Although it’s the second largest lake in Myanmar its name literally translates to small (le) lake (in). Le also means four and initially, there were only four villages around the body of water so perhaps that’s a more logical translation.
Beyond the floating water crops at Inle Lake, I was amazed to see tiny wooden boats overflowing with produce. It must have been a good day for harvesting chives when I was on the lake as I saw many farmers taking their bounty of chives to town on their narrow wooden boats.
Lotus flowers were first turned into a decadent textile to create lotus robes for monks known as Padonna Kyathingan. It’s believed that the silky fabric robes have the ability to ease the mind making meditation easier. To make a single robe for a monk requires 100 feet of fabric. To create that much cloth over 220,000 lotus stems is needed for the silk thread. To get the job done relatively quickly, in 10 days, it takes 60 skilled artisans!
For a small scarf 4,000 lotus plants must be used. It can be hand knit on a loom in a day, but the threads for the scarf could take up to 20 days to prepare. It’s no wonder that lotus silk can be up to 10x the price of regular silk and is one of the most expensive textiles in the world!
The Padonma Kyar is a large pink lotus flower that grows wild at Inle Lake and is in full bloom during the rainy season–the ideal time to harvest them to create the luxurious thread. The fiber from within the stem of the lotus to produce this rare fabric entirely by hand and typically use all-natural dyes making this fabric incredibly sustainable, eco-friendly, and cruelty-free. One by one the stems are broken and the fibers are manipulated and rolled to become threads. The fiber is almost transparent and appears wet and delicate but it’s actually incredibly dense and durable–I try but can’t pluck through it with my fingers.
Beyond the expansive beautiful nature and rural way of life to witness at Inle Lake, there are also quite a few chances to learn about traditional handicrafts at various over-the-water workshops and cooperatives around the lake. These business are working to keep the unique cultural heritage alive. I was amazed to meet weavers that have a vegan method to create silk that I had never heard of before! I visited the Inle Treasure Hand Weaving Factory where I was shown the delicate process of Paw Khone lotus silk weaving.
For the quintessential Inle Lake experience it’s necessary to hire a boat from a local fisherman to take you on a tour. No matter where you go on your long-tail boat ride you’re sure to enjoy spectacular views around Inle Lake. Be respectful and don’t leave any waste or disrupt local life. Inle Lake is at-risk of ceasing to exist due to over-tourism and pollution. So much so that UNESCO has designated Inle Lake as a biosphere reserve to try to preserve the ecosystem.
When you start to hear rhythmic clacking sounds echoing over Inle Lake you know you must be approaching a silversmith workshop in the Ywama floating village. I visited the Aung Myint Mo Traditional Silversmith workshop and showroom. Yes, it’s a tourist trap. But you can politely decline the tea they offer and not buy anything if you wish. It's incredible to see the men at work manipulating tiny pieces of metal into beautiful pieces of jewelry.
A beautiful boat ride down the Indien Waterway took me through remote villages where I got short glimpses into the local lifestyle–monks washing their crimson robes in the river, massive water buffalo plowing land, and children gleefully playing along the banks of the water.