Every part of Lake Inle; whether watching the golden sunrise creep over the mountain tops, visiting the stilt villages or exploring the astonishing floating gardens are obvious highlights of any Myanmar (Burma) tour so we’ll narrow our 2-day Lake programme down to what’s probably our personal favourite part – the morning visit to In Dein.
The spectacular forest of ancient stupas, colourful Pa-O vendors from the neighbouring villages and ancient carvings and hidden Buddha images are pretty awesome already but when adding the scenic boat journey up the In Dein River and a hike back through the picturesque ‘Bamboo Forest’ it certainly makes for a truly memorable trip.
In Dein village lies off the far southwestern corner of Lake Inle, a short distance inland at the foot of the surrounding hills and is reached by boat up the scenic and eponymously named river.
We’ve heard In Dein called the ‘Shan Bagan’ on occasions and while there’s definitely an astonishing proliferation of stupas in the area it’s in the hundreds rather than thousands. What impresses is that they’re crammed into such a small area there’s often barely room to pass between one and another. The chedis and stupas are mostly of more recent construction than Bagan’s temples too, though estimates vary widely, with the earliest said to date from the 12th century and additions having been made by various Shan princes and lords up until as recently as the 18th century. To further confuse historians certain chedis and stupas have been restored and some completely rebuilt while others remain in ruinous states.
After centuries of weathering – not to mention earthquakes – certain are now frankly little more than piles of bricks while others have been unfortunately over-restored yet many still reveal remarkably preserved ancient sculptures and stucco work with some – to please the Angkor fans – picturesquely draped with roots and vines.
The surrounding villages are all Pa-O settlements and the friendly and largely traditionally-clad inhabitants certainly add some colour and vibrancy to the proceedings. Yes, some of the ambulant vendors may have a hard-sell policy but the villagers are often very poor and we reckon it’s only fair enough they try and gain some benefit from the better-heeled visitors.
Please note that none of the Pa-O vendors – nor for that matter the local guides, boatmen, hotel and restaurant staff, tuk-tuk drivers, noodle soup ladies, laundresses, masseuses, convenience store owners, market traders or bar owners have any connection to certain abhorrent sections of the Burmese military or government – yet are all suffering severe consequences from what we reckon is the well-intentioned but misguided idea in certain quarters of a tourism boycott of Burma. Their Bali equivalents, for instance, (fortunately) don’t seem to be suffering such collective punishment despite equally abhorrent actions by the Indonesian military in Irian Jaya but anyway – rant over and we’ll leave you with another In Dein Pa-O pic.