The lake swamped with tourism

inle lake, myanmar, burma, boat tour of inle lake, tourism in myanmar

The lake swamped with tourism

  |   57 Comments

Inle Lake, Myanmar

The beauty of Myanmar’s Lake Inle comes not just from the nature but from its relationship with the people who live on it. Towns growing from the islands, houses suspended above the water, and floating commerce that takes place between them all.

The lake is the livelihood of these people – the fish beneath the surface provide their daily meals and also the means of trade with the communities on the shore. But increasingly the lake is bringing the residents of Inle a new source of income – the tourists who arrive by the boatload every day.

And US dollars speak louder than Myanmar kyat. Any enterprising businessperson can see that the daily bread will be worth more than the daily fish and so the financial diet of the lake is changing.

inle lake, myanmar, burma, boat tour of inle lake, tourism in myanmar

inle lake, myanmar, burma, boat tour of inle lake, tourism in myanmar

inle lake, myanmar, burma, boat tour of inle lake, tourism in myanmar

 

It means that as a tourist to Inle Lake you are seen as a floating ATM rather than a curious visitor – which is the opposite of most places I’ve been to in Myanmar. To explore the towns and sights on the water you need to take a boat and you are, in a large part, captive to the operator’s itinerary. The cost of hiring a boat is low (about $20 for the day for a boat which holds up to 5 people) but it is cheap because the hire companies and the captains will earn even more from commissions at the shops they take you to.

inle lake, myanmar, burma, boat tour of inle lake, tourism in myanmar

inle lake, myanmar, burma, boat tour of inle lake, tourism in myanmar

Inle Lake boat tour

There’s a pretty standard itinerary that you’ll be offered and it will include things that sound interesting on paper – a local blacksmith, a weaving factory, cigar-makers, boat builders. But these are all just fronts for the shops attached to them. The blacksmith, for example, has a few men working over the searing fire in one corner and then three large rooms of metallic souvenirs for you to purchase.

inle lake, myanmar, burma, boat tour of inle lake, tourism in myanmar

Perhaps the most extreme example comes at the house of the Karen women who lengthen their necks with metal rings. Three women at the end of the house will happily pose for photographs before some friendly assistants will walk you through the shop, pointing at the purchasable items apparently made by the women. I’m not sure the Karen people traditionally lived on Inle Lake so I’m not sure what they’re doing here. It feels as authentic as the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas.

inle lake, myanmar, burma, boat tour of inle lake, tourism in myanmar

inle lake, myanmar, burma, boat tour of inle lake, tourism in myanmar

What could be a beautiful part of the country and a beguiling look into a unique way of life becomes a tour through a shopping mall. The Venice of the East, this could be, with romanticised notions of lazy canals and timeworn houses on the water. Instead it becomes… well, like an actual Venice of the East with tourists nodding politely as they pass each other on the water and queues of boats tied up outside restaurants chosen by the captains (inevitably based on commission).

inle lake, myanmar, burma, boat tour of inle lake, tourism in myanmar

Even the fishermen in the lake will happily pose for photos and then paddle up and ask for money. You have to wonder whether they’re even bothering to put a line in or whether they earn more from redirecting their efforts to the hundreds of boats of foreigners who come by each day.

inle lake, myanmar, burma, boat tour of inle lake, tourism in myanmar

inle lake, myanmar, burma, boat tour of inle lake, tourism in myanmar

Inthein temples, Inle Lake, Myanmar

One exception is probably the (optional extra) trip to Inthein, which has been described by some as a mini Bagan. Shops line the arrival area of the boats and the path to the main pagoda but then they fade away as you enter the Buddhist compound. The hundreds of ancient stupas and temples, all packed in together with the trees growing through them, are an incredible sight. And the whole area is practically deserted, the only other eyes coming from the heads of the statues, which thankfully have nothing to sell.

inle lake, myanmar, burma, boat tour of inle lake, tourism in myanmar

inle lake, myanmar, burma, boat tour of inle lake, tourism in myanmar

inle lake, myanmar, burma, boat tour of inle lake, tourism in myanmar

All of that’s not to say that it isn’t interesting to spend the day on Inle Lake and you don’t see things with are authentic and intriguing. Life does go on around you and you can capture an awareness of how it is when all the boats return to the shoreside towns and resorts.

