Inle Lake – Myanmar (Burma)

Floating Islands and Jumping Cats

Inle Lake’s quiet magic is worlds away from the congested capital Yangon, offering a time-warp setting of serene waters, gentle light, and warm smiles. The tribal people subsist on fishing and farming their man-made floating islands, which are anchored to the lake’s shallow bottom by bamboo poles that eventually become rooted.

Settled centuries ago by the Intha, or “sons of the lake,” Inle is roughly the size of Manhattan, so motorized boats are used for long stretches, but most trips through the maze of canals at the lake’s edge are by flat-bottomed canoes. Of the twenty-some simple villages – some no more than a small cluster of fragile bungalows sitting gingerly on stilts – Ywama is the best known be­cause of its floating market, which takes place every five days. The hardworking Intha pile their canoes high with leafy greens, rice, melons, bright flowers, and the plump, tasty tomatoes for which Inle is known.

By 9 A.M. the market is winding down for the locals, and when the canoes show up bearing curious Westerners, all attention swings to the animated sale of bamboo hats, bundles of Burmese cigars, woven shoulder bags, tradi­tional silk and cotton sarongs, and carved wood Buddhas. If you miss the market in Ywama, make sure you go looking for it: It travels to other villages on other days of the week.

Of the many teakwood temples and monas­teries on stilts, Nga Phe Kyaung is the most curi­ous. Known as the “Jumping Cat Monastery,” its monks have trained their cats to do various tricks, demonstrating that maybe they have just a little too much free time on their hands.

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