As I entered the wide expanse of Inle Lake at the end of a narrow feeder channel, two fishermen appeared on either side of my Abercrombie & Kent longboat, performing what I could best make out as a slow-motion, over-the-water ballet with conical baskets and oars for props—all while balanced on the bows of their boats. It was absolutely enthralling.
Until that moment, I'd been thinking that visiting a lake in Myanmar was rather beside the point. Bagan's legendary pagodas had beckoned me for years and were what I'd come to this newly opened Southeast Asian country to see. But while Bagan may be Myanmar's main calling card, the two days I spent on Inle Lake left the more lasting impression. In fact, so extraordinary are its communities, ecology, and traditions, it could well gain UNESCO heritage status before Bagan (both have been on a tentative list since 1996). So don't miss this remarkable place on your first visit to Myanmar. These are five reasons Inle Lake deserves equal billing to Bagan on your itinerary.