The glassiness of Inle Lake is something I won’t forget just by itself, but the boat tour comprises a variety of Inle Lake attractions. If you go to Myanmar, you’ve got to take a boat around this lake for amazing photos of the unique life of the Intha.
Inle Lake is a huge lake in the Shan State of Myanmar. The fisherman of Inle Lake are famous for their unusual leg rowing but the lake itself has so much more going on.
There are homes on the water all built on stilts. There are lotus weavers, silversmiths, blacksmiths, restaurants, again all on stilts. There are even gardens and farms built on floating beds.
Everyone boats around from spot to spot. There are literally no roads here, instead there are paths through the floating plants.
I know, it sounds like I’m making this up! So let’s get to the photography and you’ll see.
These days the question of travel to Myanmar comes up a lot. When I visited, it was in the brief shining moment where it appeared democracy and tolerance had taken foot in the country, under the watchful eye of Aung San Suu Kyi.
However, a couple of years later, the news of the systematic killing of the Rohingya broke out, I was saddened to realize that perhaps it had all been a façade.
Today I would think twice before going to Myanmar, but at the same time, I don’t think the international community should withhold support to the people of Myanmar. Most are poor and have little to no say in what their military does, against them or the Rohingya.
So if visiting Myanmar, do be careful where your money goes and try to ensure it stays in the hands of the poorest who are simply trying to make a living. You can read more thoughts and suggestion in this article on ethical travel to Myanmar.
The Nitty Gritty
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Inle Lake Attractions
In addition to just being on the water, there are a lot of sights to see and stop at as you boat down the lake.
There are a number of ornate temples you can visit along the way. As you approach them be sure to position for a good shot.
Sometimes, the reflections can add a beautiful symmetry to the shots of the temples. All those spires reflected in the glossy water.
I know I’m breaking the rule of thirds here but the reflection makes it worth it.
And at times, the temples can be very unsymmetrical as well, like this oddball pagoda.
Fisherman of Inle Lake
The most famous sight is the fishermen of Inle Lake, who row using one foot to propel the boat.
It sounds pretty exhausting but they are so used to it, they make it look somewhat effortless.
This young man was especially graceful. I took a couple of shots and had a tough time deciding which one I liked best.
You want to overexpose on these shots. The lake reflects the bright sky and all that light tells your camera to reduce the amount coming in through the aperture.
But it will turn the fishermen into almost-silhouettes, so you need to compensate by overexposing by at least one stop.
That way you’ll be able to capture the details in your subject a lot better.
There are fishermen that will pose with their nets for photographs for a fee, but I’m generally not fond of those photos. I don’t know how paying for that will affect lifestyles of the fishermen and whether it will turn the area into a staged tourist exhibit.
So I just shot what I could see as we boated around.
We boated down pathways through these floating gardens – it was really relaxing and also overwhelming to see the 360° of beauty and sky and lake.
The pathways function a bit like water highways, there’s even “traffic” at some spots!
The monsoons had moved a lot of the plants when we were there, and we actually got lost in the lake at some point.
Pro-tip: Google Maps does not help you here. Ask for directions.
Artisans of Inle Lake
Along the way we visited weavers, blacksmiths and silversmiths that were all located on stilts along the river. These are all great locations for photography.
The lotus weavers create fabric painstakingly out of lotus plants. It takes a ton of the plants and time to make a simple scarf.
They are quite expensive but it makes sense when you think of the work that goes into each piece.
The workshops really send you back in time, everything made out of wood and bamboo and woven by hand.
This woman was dying the fabric in a little room, and the light was just amazing. Watch out for light streaming through windows and creating incredible atmosphere.
The silversmiths of Inle Lake get their raw materials from the massive mines of Burma, which were once the world’s largest sources of lead and silver.
Interesting sidenote, Herbert Hoover was once a mining engineer and the managing director of Namtu Bawdwin, the biggest Burmese mine in colonial times.
We actually saw a picture of him in the silversmith factory we visited, right above this young man who was melting silver.
A popular item that they make in these silver shops is a little fish made of interlocking silver pieces so that it is flexible. It’s quite pretty but I thought the little ones looked easily damaged. And the big guy – well, not sure I could fit him in my luggage!
Next up are the blacksmiths where you end up in an intensely hot shack where they are hammering iron. It’s quite a sight to see actually as the guys keep going one after the other hammering the metal.
As you float along you’ll see lots of little homes and villages on the water. Along with scenes from the daily lives of the people that live in this amazing place.
I kept thinking how crazy it was that they don’t ever walk to their neighbor’s house but instead they boat over.
Here a young girl helps her mom wash the laundry. Either that or she’s just messing around instead of helping – like most 12 year olds.
You’ll also see women and children bathing in the river but I prefer not to take pictures then – I figure I wouldn’t want someone to do the same to me!
This woman was doing the dishes and I liked the way the reflection lined up. Try to learn to use the reflections in your composition to make the shots more interesting.
Try to get wide angle shots as you cruise by, close to these structures, especially if you have a dramatic sky.
Hard to capture
Honestly, at Inle Lake, the hugeness of the sky and lake surrounding me seemed eternal and it’s hard to capture that feeling.
Definitely an experience worth having in person. I find that at times, it’s really important to also put the camera away and be in the moment.
I can still close my eyes and remember being on that lake. At the same time, I loved the possibilities for photography at Inle Lake. Do not pass this one up!
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