inle lake, myanmar, burma, boat tour of inle lake, tourism in myanmar

inle lake, myanmar, burma, boat tour of inle lake, tourism in myanmar

The views of the water with the birds flying overheard are stunning and the communities which have survived for generations in the centre of it all are fascinating.

inle lake, myanmar, burma, boat tour of inle lake, tourism in myanmar

inle lake, myanmar, burma, boat tour of inle lake, tourism in myanmar

Just be prepared to feel like you are on a Disneyland ride, gliding along with a camera and no control. I haven’t felt so disconnected as this during my entire time in Myanmar which is a real shame because it’s the relationship I’ve been forming with the country that has been the highlight. Not Inle Lake.

You might also like to check out my free Myanmar Travel Guide
57 Comments
  • Kellie | Feb 25, 2013 at 8:40 am

    I spent some time in Myanmar back in 2010 and absolutely loved it. It remains one of my favourite destinations to this day and one I hope to return to this year. But I found myself leaving the country curious about what the increased tourism would do to it, so I read your article with interest.

    As a traveller it’s always difficult to see the negative aspects of tourism creep into a country that has just opened itself back up to the world. But it’s also hard to begrudge locals seeking an opportunity to make more money to improve their lives. I’m not sure what the solution is….

    Am enjoying your Myanmar post and photos, keep them coming 🙂
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    • Michael Turtle | Feb 26, 2013 at 3:11 pm

      I would have loved to have seen the country a few years ago. I imagine it has already changed quite a bit since 2010.
      I know what you mean about not begrudging the locals – of course you can’t do that. But as a visitor it is sad to see somewhere lose its authenticity. And even for the locals, it will be sad if their culture gets diluted just to take advantage of tourism. Everywhere has progress and every country changes over time… but you do hope its organic and for the better.

      • Kellie | Feb 26, 2013 at 8:29 pm

        Completely agree with you! The best ‘compromise’ (for choice of a better word) is finding a way to take advantage of tourism income whilst promoting (and maintaining) your culture. Take for Bhutan for example – a country that has a ‘high value, low volume’ approach to tourism, with a strong cultural identity.
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  • Maria | Feb 25, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    When I was in Cambodia I experienced something similar regarding commissions. Tuk-tuk driver “A” would talk up one destination, bus company, tour, or store while “B” would select another but the most popular scored because they paid the highest commissions for a single tourist and you, as the tourist have no idea that’s what’s happening unless you get an insider to talk.
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    • Michael Turtle | Feb 26, 2013 at 3:12 pm

      I think commissions are an issue in lots of countries. Sometimes I happily go along with it because it’s no skin off my nose and it means I’ll get something done easily. But I’m always very wary when I think it means I’ll end up somewhere I don’t want to be. Then it’s easy just to put your foot down.

  • BlogDaz | Feb 25, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Is this a glimpse in to the future of tourism in Myanmar, if so I think in your case you came at the right time. Still, some great photo opportunities came your way (via the good old dollar), and a great many tourists will appreciate these opportunities.

    Let’s just hope that the natural unspoilt Myanmar you have shown us so far does not become staged, fake, and a hard sell.

    Great photos again Michael.
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    • Michael Turtle | Feb 26, 2013 at 3:14 pm

      There were a lot of ‘tour bus’ groups going around Inle Lake in boats and I did wonder what they thought of it all. I should have asked. These are the people who haven’t had much connection with the local culture because they’ve just gone from resort to resort without having to think. They probably loved it because everything was served up easily on a platter for them. Perhaps I’ve just become a bit too jaded and cynical for this kind of thing.

