Inle Lake Life: Bamboo, Ancient Pagodas & More

Shwe Indein Pagoda, Inle Lake, Myanmar

Life on Inle Lake is simple yet refined – pagodas, open-air markets and hand-made boats of all shapes and sizes dot the lake

Inle Lake in Shan State, Myanmar, features a myriad of pagodas and more!

For more on Inle Lake, Myanmar: Hand-Rolled Smoke & Blacksmiths: Click Here

For more Out and About on Inle Lake: Part 1: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Inle Lake: Click Here

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Shwe Inn Tain Pagoda

Life revolves around the water for the Shan people of Inle Lake. Bamboo, however, is what sustains it. From boats to housing to bridges and lacquer ware,  it’s bamboo that makes it possible for the Shan to keep on keeping on. Having already taken in blacksmiths, cigar and clothing factories and some iconic scenery like one-legged fishermen, it was time we saw how the people make their life possible. Our stop at the Hein Thapyay Bamboo Shop gave us a first-hand look at how dishes, plates, hats and more are made solely from hand.

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Fashion and function, crafted into one

Perhaps the third ingredient for life on the lake is religion. The Shan are deeply religious and having seen the Hpaung Daw U Pagoda in the village of  Nyaung Shwe, I thought we had seen the gist of Inle Lake Buddhism. Then we arrived at the ancient Shwe Indein Pagoda (Shwe Inn Tain Pyay) near the small fishing village of Indein. The quiet hillock is located on a busy little stream that the locals fish, bathe and wash their clothes in.

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The twisting and turning Indein Creek is laden on both sides with paddy fields and it isn’t uncommon to see water buffaloes and farmers strutting about, but I digress, the Shwe Indein Pagoda is a huge hill filled with hundreds of ancient, destroyed and newly-built stupas of all colors, shapes and sizes. To reach them, you’ll have to walk up about 700m worth of  footpath in your bare feet. Each side of the walkways are lined with souvenir and gift shops with vendors hawking everything from puppets to longyis and fabric and every other sort of tzotchke you can think of.

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The older stupas, gray and serene, were built around the 8th century (some sources say between the 14th and 18th centuries). We arrived around 4:00pm and most shops and vendors, along with the few tourists on the lake, had mostly cleared out. This left us to take in the unrestored and natural, overgrown beauty of the pagoda to ourselves. It can be an eerie place, as the only thing you can really hear standing among the hundreds of centuries-old pagodas is the light breeze and quiet wind. Truly an awe-inspiring and memorable place to behold.

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There are over 1,000 stupas in this Pagoda complex

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Further down the hill from this incredible section of unrestored stupas are a core section of more modern pagodas, each built with donations from all around the world. Some of the more recent pagodas are marked as recent as 2005 and in total, there are said to be 1,054 different stupas in this complex alone! For a little Myanmar legend, according to an inscription on a stone tablet, the Shwe Inn Dain Pagoda was built by India’s greatest emperor Ashoka Maurya (304-232 BC). There is no real archaeological evidence for this legend or others that claim the area was originally built up in 200-300 BCE.


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I hope you enjoyed reading about the trip to Inle Lake! I will post a repository of photos (you can take thousands of amazing photos in one day at Inle) under the “Explore Myanmar” tab at the top of the page. See you on the next adventure!

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For more on Inle Lake, Myanmar: Hand-Rolled Smoke & Blacksmiths: Click Here

For more Out and About on Inle Lake: Part 1: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Inle Lake: Click Here

Inle Lake, Myanmar: Hand-Rolled Smoke & Blacksmiths

Inle Lake, Myanmar

There is so much to see and do at Inle Lake, Myanmar, that you can spend days on the water and not catch it all

There are few places on Planet Earth like Inle Lake, Myanmar – it’s a must-see destination in Southeast Asia.

For more on Inle Lake: Bamboo, Ancient Pagods & More: Click Here

For more Out and About on Inle Lake: Part 1: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Inle Lake: Click Here

Inle Lake, Myanmar

September weather in Shan State can be a bit of a coin toss. The monsoon in Myanmar this past year hit several areas of the country rather hard and led to serious flooding and damage.  Not only were cities cut off from the rest of the country but even entire townships. Inle Lake was spared serious flooding and the weekend we spent there was quite nice during the day with overcast skies saving us the brunt of the oppressive Southeast Asian sun.

