Fisherman culture of Inkle lake

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live above water, on a lake? What life would be like surrounded by water. People who live on the Inkle lake have formed a culture of living on water. And the Fishermans oc Inkle lake has become a unique tourist attraction for people. From leg-rowing fishermen to ancient monasteries and vibrant floating markets, Inle Lake is a must-visit destination for anyone visiting Myanmar!

Apart from the famous Bagan or Mandalay, exploring Inle Lake by boat should be a priority when visiting Myanmar. Over the past few years, Inle Lake has gained popularity among the foreign tourists and it’s easy to see why: the scenery is breathtaking, it’s surrounded by nature and it’s still untouched by mass tourism. Inle Lake, a freshwater lake located in the Nyaungshwe Township of Taunggyi District of Shan State, part of Shan Hills in Myanmar. It is the second largest lake in Myanmar with an estimated surface area of 44.9 square miles, and one of the highest at an elevation of 2,900 feet. During the dry season, the average water depth is 7 feet, with the deepest point being 12 feet. During the rainy season, this can increase by 5 feet

(Photo Credit Unsplash)

The people of Inle Lake, live in four cities bordering the lake, in numerous small villages along the lake’s shores, and on the lake itself. The entire lake area is in Nyaung Shwe township. The population consists predominantly of Intha, with a mix of other Shan, Taungyo, Pa-O, Danu, Kayah, Danaw and Bamar ethnicities. Most are devout Buddhists and live in simple houses of wood and woven bamboo on stilts; they are largely self-sufficient farmers.

Transportation on the lake is traditionally by small boats, or by somewhat larger boats fitted with single cylinder inboard diesel engines. Local fishermen are known for practicing a distinctive rowing style which involves standing at the stern on one leg and wrapping the other leg around the oar. This unique style evolved out of necessity as the lake is covered by reeds and floating plants, making it difficult to see above them while sitting. Standing provides the rower with a view beyond the reeds. However, the leg rowing style is only practiced by the men. Women row in the customary style, using the oar with their hands, sitting cross legged at the stern.

Complete villages are built in the waters. The houses are standing on tall wooden stilts, ready for the floods coming with the monsoon, when the Inle Lake becomes 9-times as large as its current size. Everyday life is very busy around these villages. Hundreds of small motor boats and paddle boats are cruising the canals, fishermen are everywhere, looking for their daily catch, peasants are collecting seaweed to fertilize their gardens, vendors sell their goods from their boats. Many women do their chores on the stairs of their houses: washing clothes, dishes or even themselves and their children in the water of the lake. Bigger kids swim and play in the water, asking the boats passing by to splash water over them with the propeller of the engines. In between the villages you can always point out – and visit if you like – pagodas, monasteries and stupas, which make the view even more stunning.

(Photo Credit Unsplash)

And there is of course the unmissable romantic sunset over Inle Lake! Beautiful colors, the water is smooth like silk, birds gather to get ready for the night. And suddenly the leg rowing fishermen appear to show their acrobatic skills with their cone shaped net, using the paddle to turn and move the boat with one leg only. And behind them the Sun slowly descends.


Out in the wider stretches of the lake the fishermens are at work in the intense sunshine. Their unique method of rowing with one leg is famous and their conical nets fascinating to see as well. The men know where the fish will be and position the basket like cone in the water, agitating it to stun the fish, and then hooking them into a net. These are placed in baskets and transported live to tanks under the houses. There is no refrigeration here and so any fish need to be kept as fresh as possible before eating. The small children on the boats were out learning all the tricks of the trade and eagerly watches as the nets are raised.

Village life on the lake

(Photo by bckfwd on Unsplash)

As human beings are social creatures, there must be villages around the lake. Huge woven baskets are suspended from the shoulders of men and women as they walk along the paths towards the market. Somewhere on Inle Lake, there is a market each weekday and it is quite a community event. The bright orange turbaned ladies had walked for three hours from the hill tribe areas to trade green tea for fish which they took back up to their villages. There is a riot of color from the spice stalls where women look for their cooking ingredients. There are no gas stations here and so a lot of the fuel is sold by the side of the road, ready to be poured into engines.

Floating gardens on the lakeWhy waste the huge source of water you can see right infront of you? Well a garden may make great use of this water. People who live on the Inkle lake have floating gardens on the lake. Inkle lake is one of the largest salad producing areas in Burma and the reason became clear when the pungent and aromatic scent of garlic, and tomato plants filled the air. These were the Floating Gardens of Inle Lake where rows of fruits and vegetables were being cultivated. Water hyacinth roots had been gathered as they clogged up the waterways. Cucumber, eggplant and tomato all makes their way to local markets and towns bringing in much needed income for the villages on the lake.

Boat tour tips

You’re likely already aware that boat trips on Inle Lake are the most popular things to do in the area. This is due to the fact that life at Inle Lake is largely built on the lake itself. If you can help it, we highly recommend an Inle Lake sunrise boat trip. Leaving early will mean you will catch the best light as you visit the pagodas and spot the authentic Intha fishermen on their morning trips. Also, starting early will mean you will avoid the hot Burmese sun, which is anything but pleasant on an uncovered wooden boat in the middle of the hot season. Since you’ll be wanting to leave at first light, it helps to have a boat tour booked and ready to go. The day before is fine. If you want to catch a glimpse of the authentic Intha fishing lifestyle, let your boat driver or guide know in advance and they won’t pull up in front of the posing fishermen.

Due to the recent tourism boom at Inle Lake, large hotel chains and Chinese-run tourism businesses have taken advantage of the new demand. It goes without saying that tourism dollars should go straight back into the pockets of the local people. Research a book a tour that is run by and delivered by locals. Before you lock in and agree to an Inle Lake boat trip, make sure you ask what is included in the trip in advance. It helps a bit with bartering when you know what to expect in advance. Here is a small list of things to look out for during your boat tour:

  • Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda – a beautiful monastery
  • Ywama Village – local floating market
  • Inn Dein Pagoda – ancient Buddhist site
  • Maing Thauk  – bamboo-stilted village
  • Silk and lotus weaving shops
  • Cigar rolling shop
  • Pa Daung Women – longneck tribespeople’s weaving shops
  • Nga Phe Kyaung – jumping cat monastery

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