I may have led you to believe my Inle Lake adventure was over once the hike was finished, however this just wasn’t true. After finishing our lunch, we said goodbye to our guide and jumped on fairly unstable boats, to explore the lake, as well as find out more about the community living there. Honestly, I thought these little boats, which only had one wooden seat in front of the other, were taking us to a bigger boat (even after all this time, I’m still naive). Silversmith workshop
After a fun ride down a smaller intersection of the lake, we arrived at a silversmith workshop. The production of silver hand made items is a long standing trade in Myanmar. The local craftsmen have spent years perfecting their technique in creating jewellery, trinkets and even house hold items. The silversmiths we visited was family run, demonstrating the transition of generations from grandfather to granddaughter, as well as different techniques.
Our second stop was quite clearly a tourist haven, with rows after rows of random items to buy. However, what separated it from the other shops, was the cordoned off section where three ladies from a local tribe called Kayan, were sitting weaving.
I’ve seen images of women from this specific tribe before, however firstly I didn’t realise they lived in Myanmar and secondly it still didn’t quite prepare me for seeing them in person…As you can clearly see, the women of this tribe are famous for their brass neck rings. There are many thoughts as to why the women wear these rings, however the most prominent is for cultural identity, which is associated with beauty. Generally people believe that the rings lengthen the neck, however it is in fact the weight of the brass rings that instead push the collarbone down, compressing the ribcage. The thought of this makes me feel a bit sick, especially as they start wearing the rings at five years old. But due to the Myanmar government discouraging the use of rings, as well as the younger generation now breaking the tradition, there are only a few remote villages continuing this form of dress.
The highlight for me was watching the overly excited Chinese tourists bracing the barrier to get photos with the ladies. If only I had captured this!
Lotus silk weavers
Inle Lake is one of the few remaining places where the ancient technique of silk weaving from lotus fibres is still present.
The first step of this process saw a woman with a basket full of lotus stems, gently snapping and expertly extracting the cobweb like thread from the plant, laying it on the table in front of her. The original thread appeared thin, however the more it was rolled together, the thicker it became. The thread was then dyed and either used on it’s own or added with silk for weaving. This part is incredible to watch – each bamboo step pushes down a certain coloured fabric, which in turn makes a pattern. One wrong move and unfortunately they’d be starting again from the beginning. The finalised products are then placed in the shop for customers to buy. As impressive as the process was, unfortunately the products were a bit too pricey for me and my budget, so sadly I didn’t buy anything.
Cheroot cigar making
With the clouds looking ominous, we finished our tour at a cheroot cigar making house before heading back to dry land.
These traditional sweet branded rose cigars, sold widely across Myanmar, are made from the following ingredients. The process sees women of all ages sitting crossed legged on the floor, hand rolling the mixture of ingredients into a cheroot leaf and sealing it with a white sticky liquid. We were lucky enough to try the finished product and honestly, it was the best cigar I’ve ever tasted.
An hour into our hour and a half ride back to the mainland, the clouds didn’t disappoint as the heavens opened. Already pretty soaked from having the worst seat on the boat (obviously), the rain still wasn’t welcomed. But help from an umbrella and the boat driver, I made it to the shelter. I left Inle Lake that evening, unfortunately feeling like there was still more to do and explore. But with only two weeks to see as much as possible, I had to move on.
Jessica Storm ✌️