24/05/2016 07:01 BST | Updated 25/05/2017 06:12 BST

The Burmese Cats of Inle Lake

Anyone who's seen the supercilious and superior stare of a cat won't be surprised they've often been treated like royalty throughout history. And if the Egyptians worshipped them, in Burma - as Myanmar was then called - the Burmese cat was once a royal pet.

The country's last king, Thibaw, had 40 'copper cats' in his palace when the British took control in the 19th century. But stripped of the protection their isolation had provided, the purebred cats began to disappear until none remained by the Second World War.


On the banks of peaceful Inle Lake, a breeding programme is changing that. At Inthar Heritage House, seven pedigree cats from Britain and Australia have helped reintroduce the Burmese breed to a country where they lived for over a millennium.

Today, there are 38 prowling, purring, playful descendants living in pampered luxury in a lakeside island - just one of the fascinating discoveries to be made around the lake, where traditional crafts still flourish and the famous leg-rowing fishermen have become one of the best-known images of Myanmar.


Waited on hand and paw, the cats have their own stilted houses if they're looking for privacy from the admiring hordes (although there are limited visiting hours for tourists, so they seem perfectly happy to lap up the adoration).

Inside, out of the fierce heat, there are scratching posts and toys, climbing platforms and plenty of places to lounge. And sleek silvery 'blue' Phyu Ley, at least, has a Twitter account to keep updated while her chocolate and 'lilac' grey relatives relax.


It's just one of the programmes running at the not-for-profit organisation, which aims to preserve the culture of the Inle region.

From traditional Shan dishes on the menu in the restaurant, and cookery classes if you want to learn the secrets yourself, to work by local artists in the gift shop and training courses for young people looking to work in the hospitality industry, it's the perfect spot to learn more about the area and give something back at the same time.

How to do it

Official opening hours are 10.30am-2.30pm, although you can visit the cats until around 3pm. Book a tour, a table in the restaurant or a class via the website.


I travelled with Insider Journeys (01865 268940/ who arranged the boat ride on Inle Lake, lunch and a visit to see the cats as part of a tailor-made tour in April 2016.

Cathy Winston is an award-winning travel writer, who also blogs about family travel at

All images copyright Cathy Winston