Inle was quite a let down for me personally. I had been dreaming of this place with dark blue waters and one legged fishermen for literally years.
Back when it was tough for tourists to enter Myanmar I saw a photo of Inle Lake and promised myself that I had to get there one day. And one day, I did. And got mostly ripped off and saw more tourists than actual fishermen.
Boat Tours on Inle Lake
You will hear the same travellor stories of the Inle Lake boat tours, they stop for ‘shopping’ mostly at jewellery or silver shops disguised for the unknowing tourist as a ‘genuine local cultural factory’ and the boatman will get commision for anything you buy. When booking the boat tour I requested and reiterated many times ‘no shopping!’ and on this account, it was good, we didn’t shop. Well apart from a stop at a market that certainly wasn’t the famous 5-day one we were promised and was just selling tourist crap and food at tourist prices. The peanut brittle I’d bought for 50kyat in a village the day before was now 500!
Later we discovered that the 5-day market hadn’t even been on that day! If you want to see the legitimate 5-day market double check the days that it is on as it changes weekly, you can’t necessarily trust the hotel reception to tell you the truth if they are the ones selling you the boat tour, so ask around the town in agencies instead.
‘Points of interest’ on the tour
Long neck women zoo/circus act: whatever word you want to use for an upsetting set-up that turns these women into a tourist attraction with herds of tourists treating them like animals in a cage and not like real humans. They don’t even really live down on the lake, the 3/4 women are brought down from their home in the hills so that they can sit in the pretend weaving workshop and have their photo taken. It was a hugely awkward experience, especially when as we were looking around the ‘workshop’ a herd of asian tourists arrived and didn’t even speak to the women, just starting taking photos of them and then threw them a couple of dollars and left – seriously it was like a zoo! Awful awful stuff.
Indien: Doesn’t seem like a legitimate village anymore and is more set up for the boat tour tourist drop off than anything else. We tried to go exploring alone, but started being followed by a local guy who became our shadow for a while. As we were walking through the older stupas a monk appeared and began what looked like telling off the local guy, who then ran away. The monk explained that this guy always follows tourists without their permission and then demands money for showing them around. SO thank you Mr Monk for helping us not get ripped off one more time!
One-legged fishermen: Didn’t get even close to any real-life happenings of the lake on our boat tour, just fake fishermen who want money after you take a photo of them holding a fake fish.
Sunset: Didn’t get to see sunset because the woman who organised it from Lady Princess Hotel is utter shit. We just about managed to organise it ourselves though, just about!
Floating Gardens: Boating through the floating gardens is like being on the ‘Its A Small World After All’ kids ride at Disneyland. A factory line of boats just going round on what seems like a conveyer belt. You may get a better guide, but ours didn’t give any information about where we were, what we were looking at, how it worked? Even when we asked these questions to him we got the same simple answer over and over ‘ floating gardens’ ‘tomatoes’. Nevertheless it was interesting to see a bit of life on the river, but the experience did not feel genuine.
5-day Market The clue is really in the title, it is only on for 5 days so do double check with a couple of different travel agencies if it is on the day you are going on the tour if it something you really want to see. Otherwise they will take you to just any old market that is there everyday full of tourist gunk. We were taken to this one, where foreigners even had to pay more to use the toilet! and a market seller told us the old colonial watches he was selling were all fake and actually made in bulk.
So all in all not the amazingly peaceful and magical day I’d hoped for. Maybe my expectations were to high, or I got the wrong boat tour. The lake really is spectacular and on the quick ride across from south to north after the Kalaw trek I did see some of that, however the tours that follow the herds to the same places, just have no soul to them.