If you want an experience off the beaten path at Inle Lake we highly recommend a visit to the Tofu Village. 13 kilometers from the hostel, Tofu Village, also known as Tofu Palace is a great half day excursion from town. It takes 45 minutes to an hour to get there as you bike past rice fields, monasteries, hot springs, and the lovely Innoo Pagodas.
The village, whose real name is Khaung Daing, was originally inhabited by the native Intha people, but is now home to a healthy mix of people including Taungyo, Pa-O, and Danu. It is home to around 300 people whose livelihoods come from different foods made and sold at local markets. It is known for its tofu, made from yellow chickpeas, and very popular in local cuisine.
When you arrive to the village you will be greeted by a village member who will sit you down, pour you green tea and feed you a variety of local snacks. They will tell you about the village and the products they produce based on what grows well in their gardens. You will also learn how this close knit community pools together resources to better the village. Then the free tour begins.
The tour starts by visiting a family who produces tofu. The entire family is involved in the process, which is more complicated than one might think. Extra steps are taken in the local tofu production which results in a soft, texture, almost creamy in some forms. They produce four varieties of tofu: fried tofu, cubes for curry dishes, tofu crackers, and a “fresh” tofu, mostly used in a local tofu salad. You get to sample them all! Tofu has been produced in this village for over 80 years.
You are also taken to see families making a variety of other treats. One family makes crunchy crackers that look like fried noodles made from rice flour, corn flour, and chickpea flower. Another makes a traditional candy make from brown sugar harvested from local sugar cane. You can see a family producing cakes made from sticky rice and brown sugar and another producing rice crackers with sesame seeds. You will see a family’s yard full of bamboo mats with pumpkin and sunflower seeds drying in the sun after being roasted with seasonings. Towards the end of your tour you will come across a family who produces “happy water,” a local rice wine that averages about 40% alcohol. Yes, you get to sample it.
When the tour is over you are brought back to the table where you began and poured more tea. New snacks are added to the table, collected from your visits around the village. Then each person is brought a plate of fried tofu and a local sauce made from tomato, cabbage, garlic and a little bit of chili. It’s best to come hungry as you are offered a very generous amount of food.
The tour is free and you are not pushed to purchase anything along the way. In fact, there is no shop. If you want to purchase something from a family directly you may, but you will have to ask the guide to facilitate the transaction. The products tend to cost 500 kyat for a decent sized bag, which is far cheaper than you’d find it in town. While they do not specifically ask for donations, there is an expectation that you will donate something at the end of your tour. Every bit helps. The village of Khaung Daing pools the money together to fund the local school, build roads, and generally improve the conditions for the villagers.
The village is also moving towards being more ecologically sustainable. The Inle Lake ecosystem is very fragile and the locals are trying to protect it. Our guide showed us where they are now planting trees to harvest and replant for firewood, as they previously were deforesting the nearby mountain for firewood, which caused landslides into the lake. Firewood is used in the production of every product we saw in the village, so this initiative is a huge step toward being more environmentally friendly. One shop makes baskets and containers out of old tires. You can also see locals collecting cans and bottles to take to a recycling facility.
Tofu Village on Inle Lake is definitely worth checking out. Depending on the day you may or may not see other tourists. The bike ride to reach Tofu Palace is beautiful, but you can also arrive by boat or tuk-tuk. Just ask our friendly team at Song of Travel Hostel to arrange a ride for you, or for directions if you’re using one of our free bikes.