By Nina Ornstein
Inle Lake, Myanmar is worlds away from anything I’ve experienced before. Located near the Thai and China, this community nestled up in the mountains is extremely unique and self-sufficient. My mom and I saved Inle Lake for last because, due to restrictions, she had never reached this area when visiting in the 80s with my dad. While the beginning of our adventure retraced their steps, this was all new territory to her. Intensively studying up on the area, I was initially fascinated with the culture before understanding the geographical allure of this massive valley in the mountains. The impressive people of the Inle Lake, called Intha, use the lake as their source of life. They can get anything they need from the nature surrounding them, which creates a unique culture that is well worth a closer look.The 70,000 Intha live in four cities bordering the lake, in numerous small townships along the lake’s shores, and on he lake itself. Most transportation on the lake is traditionally done with small boats that fit one person, or by slightly larger boats with long-tail motors. Local fishermen are known for practicing a distinctive rowing style which involves standing on one leg and wrapping the other leg around the oar. This way the fisherman can look above the reeds and can find their way through the vegetation of the lake.Aside from the big fishing culture, Inle Lake has been a major Myanmar weaving center for over a century. The village of Inn Paw Khon is the center of the unique weaving techniques that can be found only here. Myanmar is known to make lotus fabric—and Inle Lake and its shallow waters create ideal growing conditions for the flowering plant. Everything, from the dyes to the finished scarves and longhis (traditional Myanmar sarong), is done here by hand. There are many more cultural traditions of the numerous villages around that focus on the lake and have distinctive features: fishing and commerce, gardens grown on floating beds built on water hyacinth rafts, unique housing shapes and types, and the annual Buddhist festival on the lake.The Inle Lake has gained more and more attention over the years. The place is absolutely beautiful and has an interesting culture that cannot be seen everywhere. This means that the lake sees more and more visitors every year and has to adjust to the change. Steps are being taken to protect the area from further man-made damage, including UNESCO making Inle as a biosphere reserve. The task of choosing where to travel when visiting Myanmar is quite difficult. We chose correctly when putting Inle Lake in our itinerary. Experiencing the traditions of this region together with my mom was an adventure I will never forget.