What to see and do on the beautiful Inle Lake
It is one of the most spectacular destinations and features of Myanmar. It is a must for visitors who come to the country and want to experience some days in an extraordinary environment in contact with local traditions.
Inle Lake, about 22 km long and 11 km wide, is populated mainly by Intha, but other ethnicities like the Shan, Taungyo, Pa-O, Danu, Kayah, Danau and Bamar also create a folkloristic mix fascinating.
Most people live in simple stilt-houses made of wood and bamboo and the primary sources of livelihood that make this area famous are fishing and agriculture where the presence of water and the incredible fertility of the soil allow to perform the activities with excellent results, making this area self-sufficient.
One of the main attractions throughout the lake are the local Intha fishermen known worldwide for their unique way of rowing, using a leg to hold the oar instead of their arms and for their conical fishing nets, acrobatically handled by their legs and arms.
Not to be missed, like many areas in south-east Asia, are the floating markets where the locals come to sell and buy products of all kinds: fruit, vegetables, fish, and every variety of products of this area.
The most visited and exciting villages around Inle lake are Indein and Ywama. Indein is located on the western shore, connected to the lake by a narrow creek with many twist and turns.
Since both sides are paddy fields, you can see the farmers ploughing and harrowing by water buffaloes. Here, the farmer dam up the water by bamboo barriers to irrigate the paddy fields.
Here you can visit the local market that takes place every five days (so-called ”five days markets“) and above all the hillside complex containing over 1,600 Buddhist stupas, some of mud and stone, some intricately carved, some gilded with precious metals. Some ruin pagodas, hide in the bushes will give you an impression of you were in the 12th – 13th Centuries ago.
Ywama is the largest village on the Inle Lake, and its streets are webs of canals. There are some beautiful teak houses built on large wooden piles driven into the lake bed. Here the main activity and attraction is the floating market in the most extensive canal that takes place every five days like all the markets in the lake area.
Close to some stilts houses villages, you can also see the floating gardens, where the farmers mainly grow tomatoes but also harvest beans, cucumbers, flowers, gourde and where they usually use small wooden boats with a flat bottom to move quickly through the tiny artificial islands.
It is also interesting to stop at the different workshops (small stilt houses) where the people locals produce and sell their local crafts: from the well-known silks made with the Lotus processing (they make thread and cloth from the fibrous threads of a lotus plant) to Cheroot, the traditional cigars of Myanmar.
There is also a workshop where Kayan ethnicity women, better known as ‘’giraffe women’’ for their traditional long neck rings, work and trade in clothes.
During your trip, you’ ll also visit the ancient Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda and Nga Phe Chaung Monastery.
Phaung Daw Oo is the most highly revered monastery of the whole Shan State, house of five ancient small Buddha images and where Buddhist devotes come to pay their respect to the images applying small gold leaves.
Nga Phe Chaung, known as the jumping cats Monastery, is a wooden monastery built on stilts where once the monks training the many cats to jump through hoops. It is also known for a collection of old Myanmar’s Buddha images from different areas.
The most important ceremony, the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival, take place once a year, during the Burmese month of Thadingyut, the 7th month of the Burmese lunar calendar.
It lasts 18 days, usually falling in September and October. Four Buddha Images out of five from Phaung-Daw-oo Pagoda are carried on a Royal barge and conveyed around 14 villages on the Lake where the images stay in the main monastery for one night.
The barge is towed by the boats of leg-rowers, and hundreds of boats follow the procession. The crowds of people gather on the lake-shores to celebrate the occasion.
Another highlight of the festival is the long boat races, the rowers standing upright and rowing with an oar attached to one leg.
Need to Know
|1) When to go
The best time to visit most of Myanmar is from November to February during the dry season, when temperatures are relatively bearable. The worst time to visit the central regions of Myanmar is during March, April and May as temperatures can rise to over 40°C. The rainy season is from June to October, but, despite that, is still possible to visit the central region (Mandalay/Bagan) since it is more sheltered from the monsoon while the coasts are not recommended because they receive torrential rains.
2) How to get there
The closest airport is Heho, 35 km from Nyaung Shwe. Once there, take a taxi to reach your accommodation. You can also reach Nyaung Shwe by Night bus from/to Yangoon (9 hrs), from/to Bagan (9 hrs)or Mandalay (7-8 hrs). Even though the ride is very long and takes time, the seats are very comfortable. We caught the Lumbini bus company to go back to Yangoon. You can check on 12go.asia.com and book your ticket to reach Inle Lake or other Myanmar destinations.
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3) Where to sleep
The best place is Nyaung Shwe, the base for all the activities and tours, located on the north side of the Inle lake. Here you can find a wide range of affordable accommodations. We slept at Inle Apex hotel, just 5 minutes walk from the canal. you can find your accommodation through booking.com or Trip.com.
4) Where to eat
Nyaung Shwe offers the right choice of restaurants, from Burmese to Indian, Thai and Chinese. Our favourite restaurants are Thanakha Garden and Asiatico Pub Inle. Click on the link below to see the best restaurants in Nyaung Shwe.
5) Activities on the lake and tours
From a boat trip to a flight with a hot hair balloon, biking, hiking, photography class and photo walk, meditation retreats or beautiful religious sites like Kakku. The choice is wide. You can arrange your tours with a local tour agency in Nyaung Shwe; alternatively, you quickly book your activities and tours through the web platforms as GetYourGuide and Viator that offer good choices with affordable prices. You can try to go straight to the canal (Strand road) where boats are located and haggle the price for a day trip but sometimes is not so easy to find a seat during the high season due to the many tourists.
6) Local guide and guide book
If you are looking for an experienced local guide that can lead you around Myanmar, we suggest you Miss Htay Htay Myint (FB: Htay Htay Myint-Titty).
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Have a look at our Travel Resources page to find out our favourite companies for arranging the trips, and don’t forget your travel insurance!