Inle Lake, Myanmar

The last post finished with a tour of the main village of Nyaung Shwe and the Hpaung Daw U Pagoda (also known as the Phaung Daw Oo or Phaung Daw U Pagoda). After checking out the city, we hopped back in our boat and headed to a hand-rolled cigar factory, one of the lake’s main tourist spots. While I prefer off-the-grid locales, this is definitely a spot to check out. Now using the word ‘factory’ is a bit misleading, as about 8 women seated around the floor of a shack on the water doesn’t quite make for mass production but it does make for a tasty mid-morning smoke.

Inle Lake, Myanmar
“Ugh, tourists always taking our pictures…”
Inle Lake, Myanmar
Lake-grown aquaculture tobacco, honey-paste for glue
Inle Lake, Myanmar
Palm leaves and corn-rolled filters
Inle Lake, Myanmar
Flavors include betel nut, coconut, honey, vanilla and more! I went with berry flavor

I also used the bathroom. How about that middle-of-the-lake plumbing and fully-functional toilet! But I digress, our next stop was the Khit Sunn Yin Lotus, Silk & Cotton Hand-weaving center. Some of the finest dresses and scarves come from Southeast Asia, with Laos and Myanmar particularly renowned for their weaving skills. I have to say I don’t know much about all that but hey, when in Rome… or in this case on the lake…

Inle Lake, Myanmar
Looms on looms

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Everything at Inle Lake, Myanmar, is handmade – from breaking apart the individual lotus branches to the threading and sewing. After perusing the factory we hopped back on our boat and headed to what might be the highlight of our trip to Inle Lake, a real, good ol’ fashioned blacksmith.

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Inle Lake, Myanmar

In Se-khong village, there is a blacksmith workshop which produces knives, swords, farming tools and more. Sold at different 5 different day markets around the Inle region, visiting the shop is a must if you want to see how things are done in the original form. Wearing traditional Myanmar longyis, the blacksmiths strike rhythmically and in turn on super-heated metal forming crafted swords that put Renaissance Fair enthusiasts to shame. I purchased a coconut-cracking dagger for a very reasonable 20,000 kyat (about $15 USD). Definitely worth the splurge.

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The modern-meets-traditional forms of production and life at Inle Lake, Myanmar, is really cool to take in. With so much to see and experience, one day doesn’t seem like nearly enough time on the water. Another example of this is modern-style housing with amenities such as electric, satellite television and plumbing built on bamboo shafts stuck into the lake and next to ancient pagodas hundreds of years old. I hope you enjoyed part 2 on the water and part 3 will come soon, with a trip to a bamboo factory and some unbelievably beautiful and ancient pagodas.

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Inle Lake, Myanmar

For more on Inle Lake: Bamboo, Ancient Pagods & More: Click Here

For more Out and About on Inle Lake: Part 1: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Inle Lake: Click Here

Out and About on Inle Lake: Part 1

Inle Lake, Myanmar, Burma

Inle Lake is home to unique fish species and a unique single-legged method to catching them

Myanmar’s Inle Lake is a massive body of water with full-on cities built right on the water with bamboo and even plumbing!

For more on Inle Lake: Bamboo, Ancient Pagods & More: Click Here

For more on Inle Lake, Myanmar: Hand-Rolled Smoke & Blacksmiths: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Inle Lake: Click Here

Inle Lake

Starting our day bright and early (and by skipping breakfast!) we headed out from our hotel The Pristine Lotus Resort on a small boat towards one of the most iconic places in Shan State, Myanmar (Burma), Inle Lake. There is nothing like taking a boat from your room straight on the water and heading down a small waterway towards the lake itself, we were both buzzing from excitement.

Inle Lake

 Our boat driver, whom we hired for the full day for 15,000 Kyat (about $13.00 USD), was in a chipper mood and with his basic English and my very basic and heavily-accented Burmese, we were able to communicate where he would be taking us. The simple explanation was everywhere! Our first stop was to see the famous fishermen of Inle Lake, complete with bamboo fishing traps, basic line and their unique one-legged fishing technique. The Intha technique, standing on the stern of the boat on one leg, apparently was developed as a way to get a better view of the water as the lake is covered by reeds and floating plants.

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Inle Lake

Inle Lake

 The peace and serenity of Inle Lake is truly something to experience. Set between two large ridges, the seemingly sleepy water poses in front of a backdrop of golden pagodas and green rolling hills. Water agriculture and houses made of bamboo and standing on stilts of the same wood line the waterways towards the main village of Nyaung Shwe and the Hpaung Daw U Pagoda (also known as the Phaung Daw Oo or Phaung Daw U Pagoda).

