Storm around Inle Lake, Myanmar with this things to do complete guide that details how to get there, what to do, and getting around the lake. Find out now!
Myanmar's natural sanctuary should be a secret no more.
Myanmar is not usually known for its nature, but unbeknownst to many, there are areas in the country that are unspoilt natural terrains that they should have long been proud of. Inle Lake is found in western Shan State and it is famous for its floating villages and gardens. Inhabited with Intha people, the communities base their livelihood on the water.
Inle lake measures 22 km long by 10 km wide and sits between two mountain ranges. Wooden houses sit on the water with stilts and fishermen roam around the area for their daily catch. The local economy thrives on fishing and merchandise of traditional handicrafts and you will spot silversmiths and silk weavers plying their craft.
Hop on boat trips that start at the town of Nyaung Shwe, which is a few kilometres up north. This is where most budget accommodation is found. You will need to fork out K12,500 for the entry fee. Boat drivers act as tour guides and will advise you on the best way to spend your time, depending on how much time you have on the lake. You can also hire a bicycle for K1,500 a day in Nyaung Shwe to explore the eastern side of the lake, which includes Maing Thauk and the Red Mountain Estate Vineyard. If you want to go primal and swim, you can! Do check with your guide first though, as the water can be rather shallow and there have been pollution issues at certain times of the year.
What to see
A traditional Inle Lake settlement would be like Ywama, which is known for its floating market. The village contains a monastery and the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, which is also a highlight. Buddhist worshippers traverse to the Pagoda often to see its five ancient golden Buddhas. A festival takes place at the pagoda in October. The occasion features the passage of four revered Buddha images around the villages of Inle Lake on the golden barge next to it, taking 18 days to complete their journey. A good time to visit can also be during a rowing competition that happens between villages. They do it using the renowned local leg rowing method – wrapping one leg around the oar. Check this festival calendar for the dates. There are many restaurants found on the canal to Ywama village serving local Shan food, together with other Chinese and Myanmar dishes. Go for cooking classes to learn the skills of preparing traditional Shan cuisine.
Another floating village to visit is Nampan. You can find hand-made cheroot (traditional local cigar) factories and another pagoda. Nampan houses the oldest pagoda, the Alodaw Pauk, which is a large gem-encrusted golden shrine. Go up north of Nampan and you will discover floating gardens where the Intha grow their produce for consumption and export. This unique agricultural practice is another significant trait of life on the lake.
On the eastern shore of the lake is Maing Thauk village. As it is half on land and half on water, it is linked by a long wooden bridge. The highlights here are its bustling market and the Maing Thauk Forest Monastery. The Forest Monastery also promises spectacular views over the lake.
Indein is famous for its crumbling ancient pagodas, which are currently being restored. Some of them include the Nyaung Oak and Swee Inn Thein Paya. The former is found immediately behind the village and has carvings of mythical creatures. The latter can be found at the top of a long covered walkway leading up the hill. The area has many densely-packed stupas (dome-shaped buildings erected as Buddhist shrines). Indein also has a busy market.
On the lake itself is the Nga Hpe Kyaung Monastery. Made of wood, it features an alluring meditation hall. Previously, it was renowned for its jumping cats, because the monks trained them to jump through hoops! The practice has stopped as it was thought as cruelty. Instead, a heritage house was erected, which is now a cat conservation centre and a sanctuary.
Wine lovers can't miss the Red Mountain Estate Vineyard, to the hills east of Inle Lake. This is one of the only two wine vineyards in Myanmar. If the inexpensive wine menu is not tempting enough, there are also stunning views over the lake.
How to get there
The easiest way is by domestic flight from Yangon or Mandalay to Heho, which is an hour by taxi from the lake itself. It takes about K40,000 to go to Nyaung Shwe. That’s pricey, but if you share it with other travellers, it might be worth it. It might be worth checking with your guesthouse for transfers too. The inexpensive way to get to Inle is by bus. It costs about USD14-20 for a 12-hour ride from Yangon or USD12 for a 7 to 8-hour ride from Mandalay. The other option is by train. Depart from Kalaw, Thazi or Yangon to Shwe Nyaung. The train journey from Yangon is a gruelling 30 hours, which includes a 5-hour stop in Thazi. However, passengers can rest and sleep onboard. The lower class tickets cost about K4,000, and upper class ones K9,400.