Everyone visiting Inle Lake in Myanmar’s hilly north-east has an image in their mind of an Intha fisherman rowing with one leg at the stern of a flat-bottomed canoe, past a backdrop of mist-shrouded mountains. Fortunately, most leave having seen their dream. Now, let’s see some beautifuls places in Inle Lake that you should visit when you come to Myanmar.
The administrative center and main market hub for the Inle Lake region is Taunggyi, seat of the Shan Council of Chiefs during the British colonial period. The town was founded by Sir James George Scott, a most respected colonial officer.
The Myoma market is visited in large numbers by the region’s hill tribes who flock here to buy and sell home-grown fruit and vegetables and to stock up on household essentials imported from China. In the city center, close to a monument to Bogyoke Aung San, stands the Taunggyi Museum (also known as Shan State Museum). It is small, but worth a look if you’re interested in the region’s hill tribes, with displays of 30 or so costumes from Shan minorities.
The main downtown pagoda is the Mya Le Dhamma Yon and there are several churches, some mosques and the huge Gurdwara Sikh temple to visit. On the outskirts of town is the white Sulamuni Paya which has a gilded corncob stupa that pays tribute to the Ananda temple in Bagan, and there is the ridge-top Shwe Phone Pwint pagoda with excellent views over the town and the distant lake.
The Mya Sein Taung Pagoda is built on a hill to the north-east of Taunggyi. The stupa has a height of around nine meters and the bronze Buddha statue inside is three meters tall. A beautiful northern view of Taunggyi can be seen from here.
Montawa Cave is situated three kilometers west of Taunggyi and it is accessible by car. It is a long deep cave with a narrow entrance and there are about 1000 Buddha images inside. The Aye Tharyar Golf Club with its 18-hole course of 7380 yards is situated near Taunggyi.
Further afield is Kakku Pagodas where there are over 2,400 stupas with origins dating back many centuries. Kakku is about 53km from Taunggyi. On the way, you can visit Htam Pagoda, located at Hti Han village, where there are about 200 pagodas which date to the 17th century.
Perched on the western rim of the Shan Plateau, Kalaw, 70 km west of Taunggyi, was once a favorite hill-station retreat for British officials and their families during the hot season. It has a beautiful setting amid bamboo groves, orange orchards and pine woods and retains a faded colonial atmosphere.
There is also a noticeably mix of people descended from the Sikhs, Tamils, Nepalese and Indian Muslims who were drafted in as a labor force in the late 19th century.
The British left behind some attractive gardens and Victorian buildings, but most visitors come here to trek in the surroundings hills which have peaceful villages of various ethnic tribes. The most popular trek is the two to four-day trek to Inle Lake.
Kalaw has a glittering gold and silver stupa in the center of town and many restored stupa at the Hsu Taung Pye Pagoda south of the market. The town hosts one of the region’s most vibrant markets, for which minority people descend en masse from the hills dressed in traditional costume.
A little outside town is the Shwe U Min Pagoda, a natural cave with hundreds of golden Buddha statues, but this is not to be confused with the much more impressive one near Pindaya.
Pindaya, a three to four-hour drive northwest of Inle Lake, is a quiet town perched on the bank of the placid Pone Ta Lote Lake which is famous for the extraordinary Shwe U Min Cave Temple, a huge, complex of limestone grottoes crammed with around 9,000 Buddha images. The figures come mainly from between the 16th and 18th centuries but are still arriving, and are made of gold, silver, marble, lacquer, teak and ivory.
The caves honeycomb a steep hillside above the town. They are accessed via a network of covered stairways and lifts leading to ornately gilded and decorated entrance pavilions. The Buddha statues are very much objects of active veneration with worshipper’s bowing before them and offering flowers and incense. At the entrance of the cave is a large bronze bell cast in 1842.
Foreigners are asked for a fee to enter the town and then a further fee for the caves. At the caves, a camera fee is asked for from anyone with a camera out in the open. Cameras in bags and cameras in phones avoid this charge.
The Sin Khaung Monastery is situated at the foot of the Pindaya caves mountain. It is built of wood, is in traditional Shan style and is over 200 years old. There are old bamboo weaving Buddha images and bronze statues inside the monastery.
The process of typical bamboo hat making can be seen at the village of Thayetkone. The frame is made of bamboo and the cover, of bamboo husks. Handicrafts of another sort are seen in Or Yaw where residents enjoy pottery and handicrafts making. They produce water pot, flower vases and toys for children. In Ngetpyawdaw visitors can experience the process of making umbrellas and traditional Shan paper.