to drive the blade through the water in a snake-like motion” (Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma)).
No labor-intensive watering system is needed for the amazing floating gardens at Inle Lake. Instead, locals float man-made islands of matted organic material across the fresh water lake. “Anchored into place, the islands are sturdy enough for crops to root successfully, and then the roots simply keep growing into the lake below, thus having access to as much fresh water as they require without the need for the farmers to continually keep them hydrated.” The creation time for these floating fields can “take up to 10 years until submerged, matted organic matter has formed.” The process can be hastened by dredging the silt from the lake floor and adding this to the newly formed islands. This is thought to make plant life more fertile. (Inhabitat: Myanmar’s Inle Lake Shows Bridge to Ancient Hydroponic Farming Systems).
I love it once we leave the wide open spaces of the lake and delve into one of the many waterways through the stilt house villages. These villages are so picturesque and charming.
Once in the village, we head to Nga Phe Chaung Monastery, a peaceful teak wood monastery built on stilts over the lake. Dating from the end of the 1850s, the monastery is known for its collection of ancient Buddha images.
The monastery is known as “Jumping Cat Monastery” because the monks once trained cats to leap through hoops; they put on cat-jumping shows for tourists. However, my guide tells me that the monks no longer stage such shows. In fact, the cats I see today seem quite lazy, napping in strips of sunlight on the warm wood.
I find some wonderful views of the floating gardens from the monastery. It’s possible to rent a hot air balloon at Inle Lake but the price is very steep. It would be an excellent place for a hot air balloon ride because you’d get excellent views of the gardens.
Wandering around the monastery grounds, I find teak-covered walkways, lush gardens, and monks going about their business.
I can’t resist taking a picture of my replacement flip-flops, the ones I bought at Mount Popa when my Havaianas were stolen by the shoe-minder. Believe me, these are not nearly as comfortable as mine. 🙂
I wander across the little bridge near the monastery into the gardens and village across the water, but I don’t go far.
I find a shaky-looking footbridge.
Finally, it’s time to take off and go back out on the lake. At this point it’s only 9:45 a.m. We’ve already done so much exploring, and the day spreads out before me with the promise of more adventures.
Back on the water again, we head to another village where we stop at a weaving workshop and a silver workshop. We also stop at a workshop where long-neck women weave scarves, as well as another pagoda and more of the beautiful Inle Lake.