In Nyaungshwe township in southern Shan State sits Inle, the country’s second biggest lake after Indawgyi in Kachin State. Rimmed by high hills, the lake – referred to as the “Venice of the East” by some visitors – bears 17 villages that are built on patches of silt known as floating islands.
What makes Inle one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions are the 70,000 native people called “Intha”, who propel flat-bottomed boats by standing on one leg and rowing by wrapping the other leg around the oar. They say that this leg-rowing technique helps relieve stress on their arms as they travel from one side of the lake to the other, and it is also said to help rowers gain a better perspective for spotting floating water hyacinths and fish as they paddle.
Closer linguistically and culturally to the Burmans (Bama) than to the Shan, the Intha are believed to have migrated to the region from Dawei on the Tanintharyi peninsula in far southern Myanmar sometime during the 12th century. The Shan often refer to the Intha as the “Burmans on the lake”. They are known for their industrious and persistent mindset, which has helped them survive by growing a wide variety of flowers, vegetables and fruits on the water on floating islands that are attached to the lake bed with long bamboo poles.