      • BlogDaz | Feb 26, 2013 at 4:15 pm

        Too true, they want it on a plate, it’s the easy option. I certainly wouldn’t say you’ve become jaded, you’re just not mainstream, and you like to get in touch with the places you visit.
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  • Leyla Giray | Feb 25, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    I love your story and I love your photos and they break my heart. Last time I was at Inle Lake was in the late 80s I think – tourism was in its infancy and we were curiosities. People wanted to meet foreigners and invite them into their houses. Occasionally we would organize a meal in someone’s house and insist on paying for it. Tourist shops? No such thing. The closest you could come to shopping was the boat market on the lake. I remember trading a T-shirt for a blanket, since non-local consumer goods were so rare. My T-shirt was from ‘faraway’ Thailand, a Singha beer logo splashed across it… I understand local people need to benefit from development opportunities. I just wish there was a way for that to happen without depleting the intrinsic value of a place.
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    • Michael Turtle | Feb 26, 2013 at 3:18 pm

      Oh, Leyla. Every time I hear one of your stories about “being here in the 80s” or the like, I get so jealous. It would have been fascinating to have seen Inle Lake 25 years ago. So different to today, I imagine.
      It is a tricky issue because, of course, the local people should be able to benefit from the tourists. But I would prefer to pay an entrance fee or something, rather than be taken from shop to shop. (Incidentally, you do actually have to pay a $5 entrance fee to get into the Inle Lake area, but I don’t imagine the locals see any of that money. It probably goes straight to the government!)
      I think what’s been lost is that aspect that you’ve mentioned, where there is a legitimate exchange of cultures. It’s still like that in many parts of Myanmar where people wanted to spend time with me and just talk about things. Inle has just got too popular, I think.

  • The Time-Crunched Traveler (Ellen) | Feb 25, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    We didn’t get the chance to visit Inle Lake, but I would love to — even if it’s touristy and I’m taken to shop after shop. But I know what you mean … it seems to have a different feel than other spots in Myanmar. It’s such an amazing country, isn’t it?
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    • Michael Turtle | Feb 26, 2013 at 3:19 pm

      Such a beautiful place – and this did certainly not take away from it. It was just a very different experience to most of the other places I went. I hope you get a chance to go back and see Inle Lake sometime. You won’t regret it.

  • Michael Hodson | Feb 25, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    Sadly, you run into the same issue in every tourist spot. Are they doing everything just to turn the tourist buck, or is this their life.

    On the other hand, the tourist buck is good for their local economy. I think we can all wish for the “good old days” for them, but in most cases, they want what we all want — more prosperity. And foreign money means that also.

    Great shots and thoughts, Michael
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    • Michael Turtle | Feb 26, 2013 at 3:30 pm

      Thanks, Michael. It is a tricky issue and I certainly don’t think there’s an easy answer.
      Progress is inevitable. I mean, people don’t go to Sydney and get disappointed they’re not seeing a convict colony! But I guess the difference is whether the change is organic and whether it is actually good for the local people and doesn’t corrupt the culture. I get upset when I see fishermen posing and asking for money, rather than just fishing. That to me is not progress – that’s selling-out.
      It would be good to find a way to invest money in the lives of the locals without forcing them to pander just to the tourists. Perhaps a percentage from the hotels has to go to the villages, or something like that. Otherwise Inle Lake will just become like a Disneyland Venice ride in a few years’ time.

  • Jemma | Feb 25, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    I hope they’ll really take care of Lake Inle since it’s not just a tourist attraction but also their main source of income and food.
    The ancient people really amaze me. I wonder how they designed and constructed the Inthein temples.
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    • Michael Turtle | Feb 26, 2013 at 3:30 pm

      That’s a really good point about the lake being their source of income and food. I didn’t get the sense there were any environmental issues arising from the tourism numbers, but it’s definitely something they’ll need to keep an eye on in the coming years!

  • Daniel McBane | Feb 26, 2013 at 2:37 am

    I was at Inle Lake in 2011 and was taken to pretty much all of the places you mentioned, except for the Karen house. I don’t think they were even in the area in 2011, since I never heard them mentioned and I’m sure our guide would have taken us to see them if they had been there, which seems to confirm your suspicion that they may only be at the lake as a tourist attraction.

