Burmese Cat Sanctuary, Inle Lake. Mike Aquino.
During the rainy season from June to September, Inle Lake is simply stunning to see: a wide expanse of silvery green water fringed by floating farms, with mist-shrouded mountains in the distance.
As you move among the communities on the lake, it strikes you that you're among the most peaceful and laid-back people in the country, living as one with the rhythms of the lake.
Located at the Shan state's southern reaches, the vast Inle Lake stretches 22 kilometers from north to south and 10 kilometres from east to west. The Intha – the Myanma ethnic community who have lived by the lake from ancient times – form a group of tightly-knit villages around the lake's edge. Instead of roads, villagers ride boats on waterways to get from place to place.
As you cross over by water taxi from Nyaungshwe – the main point of entry into the Lake – you'll pass Intha fishermen rowing their boats with their legs (found only on Inle Lake) before arriving at one of the many villages around the lakes. Intha are skilled craftsmen, their wares constantly on offer as you hop from dock to dock: silk and lotus cloth; fine silver; wood carvings; and cheroots.
To experience Inle Lake life like a local, visit the five-day rotating market, which moves around each of the villages around the lake from day to day. The two pagoda around Inle Lake – the popular Hpaung Daw U Pagoda and the ancient Shwe Indein Pagoda – offer villagers and visitors some spiritual comfort.
Cat lovers should hurry over to the Inthar Heritage House's Burmese Cat Sanctuary to play with the Burmese Cats brought back from abroad to replenish the nearly extinct local population.
Fisherman at Inle Lake. Ministry of Hotels & Tourism
Five-day rotating market stall, Inle Lake. Mike Aquino.
Weavers, Inle Lake. Mike Aquino.
Floating gardens, Inle Lake. Mike Aquino.
Shwe Indein Pagoda, Inle Lake. Ministry of Hotels & Tourism
Similar Southeast Asia Experiences
Many other water-based communities exist in Southeast Asia – see them when you visit Vietnam's floating markets in the Mekong Delta; the lakeside communities in Tonle Sap, Cambodia; and the water village at Kampong Ayer, Brunei.