The unique leg-rowing technique of Intha Fishermen of Inle Lake
One of the ”not to be missed” must of Inle Lake in Myanmar is the encounter with the Intha fishermen. Most lake traffic consists of long, flat-bottomed wooden boats which they generally have noisy and polluting diesel motors. Despite that, the Intha fishermen still conserve the traditional leg-rowing technique.
They are well known throughout Asia for their unique way of rowing, using a leg to hold the oar instead of their arms as usually the fishermen do, and also recognisable for their conical fishing nets, acrobatically handled by their legs and arms.
When you see them fishing, they stand at the stern of the small and unstable wooden boat, and it seems that just an extra millimetre ahead and the water would flood inside sinking the vessel.
Our local guide told us that the upright position has many advantages. First of all, they can see across the lake to spot the dense hyacinth weeds that are scattered just below the surface of the lake because during the dry season the average deep is only around 2 meters.
The other important thing is that they can keep watch for the tell-tale bubbles of shoals of fish and keep both hands free to handle the cumbersome nets. Using this rowing technique having a so sharp sense of balance is a result of practising it since childhood.
We had been told that the fishermen learn the tough skill from the age of 10. The practice is just for the men because the Intha women still row in the usual style, holding the oars while sitting in the boat.
Looking at the basket net, you’ll notice a spear sticking through the top of the frame. The spear is used to stir the many weeds below, exposing the fish. The fisherman can feel the fish bumping against the frame and releases the net to capture them.
Nowadays you’ll find many of them waiting for tourists at the end of Nyaung Shwe Canal and trying to earn some tip in the change of showing their “traditional movements”.
Despite that, it’s still a local characteristic not to be missed during a boat trip around the beautiful Inle Lake.
Need to know
1) When to go
The best time to visit most of Myanmar is from November to February during the dry season, when temperatures are relatively bearable. The worst time to visit the central regions of Myanmar is during March, April and May as temperatures can rise to over 40°C. The rainy season is from June to October, but, despite that, is still possible to visit the central region (Mandalay/Bagan) since it is more sheltered from the monsoon while the coasts are not recommended because they receive torrential rains.
2) How to get there
The closest airport is Heho, 35 km from Nyaung Shwe. Once there, take a taxi to reach your accommodation. You can also reach Nyaung Shwe by Night bus from/to Yangoon (9 hrs), from/to Bagan (9 hrs)or Mandalay (7-8 hrs). Even though the ride is very long and takes time, the seats are very comfortable. We caught the Lumbini bus company to go back to Yangoon. You can check on 12go.asia.com and book your ticket to reach Inle Lake or other Myanmar destinations.
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3) Where to sleep
The best place is Nyaung Shwe, the base for all the activities and tours, located on the north side of the Inle lake. Here you can find a wide range of affordable accommodations. We slept at Inle Apex hotel, just 5 minutes walk from the canal. You can look for your accommodation through 12Go.asia.com or booking.com
4) Where to eat
Nyaung Shwe offers a good choice of restaurants, from Burmese to Indian, Thai and Chinese. Our favourite restaurants are Thanakha Garden and Asiatico Pub Inle. Click here to see the list of the best restaurants and their customers’ reviews.
5) Activities on the lake and tours
From a boat trip to a flight with a hot hair balloon, biking, hiking, photography class and photo walk, meditation retreats or beautiful religious sites like Kakku. The choice is wide. You can arrange your tours with a local tour agency in Nyaung Shwe; alternatively, you quickly book your activities and tours through the web platforms as GetYourGuide and Viator that offer good choices with affordable prices. You can try to go straight to the canal (Strand road) where boats are located and haggle the price for a day trip but sometimes is not so easy to find a seat during the high season due to the many tourists.
6) Local guide and guide book
If you are looking for an experienced local guide that can lead you around the wonderful Myanmar, we suggest you Miss Htay Htay Myint (FB: Htay Htay Myint-Titty).