    As for the Mandalay Bay in Vegas…..I never understood how they came up with that name, considering Mandalay doesn’t have a bay and is nowhere near the sea.
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    • Michael Turtle | Feb 26, 2013 at 3:36 pm

      Yeah, good point, what is the deal with the Mandalay Bay? I mean, Mandalay does have a river, so I suppose you could kind of have a bit of a bay there, but nothing worth naming a huge resort after. And, from memory, there’s nothing particularly Burmese about that casino. It’s not like they only accept crisp clean US dollar bills (like in Myanmar). I’d like to see the reaction from people having their $100 notes rejected because they are dirty!! 🙂

      • Daniel McBane | Feb 28, 2013 at 11:26 pm

        You’re right, the casino actually has a distinct Caribbean feel, right down to the spiced rum scent they pump into the air. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the person who came up with the name actually thought Mandalay was in the Americas.

        I do see one similarity though: whether you take your crisp $100 bills to the casino or the money changers in Yangon, chances are you’ll leave with less money than you came with.
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  • Laura @Travelocafe | Feb 26, 2013 at 10:00 am

    Looove your photos! Myanmar is on my list, though I’m not sure when I will get to visit…
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    • Michael Turtle | Feb 26, 2013 at 3:37 pm

      Sooner rather than later. That would be my advice. Although the weather isn’t good the whole year, so take that into account. If I was you, maybe this time next year would be a good option!

  • mabaydar | Feb 26, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    Karen Long neck women are there for ages. they are not there for tourist attraction. They stay there for quite long already. They do sell things and of course hoping tourist would buy from them. Their plus selling point is allowing taking photos of them. I don’t want many of you to think everything and everyone is for tourist attraction.

    They are not animals to be place there for tourist attraction. They are just making their living there. If that is not their selling point to make living, their tradition have been long gone for tourist to see.
    At least there they are making their own living by selling things.

    In Thailand, they, who migrant or refugee from Myanmar, are advertised as tourist attraction and need to pay entrance to see their village (which sound like zoo to me).
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    • Michael Turtle | Feb 26, 2013 at 3:41 pm

      I know what you mean about the Karen people in Northern Thailand. That’s actually quite a sad situation because, as you say, they’re often refugees from Myanmar who have no financial option but to charge money for photos from tourists, because they don’t have any other kind of support.
      I’m not so sure that the ones at Inle Lake aren’t there also for the tourists, though. From what I understand, it seems to be a bit different because Shan State is at least their natural home area and I doubt they have been ‘forced’ to go to Inle. But I don’t think they were living in this house, weaving and making clothes, before the tourists started coming. I think it is a business as much as anything else where someone sees potential customers and starts up a shop.
      Once again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing for them and their lives. But it does take away from the authenticity of visiting Inle Lake as a foreigner.

  • mabaydar | Feb 26, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    As for the fisherman posing for the photos, normally Myanmar like to pose in the photos for tourist. Even if you don’t pay, they will still pose. Coz Inthar are proud of their culture, rowing with legs and all.

    But Most tourist might have spoiled some by giving tips or money to them for posing which I do not encourage to do so.

    So In my opinion, tourists may take their photos of them posing or what so ever, but don’t make the habit of giving money if you still want Myanmar to unchanged coz of tourism.

    Don’t really give our more money just bcoz it is cheap for you. Be equal fare as local, (unless there is clear rules that tourist must give more than local). This comment is not only for this blogger. For all the tourist, please help keep our genuine smile.

    I enjoy reading your blog sooo much… Keep posting and thanks for sharing about my country.
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    • Michael Turtle | Feb 26, 2013 at 3:49 pm

      By the way, thank you so much for finding my blog and commenting. It’s fantastic to hear from a local about your views on tourism.
      Everyone I met in Myanmar had such a genuine smile and it’s one of the things I loved so much about the country.
      I’m sure you will never lose that! 🙂

      • mabaydar | Feb 27, 2013 at 12:48 pm

        haha… I always searching about Myanmar trip report on internet. I love to read tourist view for my country. Some of the things i don’t even notice are highlighted in their post.
        I hope our genuine smile would not disappear. Sadly, it starting to disappear for local to local. Coz of irresponsible tipping, now they don’t want to serve local. They just eager to serve tourist… haha…
        (I said Irresponsible) So It’s okay to give tip if their service is really worth it.

