lovers and birdwatchers, look no further than Indawgyi Lake for your next
holiday. Myanmar’s largest lake is a burgeoning tourist destination filled with
rich history, nature and outdoor activities. Due to climate change and
pollution, it has been a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 2017—one of four
wetlands in the country experiencing decreased wildlife populations. Here,
migrating water birds flock in thousands from Central Asia and Siberia.
who come to Indawgyi Lake can experience a quiet, simple life with local charm:
modest guesthouses, majestic Shwe Myintzu Pagoda and artisans who make
freshwater shrimp traps.
But getting there isn’t easy. The bus ride from
Mandalay aboard Shwe Kachin is a long one. Departing from central Mandalay in
the afternoon, it arrives in foggy Indawgyi City (formerly called Lon Ton
Village) in the early morning. A quicker option is to fly to Myitkyina and
drive about five hours west to Indawgyi City where foreigners are allowed to
stay. Situated southwest of the lake, tourists can birdwatch, kayak, bike, trek
and more. The serene lakeside location makes it ideal for a relaxing holiday
but there are plenty of activities for the more adventurous.
“floating” Shwe Myintzu Pagoda sits on the largest freshwater lake in Myanmar
of Indawgyi,a social enterprise founded by American duo Stephen Traina-Dorge
and Patrick Compton, works on projects that focus on environment, cultural
preservation, education and business development. By collaborating with the
local organizations, artisans, schools and tour guides, they act as a bridge
between this rural community, Yangon’s resources and international tourists and
investors who support their mission. Their ultimate goal is to open Lon Ton
Social Impact Guesthouse, lakeside accommodation and vocational training centre
dedicated to their four pillars.
2012, Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary had no paved roads, electricity,
cellphones and barely any foreign visitors. 17 for the entire year. Now,
Myanmar’s biggest lake is opening in a country that is facing both the
opportunities and the challenges of developing in a highly interconnected and
globalized world,” said Traina-Dorge in his crowdfunding video.
want tourism to help preserve what makes Indawgyi special.”
tourists can stay at Indaw Mahar Guesthouse or Indawgyi Motel, and if those are
booked up, then homestays can be arranged by ‘FIND Myanmar’ a Myitkyina-based
tour operator partnership with Face of Indawgyi. When we visited in March
during the Shwe Myintzu Pagoda Festival, all shops had closed for the week and
moved to the festival grounds where hundreds of vendors had set up noodles,
fried snacks, clothing and wares to sell. This festival draws thousands of
domestic tourists every year, most of whom camp on the lake’s shores. A boat
driver near our homestay who took us to the pagoda in the afternoon, even
allowing us to stop in the middle of the lake for a quick swim in the crisp,
clean water. The “floating” pagoda was a spectacle at sunset.
of the best tourist attractions is freshwater shrimping during dry season. It
is a unique experience to be a part of a fisherman’s daily lifestyle. Shan-ni
cooking classes can also be arranged. No matter what you choose to do, you’ll
be immersed in local Indawgyi culture.
spent one day motorbiking to the mountains near Nanmun Village, south of
Indawgyi City, where our tour guide led us on a trek past farms and forest to a
small natural hot spring and a meandering creak that we climbed up. Along the
way, we stopped for breakfast at a Shan noodle shack and lunch at a Chinese
restaurant, both of which were fresh and delicious. In the evenings, we ate at
Shwe Inn Wa and Malika Restaurant, two restaurants in Indawgyi City. At Shwe
Inn Wa, our Face of Indawgyi hosts arranged a special meal of ngabaun, steamed
Indawgyi fish wrapped in banana leaf, and hin law, steamed local seasonal
vegetables also in banana leaf. Vegetables are harvested from surrounding
forests and fish are caught fresh from the lake.
Face of Indawgyi translated menus for all of
the restaurants, tea shops, noodle shops and cafés in the Indawgyi area
main ethnic groups are Shan-ni, Kachin and Burmese, and the food reflects those
cultures. Most villages are derived from Shan, or “Tai” culture—those living in
Indawgyi’s valley identify as “Tai Laing.” They have a rich history and
practice farming, fermenting and salting foods, but many stories and techniques
are passed down through generations of oral storytelling. Face of Indawgyi
intends to preserve these traditions and the Shan-ni language with audio and
foster education about recycling in the community, they have worked with the
local villages to produce sustainable trash cans made of bamboo and fishing
nets. Tourists can enjoy the lush, plastic-free environment, while information
signs are posted about keeping the area clean. Hands-on projects teach students
that their environment is special. Face of Indawgyi also collaborates with
Flora and Fauna International and Inn Chit Thu on nature projects.
Sustainable trash cans made of bamboo and fishing nets
help keep the environment clean and trash-free
in 1787, Lon Ton’s name comes from Shan-ni language, lon means “coming down
from the hills” and ton means “finding food.” For generations, Lon Ton Village
has been a gathering point for Shan-ni people who lived in the valley and
Kachin people who lived high in the mountains. Today, the tradition continues,
as it is the main meeting place between the lake’s visitors and the people of
untouched forests, village trails and rice paddy fields, Indawgyi Wildlife
Sanctuary is one of the last remaining grasslands in Southeast Asia. The next
time you find yourself in Myitkyina, or hankering for a peaceful holiday, opt
for Indawgyi Lake’s stunning nature. In the midst of forests, lake, mountains
and blue sky, you are sure to experience an unforgettable time whether you
choose relaxation or adventure.