Inle Lake: Fast boats and slow food in Myanmar with kids

Intha fisherman on Inle Lake

We’re leading a small flotilla of long boats across Inle Lake, the machine gun rat-ta-tat of their engines shattering the silence in this serene water world, almost as much as the squealing “woohoos” coming from Raffles as we rev up and race our way across the freshwater lake.

Strewn with marshes and floating gardens, and skirted by teak stilt-houses and pretty temples, the sprawling freshwater lake in Myanmar’s eastern Shan province is home to around 200,000 people.

Raffles whooping it up as we rev up and race our way across Inle Lake #escapers17

Many of whom may be suffering hearing issues following Raffles’ excited bellows.

Raffles whooping it up as we rev up and race our way across Inle Lake #escapers17

While Inle Lake itself is jaw dropping, it is the Intha, meaning “lake people” in Burmese, that make the biggest impression. We motor through the lake’s vast openness past fishermen trawling its carp-filled waters, balancing on one leg as they reel in their nets. The Intha fishermen have become the lake’s accidental celebrities, their incredible balance and distinctive one-legged rowing style resulting in them becoming the most popular target of the tourist paparazzi… ourselves included.

Intha fisherman on Inle Lake

When we pass one fisherman, who is rocking some particularly colourful trousers, Raffles announces that they remind him of flamingos, which in turn reminds me that my son is a bit odd. But in his defence, I guess there is a bit of a resemblance.

We chug along its narrow winding canals, through bamboo damns and gates, where locals tend to fruit and vegetables in their hydroponic lake gardens, to harvest, haul and sell at the local markets.

Off to Mingalar Market

We’re lucky enough to have timed our visit to coincide with Mingalar Market, a busy five-day market in Nyaung Shwe. Here Thanaka-enhanced women hawk their wares of dried fish and sweets, and fry up delicious local treats over giant cauldrons of oil.

Mingalar Market, Inle Lake

We nibble on delectable Mont Lin Ma Yar (husband and wife snacks), crispy rice pancakes stuffed with chives, which are so good we go back for seconds. Raffles noshes on some sticky sweet concoction that resembles poo but tastes, he says, like heaven.

sweet treats at Mingalar Market, Inle Lake

I can’t confirm or deny this, as I’m not going anywhere near the thing. But I can attest for the amazing samosas, which are clearly laced with some kind of addictive chemical as I can’t stopping eating them. Thank goodness for Raffles, who stages an intervention, wrenching the remaining samosas from my hand and stuffing them in his gob.

We continue to out glutton each other until Raffles finds his food fest halted by one of the lovely locals who paints his face fetchingly with Thanaka (an off-white cosmetic paste made from ground bark).

Thanaka face paint at Mingalar Market, Inle Lake

I use the opportunity to stock up on all the fresh and fermented ingredients we need for a hot date we have with a local chef.

We arrive soon after at Nyaung Shwe’s The Shan Restaurant at ViewPoint Lodge. Located near Talk Nan Bridge and Canal, we soak up views of the lake and watch the boats roaring by from the upstairs balcony. We are here to be taught how to use the produce we’ve procured to prepare national dish, Laphet Thoke (pickled tea leaf salad), a mouth-watering concoction of fermented tea leaves combined with chopped cabbage, dried shrimp, fish sauce, lime, dried garlic, roasted nuts, tomato and chilli.

Raffles, being Raffles, turns our cooking lesson into a display of ninja theatrics but actually does a great job chopping and mixing up the ingredients.

Cooking lessons at Nyaung Shwe’s The Shan Restaurant at ViewPoint Lodge

We’re both equally enamoured with the salty, sour, spicy, crunchy and thoroughly irresistible end result… and the fact that Raffles has managed to make it through the lesson with all his fingers still attached, despite his flamboyant knife work.

Laphet Thoke (pickled tea leaf salad)

We pile back on to our long boat and head out onto to a wide stretch of Inle Lake for an epic surprise – a once in a lifetime lunch of artfully prepared local cuisine, served in a floating dining room made from a couple of converted wooden rice carrier boats in the centre of the lake.

It’s a little unorthodox but we’re thrilled by our surreal dining quarters and devour luscious local cuisine over a leisurely lunch, beautifully prepared by the talented chefs from The Shan and served to us by their wait staff by boat.

A magical lunch on Inle Lake #escapers17

We dive straight into sour and salty curries and an assortment of pickled stuff of indiscriminate origin before we’re served random but delectable things on sticks.

