Shan State, Let us introduce you to the awe-inspiring scenery of the Shan Hills, the colourful five day markets, and help you experience a bit of the Intha way of life while enjoying its sunny climate, hospitality and relaxed atmosphere.
Located within the hills of the Shan State is the indescribable Inle Lake. It is the second largest freshwater lake in Myanmar and is approximately 2,900 feet above sea level. The culture of the people is not like the rest of the country, and they have preserved their customs and way of life for hundreds of years. The inhabitants of the lake are called the Intha, and their unique way of living will surely impress. Everything from rowing a boat to growing vegetables and fruit is unlike anywhere else. A few days around the lake enjoying its cool climate and wonderful insight will give you a new perspective on life. One of the first things you will notice on this 22k lake is the fishermen. They have a very strange way of rowing their boats; they use their leg to assist in the work. Balancing on the tip of the boat the Intha fishermen propel their handmade boats around the lake for work and pleasure. You will also witness the fishermen using strange cone shaped nets to catch various fish for their family as well as for the markets.
The floating gardens are another fascinating site to see. The locals support themselves by growing fruits and vegetables year round, including tomatoes, beans, cauliflower, cabbage, eggplant, garlic, onions, melons, and bananas. The plants are grown on a marshy soil based mass that is extremely fertile and staked to the bottom of the lake with bamboo. Of all of the places you visit in Myanmar Inle will be the one you remember most fondly. The friendly hill tribe people, ancient pagoda’s, colorful festivals and natural beauty will give you a life time of memories. Once you’ve experienced Inle you’ll want to return again and again.
To begin your day on the lake you will meet with your local boat guide at the canal entrance to the lake. You will board your private long tail boat equipped with chairs and lifejackets. As you begin your journey down the canal to the lake you will pass by local people going about their daily lives. You will quickly realize that Inle Lake is like no other lake in Myanmar. Once you hit the lake you will be overwhelmed with the view of mountains surrounding you in every direction. The calm waters reflect the sun and give the lake a magical feel.
Your first impression of this lake will be magnificent. Seeing the local people going about their day as well as the magnificent scenery makes this trip both scenic and cultural. There are many sites to visit on the lake including floating gardens, monasteries, pagodas, and local villages. The lake and surrounding hills are home to hundreds of tribes, and visiting their villages on the lake will really make you appreciative of your own home. As you cruise up and down the different, streets, waterways you will pass by hundreds of homes build on stilts and some are made entirely of bamboo. It is a real treat just to see the locals going about their daily routine.
You can’t miss the one of the most amazing features of this lake, the floating gardens. The locals use a very unique way of growing vegetables on the lake. They use a combination of dead water plants and silt from the lake bottom to make a floating mass that will support plant life. The gardens are in long rows, like a farm, staked to the bottom with bamboo. It seems as the rows go on forever. You can see the bamboo poles sticking up out of the lake for what seems to be hundreds of acres. The plants are predominately tomatoes, because the locals have found that the plant really thrives on these floating soil masses. You will pass by hundreds of rows of gardens filled with green and red tomatoes, and you will also see the local women paddling up and down the rows harvesting their crops to sell at the local market.
While traveling around the lake you will witness the local fishermen using their unique leg rowing techniques to get around the lake. This is truly an astonishing balancing act. Standing on one leg and using the other leg to row the fishermen can multitask as they propel and steer their boat around the lake. Although they make it look easy, but it is not. It takes years of practice and extreme balance to be able to master this amazing feat. As you glide across the lake be sure to capture some photos of the fishermen, these will be some of the most prized photos you can get on the lake.
After lunch you can visit In Dein which is a collection of pagodas on top of a hill on the lake. The boat trip up the canal is rather interesting. You will go upstream through a collection of handmade dams that restrict water flow and make the canal deeper. It is more like a theme park ride than a river cruise, as the boat charges through these homemade channel locks. Along the way you will pass some even more remote village people doing everything from fishing to bathing. If you’re lucky you may pass an ox or two taking a dip in the water to cool themselves off after a long day in the fields. Once you reach the end of the canal you will find yourself in a small village. To get to the pagoda you must hike up a long set of shallow stairs, and as you venture to the top you will pass multiple vendors selling all sorts of local goods. Once you reach the top you will find yourself in a very peaceful and tranquil spot. As you gaze out at the lake and countryside the surrounding stupa bells will ring as the wind blows. It is an amazing place to just sit and relax.