        Btw, I just visited Sydney last two week. You have lovely country as well.
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  • Donna | Feb 26, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    Nice article, although I don’t really agree with your title..Inle Lake is hardly similar to Disneyland…I think you are indulging in hyperbole just to sell your blog post…now who is selling out? 🙂

    I was in Inle in October during one of the lake festivals and still found it to be very moving, the boat processions and the people were wonderful, and hey, just because it’s colorful or looks interesting to tourists doesn’t mean it’s necessarily “inauthentic.” How authentic is it to fly in to an area and make judgements about the people and how they make their living when you are able to jet out… and they are left to make a living, send their kids to school and yes, buy cars and satellite televisions if that’s what they want? One of my favorite quotations (think it’s Theroux but I could be wrong) is “People living in Third World countries have no obligation to live third-world country lives for the benefit of tourists travelling there.”

    So what if the boats take you to a few shopping opportunities? I was starved for things to buy and would have welcomed having more things to buy and places to shop and buy local products. The guide on the boat always asked me what I wanted to see and if it sounded interesting…and I’m sure the boatmen learn their ropes based not just on commissions but on where the tourists and yes, tour groups, go. How would they really learn what tourists want? It’s not as if we are part of their cultural background…if people from Myanmar visit your home where would you take them?

    Last in my rant, is that the environment is being quickly degraded from tourists and local alike dropping trash, water bottles, and take out styrofoam in the lakes. The guide association is working hard to encourage responsible tourism but who are the ones gripping single-use water bottles? Mostly the tourists., and we are teaching this behavior to Myanmar people. A lovely environmentally conscious woman in Myanmar also told me that a lot of the environmental damage is caused by the fertilizer runoff from the tomatoes grown on the famous “floating farms” in the middle of the lake, which is causing algal bloom and fish die-offs..but these tomatoes are trucked all over the country and have nothing to do with the tourism industry.

    I find it amazing that tourists want to experience the “authenticity” of a country and then believe that their comforts, desires and photo opportunities take precedence over the real life of local people.

    Sorry to rant…I’ve been holding this in for a long time!!! 🙂

    • mabaydar | Feb 28, 2013 at 5:14 pm

      Exactly you make the point… I like your words about “Third world country”… We have no obligation to live third-world country lives for the benefit of tourists travelling. As the country grown, there are inevitable some changes will be happened.

      There are tourist who wish for luxury and conveniences in Myanmar. I have seen some blog which complained about Myanmar not being conveniences.

      Thank you for your comment.
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    • Michael Turtle | Mar 10, 2013 at 9:49 pm

      Hey Donna,
      Thanks for your rant – I think you’ve raised really important issues. I’m going to stand by what I’ve written (despite the potential for hyperbole) but I do agree with the Theroux quote. My point is not about communities having to stay exactly the same for the benefit of tourists. It’s about building a legitimate economy and having organic growth that isn’t based on sacrificing your culture for the foreign dollars.
      If communities put too much of an emphasis on tourism, they lose their originality and their authenticity. They become Vegas, or Cancun, or Kuta – places that could really be located anywhere in the world, they lack that much local culture.
      Luckily Inle Lake is not anywhere near those examples, but if the trend of increasing visitor numbers continues, there’s a risk of going that way. Hence my hyperbole 🙂

      • Lisa Smyth | Sep 14, 2014 at 3:01 pm

        I was at Inle Lake recently and I also found a very similar experience. Pretty much everything you have touched on in you blog is true. As for the Karen women I asked our guide and he said they don’t come from the region so the ones you see are definitely there for the tourists and the photos opportunity to which I declined. I was sad I even relented to go see them in fact.

        Inthein was great but they seem to be on quite a large revamping campaign there also where everything is being “restored” and painted gold! Persinallu I believe the charm of this sight are the ruins twisted up with nature. As an architect I wonder how sensitive this intervention is in terms of true conservation.

        This shopping tour on a lake is my absolute hated form of tourism and no matter where I go I try to avoid it which as you say it quite difficult when you are on a boat.

        I did a tranquil bike ride around the lake and nobody bothered me so there are other options but the majesty of the landscape and the symbiosis of the people who live along the lake shores is best felt from a boat. Your final comments ring true in that regard despite the carnival feel to the boat trips there is still a beauty here but this constant type of unsustainable tourism will slowly erode that. It might not be Disney yet but it’s getting there and I remain intensely cynical about my time at Inle Lake.

