Inle Lake lies in the cool green highlands of the Shan State, an area of outstanding natural beauty and cultural interest. For centuries the Intha have developed their own unique lifestyle on and around the shores of this beautiful lake. They live in houses built on the water and even grow their vegetables on the matted silt and weed floating beds they secure to the lake bottom with bamboo poles. Their means of transport are small canoes they skilfully row with one foot while perched precariously on the other, and fishermen are seen at sunset and sunrise teetering on the sterns of their boats as they cast their nets over the waters. Every October during the annual festival the lake is full with thousands of boats carrying devotees bringing flowers and fruits as the images make a tour on a golden barge.
A travelling market makes a round of the villages completing a circle every five days offering visitors the best chance to see the people of the region. Pa O nationals live over the mountains and they journey for miles through thick forests to trade their wares or do their shopping. The Intha are also skilled in weaving thin, colourful silks or thick cottons, creating finely wrought silver jewellery and objects d’art. They even produce a linen-like fabric woven out of filaments pulled from the lotus stems, the only fabric of its kind in the world.
Above all Inle Lake is a place of peace and tranquillity. Lakeside hotels, many of them on stilts in the local style capture the mood perfectly. Slow boat rides at sunset through fields of lotus plants are the most romantic, while those with more energy can go trekking to the villages on the banks of the lake, or the monasteries perched high above The lake is a perfect staging point for other attractions in the region. The caves at Pindaya are well worth a look with thousands of old images inside the various caverns. Further away, the old British hill station of Kalaw is a great place to escape the heat and take leisurely walks amongst the pine trees and rambling Tudor bungalows. The most spectacular event of the year is undoubtedly the fire balloon competition held every November in Taungyi.
Here thousands of near hysterical people congregate to watch scores of giant paper animals being inflated and float off into the skies above the town. A couple of hours of driving from Taungyi takes you to a 16th century pagoda complex called Kekku, first seen by those outside of the region only in 1995. Over two thousand pagodas are clustered in a small valley, surrounded by thick woods and lush meadows. In March, the usually deserted place teems with thousands of Pa O nationals who camp out for three days to celebrate their most holy of festivals by chanting prayers, offering fruit and flowers and lighted candles.