On your journey around the lake you will also go by a silk, cotton, and lotus weaving workshop. Here you can witness the amazing craftsmanship that goes into weaving traditional shawls and longyis. It takes a day or two to finish one piece of clothing. Even more impressive that the weaving is the lotus string, pieces of lotus flower stock is cut and separated to form a workable string. It takes hundreds of stalks of lotus to get just one roll of useable material. Although the finished product is rather pricy, the uniqueness is priceless.
After spending a few days cruising the lake and seeing what it has to offer you will leave with a piece of Myanmar in your heart. This stunning lake surrounded by picturesque mountains will be one of the most remembered destinations you have ever been to.
Pindaya Caves are located in the Shan State about a three hour drive from Inle Lake, in the town of Pindaya. This small town does not have much to offer besides the caves and a lake, but a day trip from Inle is well worth the time. At the entrance to the cave there is the Shwe U Min Paya (Golden Cave), a 50 foot all pagoda to mark the importance of the cave. As you enter the nearly 500 foot long cave you will notice that it is filled with thousands of Buddha images, and it is said that there are over 8,000 images of Buddha within the cave dating from the mid 1700’s to present day. The images are made of various mediums such as alabaster, teak, marble, brick, lacquer, and cement. As you explore the cave you may have to do a bit of crawling to reach some of the side chambers where you may come across a monk or two meditating. It is a real treat to visit the large stalagmites inside the cave, and they can be struck with a wooden hammer to produce an interesting gong sound. Once you have wandered the caves you will realize why these caves are very important to the Buddhist religion.
The two hour drive from Heho Airport to the town of Pindaya is one of the most beautiful drives in the country. You will go through the Shan Hills where you will see a balanced collaboration between native peoples and their environment creating a slow harmonious vibe that resonates throughout the hills. These rich green hills are covered in farmland, and you can see the red dirt roads cutting through the countryside. Along the way you will pass ox carts and herds of cows, and don’t be surprised if your driver has to stop to let the local herders pass by. The rolling hills cut up with farmland provide an excellent landscape view for this wonderful drive.
Upon arrival in Pindaya you will find that the town is quite small, but it provides a harmonious mixture of cultural exploration and pure relaxation. After checking into your private bungalow you can begin to explore the city. The main attraction is nestled in the hill side above the city, Pindaya Caves.
At first sight you will find a gigantic spider which depicts some of the folklore behind the caves. Once you climb the stairs to the entrance to the cave you will find a tall pagoda inside the cave surrounded by thousands of Buddha figurines. At first glance the cave seems to be smaller than anticipated, but this is not true. After you wander through the maze of Buddha images you will find a small pathway that leads to cavernous open caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites. The cool moist air and the low lighting really give this cave a tranquil vibe. There are a few small openings throughout the cave that must be entered by hands and knees, and if you’re brave enough you will find yourself inside a mediation room built in the walls of the cave. One of the best ways to enjoy the cave is to sit in the serene silence and let this euphoric atmosphere take over your senses.
After exiting the caves, take a ride in the glass faced elevator that will provide stunning views of the countryside as you glide back down to the bottom of the hill. As you make your way back to the city center you will go through a small cluster of massive banyan trees. Their huge white trunks branch out to fill the view with lush green that provides shade for the local farm animals to seek shelter from the sun.
Your next stop of the day will be at a local Shan paper and umbrella making workshop. Locally owned and operated the family of craftsmen and women will surely impress you. Their use of simple handmade tools and traditional processes make their art of umbrella making look easy. Their sheer simplicity and calm relaxed way of life makes this stop a must see on any trip to Pindaya. Throughout your trip to Pindaya you will find yourself thinking that you wished you could live here. The relaxing life pace and stunning countryside make it a welcomed stop on your journey throughout the heart of Myanmar.
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