Inle Lake boat tour: buy handicrafts you’ll love

It isn’t hard finding your own ‘boatman’ in Nyaungshwe. Just walk towards Teik Nan Bridge and a driver will happily take you on board and guide you through his hometown: Floating Village.

Fishermen and locals collecting weeds

If you hear a sound from behind watch your boatmen, because there’s something you need to see! First thing to notice are the fishermen gracefully exercising their one leg paddle technique. They keep their hands free, so they can paddle and handle the (hoop) fishing traps together. You’ll also pass locals collecting weeds in traditional non-motorized boats. Umbrellas and Vietnamese hats are all around and very much needed. Long boats of the locals are packed with enormous bags of rice, colourful spices, bright flowers or lots of people.

Watching ordinary life passing by

Your boat will go around about 50 kilometers (30 miles per hour). You’ll get used to the noise of the engine quickly, although at times it might be hard to hear your boatman. Enjoy the wind for its cooling effect and watch the green oases with its wooden stilt-houses in the sparkling sunlight pass by. All the while ordinary life goes on in the floating city and you catch people washing, children playing and people harvesting in the floating gardens.

Traditional weavery and worldly prices

First stop in the boat tour is a weavery. A young girl shows you around – most likely whilst she should have been going to school – and explains how threads are made from lotus plants. The gathering of the fibre takes ages and although less smooth than silk, lotus is seven times more expensive. The girl takes you to different weaveries and ends her tour in the store. She stays with you all the time, hoping for you to buy something. Items are far from cheap, but are a good investment if you want to support local families working in handicrafts and know someone back home to make happy with a silk or lotus scarf as souvenir.

Silver jewellery with tea

Next up is a jeweller, unusually one where you don’t have to take off your shoes. Here you see how the silver is collected and refined using toxic chemicals. A fire is lit with an air pump, so it’s hot enough for the metal to melt. The craftsmen make their own designs; one makes rings and another fishes out of lots of parts. We receive tea, which hopefully makes you want to buy a souvenir. We don’t like silver that much and with a scarf already in our bag we are done for the day. We don’t feel bad leaving this place empty handed.

Cigars for non-smokers

The neighbour is a handicraft store where cigars are made. We are placed on two small seats and receive – you already guess it – a cup of tea. Four women show their craft, whilst another shows the different types of cigars. When she asks us, “do you smoke?”, the answer ‘no’ is fairly predictable. We do browse around inside and look at lacquerware, but are not convinced this is something we would like to take – the best lacquerware is made in Bagan – and this shop is only reselling it.

Two cokes for lunch please

It’s lunchtime and our boatman drops us off at a big restaurant. The moment we see the menu, we know that we aren’t ordering much. The prices are way over the top and we do not want to promote this way of doing business additionally we are recovering from food poisoning and unsure how ingredients are washed and prepared here. We order two cokes, which cost 2000 kyatt a can. In your guesthouse you will pay 1000 kyatt and in a local restaurant 500 kyatt, so they know their prices here are too high!

Honesty in the Monastery

The Floating Village has a Monastery and whilst heading there two girls hang on to our boat and give us flowers. No-one tells us if we need to offer these and how, so we put these in the side-pocket of our backpack. Inside gorgeous Buddha statues are collected, a breath-taking feast for the eyes. Afterwards we head towards the boat; someone walks up to us with my iPhone. Amazed, that I left it behind and grateful for the honesty, we head off.

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