  • Nate | Feb 27, 2013 at 6:34 am

    Great, honest, write up. I visited in 2010, and even then, in the capital city of Yangon I barely saw another tourist. In fact, I don’t actually remember seeing another tourist, apart from at the Shwedagon Pagoda, where their was only a small handful.

    I absolutely knew that Myanmar would soon be over-run with tourism, and I think that’s a great thing.
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    • Michael Turtle | Mar 10, 2013 at 9:56 pm

      I don’t think you notice it as much in Yangon. I’m not sure whether there just aren’t as many tourists there or if it’s just because they get diluted in such a big city. That’s probably why I noticed it so much at Inle.

  • Andrew | Feb 27, 2013 at 8:26 am

    Very fascinating story. I’ve felt like that in a few places on my travels and it really isn’t pleasant. Though it is a torn thing between wanting to support people and sites both in a sustainable way and without me having to buy stuff to lug about.
    Definitely works into the sustainable travel aspect of things.
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    • Michael Turtle | Mar 10, 2013 at 9:59 pm

      Sustainability is an issue that’s going to become more and more important in travel, I think, as tourism numbers grow all around the world. This is perhaps just an extreme example from a country that is starting from a very low base.

  • Jo (The Blond) | Feb 27, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    I also did the Inle Lake tour and had a slightly different experience. We agreed with our guide to go to less know places as well as to the commercial hubs. We went to far south of the Lake and it was really great. No one wanted to make money on us and it our guide was really fair and charged us a good rate.
    My advice is: do a research and look for recommendations of good guides who do bespoke tours. Don’t use the tourists offices. Inle Lake is so large that I you will always find something different.
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    • Michael Turtle | Mar 10, 2013 at 10:04 pm

      Yeah, the south of the lake is definitely worth it… although there are still quite a few stalls set up for the tourists at the places you would land to see the temples, etc.
      That’s good advice, though, about doing your research on a boat driver or guide. There are some options there (even if you have to pay a little bit more) to get away from the shopping trips. It’s just trickier than many other places because you can’t just wander around and look at things yourself – you need a boat and driver so you are beholden to them to a certain extent.

  • Jennifer | Feb 27, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    That’s really too bad that it has become so touristy and that things seem to be forced upon you. It otherwise looks like a beautiful area.
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    • Michael Turtle | Mar 10, 2013 at 10:06 pm

      It sure is beautiful! And, despite what I’ve written, definitely worth visiting!

  • Vicky | Mar 3, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Amazing story Micheal, and great pictures too. You’re an inspiration…
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    • Michael Turtle | Mar 10, 2013 at 10:46 pm

      It’s a very photogenic place. Thanks, Vicky!

  • Vinay | Mar 4, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    Love your pun Michael, especially this one, “It feels as authentic as the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas” Indeed Karen woman are not native of this area, they are probably been brought here as exotic show pieces for foreign tourists and make more money of the dollar variety.

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 10, 2013 at 10:48 pm

      Yeah, that was my impression about the Karen women too, although this is the vague area of Myanmar where they are from, I don’t think they lived on the lake.

  • Craig | Mar 4, 2013 at 11:25 pm

    Sorry Michael but I think you are giving a totally false impression of a wonderful place to visit. I was there only a couple of months ago & really loved it. Yes there is a worry about how the area is going to change as the numbers of tourists increase but to compare it to Disneyland now is ridiculous. We saw 2 posing, fake fishermen at the mouth of the river as you first come on to the lake who were only there to get there picture taken. They were dressed exactly like the ones in your pictures. The dozens of other fishermen we saw on the lake were there to fish, weren’t wearing fake uniforms & were not interested in posing. That didn’t stop us watching them doing the traditional leg rowing & getting some good pictures. If they acknowledged our presence at all it was with a wave & a smile & that was it.
    As for being taken to commission paying shops & restaurants, it is something that happens everywhere & when you are getting a private boat, boatman & boatboy for the whole day for $20 you have to accept that they need to top up there income a bit. If you don’t like it pay a bit more money & plan your own trip. We found it was a pretty good balance between seeing the sites & getting taking to shopping opportunities some of which were actually really interesting. Late in the day when we had enough of shops we asked our boatman not to take us to any more & he accepted that happily enough especially when we gave him a decent tip.

