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Burma: Crafts on Inle Lake

The absolute must-do activity when visiting Inle Lake is to take a boat trip. Goes without saying doesn’t it? But, I don’t think any previous boat trips, tourist tours or guidebook research could have prepared me for the richness of experience I had on my day on Inle Lake. There is so much to share with you from this one day I had during my travels that I need to spread it out over several posts. Today I want to talk about the thriving craft traditions on Inle Lake.

The daytrip starts early. The guesthouse owners had booked one of the local boat drivers and guide for us, and we feasted on a huge breakfast at the crack of the dawn to get going before all the other tourists.

Inle Lake is just under 45 square miles in size, so pretty big. Most of the tour I took covered the Northern end of the lake. The morning started with a visit to a local morning market, followed by visits to a number of craft workshops around the lake. Most of the homes and workshops consist of wooden buildings built on stilts on the lake. The Intha (people of Inle Lake) have adapted to life on the lake, and it is common to see floating crops such as tomatoes.

our guide on Inle Lake
house on stilts

There is a strong craft community on Inle Lake. The tour took me to several workshops workshops where I watched the creation of pieces that were to be sold to tourists in their shops. Of course, I am sure that our guide would earn commission on anything we bought from each place, but I never felt pressurised to buy anything. Every place I visited, I was warmly greeted. In some of the workshops the younger people spoke English and so were able to talk through the process of their craft. It was fabulous to watch and learn about.

Silversmith

The first stop was a Silversmith workshop. Here a group of men worked with an interesting furnace, bashing the metal wire into shape before crafting lovely pieces of jewellery.

silversmithing jewellery

Handmade Paper

Next, at the Paper Umbrella workshop two girls worked with paper pulp to produce lovely hand crafted paper products not just limited to umbrellas. They were beautifully painted.

handmade paper

Lotus Silk Thread

At the silk workshop I watched the long and fiddly process of extracted lotus silk, spinning and weaving into stunning products such as scarves and skirts. There were two very enthusiastic older ladies who operated the wooden machinery like pros. They didn’t speak English but demonstrated through sign language what they were producing. It was fascinating.

lotus thread silk weaving

Handrolled Tobacco

Not necessarily a product for me, but interesting nonetheless, the handcrafted cigars were rolled by a group of young women who talked through the process with me. I considered them to be a lot younger, teens maybe, but they insisted that they were 18. They had incredible skin!

rolling cigars

Blacksmith

And finally, I became mesmerised at the blacksmith workshop. Here I watch a hand-pumped kiln used to heat metal, which was held in place by one brave fella whilst 4 other men wielding large sledgehammers bashed away at in rhythm. It was incredible. And of course, of interest to someone with a Blacksmith of a brother.

brave blacksmithing

I truly wish I had had enough dollars to buy some of the wares I found at Inle Lake – there was beautiful craftsmanship on display. But alas, I told myself to be sure to visit again in the future, but this time with an extra large suitcase and a wodge of cash.

*if anyone would like to see more photos/detail from this post let me know and I’ll create a flickr album*