Burmese curries at lunch on Inle Lake #escapers17

Raffles only comes up for air long enough to take a visit to the floating commode! Yep, that’s right they’ve thought of everything here and there’s even a boat discreetly hovering who chugs across to collect anyone who needs to answer nature’s call. Raffles, in his usual charming way, dubs the boat the Poo Patrol.

Burmese treats at lunch on Inle Lake #escapers17

After he returns from his bathroom adventures, we inhale crispy and light prawn studded vegetable fritters and wallow in plates of mango pudding.

A magical lunch on Inle Lake #escapers17

Stuffed and sated, we return to our long boats to chug along the lake through bamboo-dammed canals and lush gardens.

Boating along Inle Lake #escapers17

We meander up a narrow corridor of hydroponic gardens until the clanging of drumming and cymbals announces we’ve reached our hotel, the Novotel Inle Lake Myat Min, where we follow the green and blue trail of hydroponic gardens until we reach the jetty of the Novotel Inle Lake Myat Min, and the next part of our adventure awaits.




When to visit
November to February is the best popular time to travel with little rain and less humidity.
Burmese Kyat
The standard voltage is 230 V and the frequency is 50 Hz. Several power sockets styles are used so our recommendation is to take an all in one international power adapter
Visa & Passport Requirements
Visas for Myanmar are required by Australian, US, EU, British & Canadian Nationals. You will require a passport with 6 months validity and can apply for a 28 day eVisa online but must enter at Myanmar at Yangon, Nay Pyi Taw or Mandalay international airports or at Tachileik, Myawaddy or Kawthaung land border checkpoints.
Mosquito borne diseases are a risk in Myanmar. When travelling with children prevention is best so apply child-safe insect repellent (with no more 20% DEET) at regular intervals and make sure they are dressed in long but light clothing at all times. While there are no essential vaccinations for travellers to Myanmar, we suggest visiting your family GP at least six weeks before travel for up to date advice on immunisations.
Food Safety
Avoid tap water, raw foods and food stalls with dubious hygiene standards, and avoid tummy bugs by following our safe eating mantra of “cook it, peel it or forget it.



Disclosure: While we had to work for it, competing in and completing challenges, Raffles & I were hosted by the fabulous folk at AccorHotels, Scoot Airlines, Tiger Air and Asia Holidays during the incredible Myanmar leg of our #escapers17 adventure. However, all opinions, snack gobbling and ninja chefery are our own.

8 Comments on Inle Lake: Fast boats and slow food in Myanmar with kids

  1. HUgzilla
    June 13, 2017 at 7:38 am (7 years ago)

    I absolutely love the way those guys row their boats while balancing on one foot. That’s skill. I think I’d end up in the water a lot…. I’m guessing they have probably learnt this from a very young age.

  2. Nicole @ The Builder's Wife
    June 13, 2017 at 9:22 am (7 years ago)

    Oh my this looks amazing! How clever are those guys on the boats? I love all the colours and the smiles, just gorgeous.

  3. Amy @ HandbagMafia
    June 13, 2017 at 10:08 am (7 years ago)

    What an amazing way of life these people have and the food looks fab!

  4. Natalie @ Be Kind 2 You
    June 13, 2017 at 10:12 am (7 years ago)

    These experiences are just priceless. I loved the pictures and especially loved your cooking class.

  5. Kirsty @ My Home Truths
    June 13, 2017 at 1:10 pm (7 years ago)

    I just love your writing Aleney – so descriptive & evocative. It really felt like I was there with you, enjoying and Raff’s ninja knife skills!

  6. Amy Haverkort
    June 13, 2017 at 3:28 pm (7 years ago)

    I had to read the article after looking at the picture. The balance of those fishermen is unreal! Food looks amazing too. Hotel love at first sight is an amazing feeling especially when you are exhausted and away from home.

  7. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella
    June 13, 2017 at 8:18 pm (7 years ago)

    Raff really does charm everyone doesn’t? He is going to go very far in life I suspect! 😛

  8. Tash
    June 17, 2017 at 7:32 pm (7 years ago)

    What an adventure. Your photos are amazing and the cooking classes look divine. I always feel like I am there when I read your post ❤️


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Hey, I’m Aleney! A mum, award-winning travel writer, magazine editor and gallivanting glutton. He’s Raff, the “boy” in boyeatsworld, and a fearless foodie, adventurer and eco-warrior. Along with his all-singing, all-dancing, all-adventurous sister, Sugarpuff, we’re exploring the world’s colour, culture and cuisine on a food safari for the junior set.

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