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 10, 2013 at 10:57 pm

      Well, you say that being taken to commission-paying shops happens everywhere, but not anywhere else in Myanmar (at least, not for people who aren’t on the big tour buses). I suppose that’s my point – that in comparison to the rest of the country, Inle Lake stands out as somewhere that is chasing the tourist dollar at the detriment of their culture. As I’ve said already, I don’t begrudge them that, but it’s something to be aware of as a visitor.
      After so many experiences where local people looked after me, showed me their towns because they were proud of them, stopped to chat because they were interested, etc, it was a bit of a shock to be confronted with so much overt commercialism.
      As you say, there are ways to avoid it here and that’s to be recommended. But to deny it’s happening is naive.

    • Donna | Mar 11, 2013 at 4:36 pm

      Craig, I agree with you. I took hundreds of photos of people on the lake…children, farmers, etc etc…and never was asked for anything.

      I don’t mind being taken to commission shops, it’s easy to not buy anything if the price doesn’t suit. I find it far preferable to be taken to shops than not have any shopping opportunities at all. As I mentioned above, we love to shop and were disappointed there was so few places to buy anything…We actually ended up driving around Nyaung Shwe with our eyes peeled for anything that resembled a shopping opportunity. The places that are really rip offs are the commission shops in places like Hong Kong or Thailand..to compare Myanmar at this stage is ridiculous.

  • Henry Assam things to do | Nov 22, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    Nice Information you have share with us. Thanks for sharing.
    You may be interested to the Kaziranga National Parks

    • Michael Turtle | Nov 29, 2013 at 12:31 am

      Thanks for alerting me to Kaziranga. I’ve not been to India yet but I hope to get there someday and see it for myself.

  • “Want to see the long-necks?” – on the tourist trail Part 2 | anothernewleaf | Mar 5, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    […] First stop was a floating market. Inle Lake is typically listed as one of Burma’s ‘Top 5’ attractions and Wikitravel had warned us that there’s a standard itinerary of visits to workshops and shops-on-stilts selling products like woven fabrics, silverware, tobacco and handmade cheroots, all set up for tourists. Time Travel Turtle advised (on his blog), ‘Just be prepared to feel like you’re on a Disneyland ride, gliding along with a camera and no c… […]

  • Www.Youtube.Com | Aug 31, 2014 at 4:53 am

    If everyoneis involved this video displays ways to transform your IP address to view French Television programs like M6 Replay online from everywhere.

  • Joe Louis meets the Karen tribe: Backpacking Bear | Oct 7, 2014 at 7:23 am

    […] -Time Travel Turtle […]

  • Hunter Walker | Apr 4, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    Just finished my second trip to Inle Lake after my first 3 years ago, and I can say that changes are taking place, mainly due to the large influx of tourists following the so called ‘opening up’ of the country. Large ‘out of scale’ hotels are springing up in Nyaungshwe; the lake area entrance fee for tourists has doubled to $10 (as have all the tourist fees), although the boat charges remain the same, and generally the lake attractions are busier.
    Interestingly, Lisa touched on an important issue in her comment. As a conservation architect, I am appalled by what is happening to the old structures at Inthein. This is a unique site with over 1,000 stupas (or zedis) concentrated in a relatively small area. As with the temples at Angkor in Cambodia, time and nature have transformed the structures, giving them a wonderful aesthetic and sense of history. The term we like to use is ‘parasitic sublimity’. However, over the past few years, a so called programme of renovating these structures has been taking place and donations from well meaning individuals are noted in plaques at the base of ‘renovated’ stupas. Unfortunately, the Burmese and general Buddhist idea of renovation is totally at odds with recognised conservation practice and consists of rebuilding as new, in concrete with a gleaming coat of white and gold paint. Thus the delicate balance of nature and decay, instead of being preserved and stabilised, is slowly being transformed into the Disneyland experience mentioned in the original blog. Despite suggestions that a recreated, replica collection of new structures could be built on an adjacent site, work continues apace and I fear that it will not be long before this treasure (and let’s face it, wonderful tourist attraction) is lost forever.