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The Kaylar Village floating garden, where locals grow tomatoes, peas, chillies and flowers
Inle Lake
The Intha (Hintha) Bird is a mythical creature believed to have golden feathers and can fly great distances
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Inle Lake taxis complete with umbrellas to shield you from the powerful sun

As we arrived in September, the area was buzzing for the Phaung Daw U festival and around 9:00 am you could see the lake waking up with water taxis sprinting about and farmers harvesting their crops. As we arrived to the main pagoda the town was buzzing. A literal town on the water and a market to boot. The Phaung Daw U Pagoda contains four Buddha images which have been turned into golden globes as each male pilgrim adds his own gold flake in homage to the Buddha.

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Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Just a short walk over a bridge from the market a barge in the shape of the Hintha Bird was being prepared for its annual trip around the lake. Bright gold and large enough for several dozen people, the barge carries the Buddha images to each village on the lake so locals can pay their respects. The trip is accompanied by paddling competitions, signing and dancing along with martial arts challenges.

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

For more on Inle Lake: Bamboo, Ancient Pagods & More: Click Here

For more on Inle Lake, Myanmar: Hand-Rolled Smoke & Blacksmiths: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Inle Lake: Click Here

Peaceful and Inspiring Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave, Shan State, Myanmar

The Pindaya Cave is a truly one-of-a-kind place unique to the hills of Shan State

Myanmar has so much to offer that you can’t find anywhere else in the world and the Pindaya Cave is a perfect example.

For more information on the Pindaya Cave: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my trip to the Pindaya Cave: Click Here

Pindaya Cave

Of all the places I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to visit in the world, one of the most impressive man-made creations interacting with nature is the incredible Pindaya Cave in Shan State, Myanmar. The natural cave has been turned into a shrine of epic proportions by the local Buddhists and what they’ve created on the side and inside the limestone Myelat ridge is a worthy destination for anyone.

Pindaya Cave

In order to access the cave, one must travel about 1.5 hours away from the Heho Airport and drive through the quiet but active town of Pindaya where you can take an elevator up 9 stories to the entrance of the cave.  The southernmost Pindaya Cave can be entered and extends for about 490 feet along a well-worn path. It is known for its interior which contains over 9,200 images of Buddha (there is some variation of this number). Some of the older statues and images in the cave have inscriptions dating to the late 18th century and the earliest one dates from 1773. There may be some images without inscriptions that are older, but based on the style elements some believe none of them is older than the early 18th century and even suggests 1750 as the earliest possible date. The statues and images come in all shapes and sizes and have been placed there on an ongoing basis by different donors throughout the cave’s history, from lay people to the ruling authorities. The collection begins from the early Konbaung era to the modern period. (Wiki)
Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Within the cave, there are about seventy unique images of the Bhisakkaguru tradition dating to the late 18th century. They are unique in that the styling of hair, eyes, nose, ears, robe are different from most other images from Burma. The salient feature of this type of image is the holding of a seed in the upturned right palm. Than Tun reports that such images are found nowhere else in Burma, and based on Buddhist iconography, that these images are from the Mahayana tradition, and the conjecture is that the Pindaya cave at one time served the Mahayana Bhisakkaguru cult. (Wiki). The fact of the matter is that each point is in contention as locals believe this cave and some of the images are thousands of years old.
Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

There is a 15-m (49 ft) pagoda named Shwe U Min (Golden Cave) Pagoda at the entrance to the southernmost cave. Local legend attributes this pagoda as being built by King Asoka and repaired by King Alaungsithu in the 12th century, but this is not corroborated by any other historical source. In its present form and style, it is immediately apparent that the pagoda is of recent origin.

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

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Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

There are many legends surrounding the Pindaya cave. One is that a blocked-off path at the end of the cave leads to the ancient city of Bagan. There is also the legend of the seven princesses bathing in a lake and how they were captured by a giant spider and trapped in the cave to be rescued by Prince Kummabhaya of Yawnghwe. Sculptures of the spider and the prince aiming with his bow and arrow have been added in recent times at the entrance of the covered stairway to the caves.

Pindaya Cave

After touring the cave (which took almost 3 hours!), we explored the outside and cliffs of the Golden Cave area which featured awesome statues and stupas as well as a game of Chinlone (Sepak Takraw) or as we know it, hackey sack mixed with football played with a ball of bent bamboo. We didn’t jump in, but it looked fun!
Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

For more information on the Pindaya Cave: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my trip to the Pindaya Cave: Click Here