We have heard that Inle lake is severely over fished, with catches getting smaller and smaller and as we set out to explore the lake it is immediately obvious why. The lake is covered with small boats each with a man fishing. They are in boats very similar to ours but a little shorter and without an engine.
Some drive fish towards nets by beating the water with long poles. Others stand on the small platform at the front, and wrap their leg around a long oar. Using a combined twisting of their body and circling motion of their leg they can propel the boat, and make girls hearts flutter on the dance floor. On the boat it leaves both hands free to fish, which they do with a fishing line, a net, or a huge cone shaped bamboo “beehive”.
These are the famous fishermen of Inle Lake and it is fascinating to watch them. Many of them are friendly and come along side our boat so that we can take pictures and exchange smiles of greeting.
We pay our first visit to a village where we meet the Pao tribe. The women wear all black with a colourful headdress, which actually looks like a small blanket folded neatly on top of their head, which must come in handy as it gets quite cold at night. You can tell which village they come from by the colour of this blanket. We go to see one of their markets, which is a desultory affair, with desperately poor looking women trying to sell tiny amounts of vegetables or spices.
Many of the women are smoking large fat cigars. We are not sure what is in the cigars, but they certainly seem happier than their immediate surroundings would warrant.
From here we go along the lake to the next village to see the Paduang tribe, famous for their long necked women.
The women wear gold coloured metal coils around their necks and calves. It gives the women very long necks, but apparently doesn’t actually stretch the neck, rather it pushes down the collar bone. They can take the coils off, but have to be extremely careful for three weeks until their collar bone recovers its original position. The origin of this is to protect from tigers, which always attack either the legs or the neck. There are only a handful of these women left, not because all the others have been killed by tigers, but because the majority of the tribe crossed the border to Thailand where they can make much more money from the tourist industry.