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 12, 2015 at 1:54 pm

      That’s so sad to hear about what’s happening at Inthein. After the rather commercial feel of the shops on Inle Lake, I really enjoyed seeing the temples there because it felt a bit more natural. If they are going the same way, that’s a real pity.
      I really hope there is some development plan for tourism at Inle Lake (although that’s probably wishful thinking). It can’t just keep growing because it’s so unsustainable. It is such a beautiful part of the country but all that will be lost if it’s overrun by tourists and the authentic aspects of life there are all destroyed.

  • Shane Dallas (The Travel Camel) | Dec 31, 2015 at 8:14 am

    Great post (as usual). I was in Myanmar at the end of 2011 – just before economic sanctions were lifted and the tourist boom began. What you described at Inle did not happen to me at all – wasn’t taken to one shop and was never asked to pay for one photo. That partly could have been the boat tour I organised or it could have been a sign of those different times. Prices jumped dramatically in 2012 – a neighbour went less than a year after me or their prices were 25%+ more than what I paid. Whilst, there I hiked to the east of Inle Lake (not west around Kalaw like most people) and that area was rarely visited by tourists. Though it was peak season, I was the first tourist to visit in 2 weeks. Perhaps some of these largely untouched areas remain, one just needs to find them.
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    • Michael Turtle | Jan 17, 2016 at 3:39 am

      That’s so interesting to hear about the changes in just a few years. It’s now been three years since I was there so I would be curious to hear what’s happened in that time. I do agree with you, though, that there are still parts of Inle Lake where there aren’t too many tourists. I went cycling along the edge one day and things were a lot more local and nobody was trying to hassle me into buying things, etc. Those organised boat tours are a whole other matter, though…

  • Adrien Pasquier | Apr 4, 2016 at 11:53 pm

    I think those women with long necks actually are Padaung, not Karen. And you’ll find in any guidebook a shitload of warnings about that money-for-photo system. What doesn’t mean that everything there is a robbery, at least for the moment. The items sold at the blacksmithes’ place, for example, are actual handcraft, I’m pretty sure about that. If you go to Inle Lake, just don’t be too naive, that’s it.

  • Susan K. Coti | Apr 9, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    I am sitting in the lounge of the Pristine Lotus Spa and Resort at the moment having spent my first day here at Inle Lake. I wanted to get out of Yangon where I spent two steaming hot weeks in a cramped apartment on a trash-strewn street that had daily power outages. I thought I would get away to beautiful Shan State for the weekend before returning to the States. Michael, your article is very accurate and depressing. To add more depressing information about Inle Lake, it is seriously polluted. My guide informed me that the local people cultivate their floating gardens of tomatoes eggplant and cucumbers with large amounts of pesticides. When I asked him about the safety of eating the fish from the lake, he assured me that the fish don’t like swimming among the gardens and leave to other parts of the water that are cleaner. Hmm…and since the water level is way down, the piles of trash on the banks of the lake are distressingly visible too. The Karen woman is still there. I didn’t want to take a photo with her. I felt it was disrespectful. My guide told me that these “long-neck ladies” and their people came to Shan State because they were discriminated against from their homes near Thailand. Finally, I felt embarrassed riding on those loud and dirty motorized canoes while passing the local people paddling quietly along the lake. I thought how they must hate this intrusive noise but probably realize it stimulates the economy so they put up with it. What I thought would be a quiet getaway became anything but. I told my guide I wanted to go back to the resort after four hours on the lake with stops at all the places you mentioned. I couldn’t wait to sit on one of the patios on this beautiful property and just relax. I purposely chose this place because it’s located on the far side of the lake and is a 45-minute boat ride to all the action. Tomorrow I’m going on a six hour hike. That trek will hopefully take me somewhere more peaceful.

  • 7days | Sep 22, 2016 at 9:08 am

    Wow your pictures is amazing and i love your sharing pictures .I like hiring a boat in Myanmar and next journey in Myanmar.
    Thank you for our blog.

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