An early morning ride on long boats from our hotel, Shwe Inn Thar Floating Resort, on Inle Lake brought us to the village of Inpawkhon, a community of highly skilled textile artisans. Here one on the rarest fabrics in the world is produced – silk made from the lotus flowers that grow in the lake. Lotus weaving was begun nearly a century ago. An extremely labor intensive process, the silk produced from the lotus is one of the most expensive textiles in the world. A small scarf requires about 4,000 lotus stems, a large scarf – about 40,000 stems, and a full set of monk’s robes requires about 220,000 lotus stems (and about 60 weavers 10 days to complete.) As Myanmar develops and the fabric is being used in high fashion garments around the world, it is no longer possible to gather enough lotus from the lake.The artisans are now importing lotus from other parts of the country and the need is arising to create sustainability for the micro industry and the environment in which the lotus grows.
We also met several Kayan women, also known as Padaung or “long neck women of Myanmar”. Kayan women wear brass rings around their necks, arms, and legs. The brass coils are first applied when the girls are about five years old, and longer coils are added as the girl grows older. The weight of the brass pushes down the collar bone and compresses the rib cage, giving the appearance of a very long neck. The women are able to remove the rings as they wish without harm. Many of the women feel more comfortable keeping them on, and recently the practice has become popular as it attracts tourists who buy their handicrafts and weavings.