About this blog: We had visited Inle Lake during our Myanmar trip. This blog is about all the things to do in Inle Lake. The most popular activity is the Inle Lake Boat Tour that follows more or less a fixed itinerary. But Inle Lake is a great place for a relaxing holiday.
We were quite excited to visit Inle Lake. Of course, we had heard mixed reviews about the place. While some people have rave reviews about Inle Lake in Myanmar, many other travellers have labelled the place as touristy and crowded. Inle Lake is quite a popular attraction in Myanmar and we thought that it would be a shame if we did not include this place in our 10-days Myanmar Itinerary. We decided to keep an open mind about the things to do in Inle Lake and for the rest, we just decided to go with the flow.
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After an incredible time at Bagan and an equally exciting one at Yangon, we were on a bus towards Inle. JJ Express buses are quite comfortable on the roads of Myanmar and we snuggled down on our seats for the night. But what they did not tell us was the air conditioners! Those blasted things were too much for us. Anyways we could sleep only after spending a considerable amount of time on the road.
It was quite early in the morning, almost 4.30 AM and we were comfortably sleeping on the tourist bus from Yangon. Suddenly someone nudged Agni in the ribs. He woke up and saw a Burmese man was standing in front of our seats looking at us expectantly. I woke up with sleepy eyes wondering what was all this about. He told us something in Burmese. We were sleepy and totally blank and nothing registered.
Then the man said 15000 kyats and then used some gestures. For a fleeting moment I thought are they dacoits! When I looked around I saw the other passengers sitting nonchalantly or simply sleeping. That Burmese man cannot be a dacoit, I thought! However, the man became quite impatient and started saying something rapidly in Burmese. We blinked at him like idiots.
Finally he showed us the tickets to enter Inle Lake area. Apparently, there is an Inle Zone fee of 15000 Kyats that every foreign tourist has to pay. So that was our introduction to Inle Lake. Well, sleep deprivation does funny things to your reflexes!
Inle Zone Fees
By now, you must have known that to visit Inle Lake area and around, you have to pay a Inle Zone Fees of 15,000 Kyats (around 10 USD). The zone fee is collected while you are driving or hiking into the town.
So do not be surprised (like us) if some Burmese man wakes you up early in the morning (if you are travelling by a night bus) and demands money!
We reached at Nyaung Shwe, the main town in Inle Lake area at around 5 AM. There were taxis lined near the bus stand, many of them offering you to take to your hotels.
Most of the hotels and hostels are in the Nyaung Shwe area, though there is many other spread across Inle. We stayed at a hostel in Nyaung Shwe, quite close to the main market and bus stop. We dumped our bags in our hostel, slept for a couple of hours and then were raring to explore Inle Lake.
Why Visit Inle Lake?
Before knowing what to do in Inle Lake, let us first tell you why you should visit Inle Lake. For us, it was the attraction of seeing the balancing Intha Fishermen that brought us to this beautiful region of Myanmar. And while wondering what to do in Inle Lake, we discovered several beauty of this place which we are sharing with you.
Inle Lake is about 22 km in length and 10 km in width, though it is quite impossible to determine its boundaries. The total surface area of the lake is 116 sq kilometres and it is the second-largest lake in Myanmar.
Inle lake is quite shallow with only 2 metres (7 feet) deep in the dry season. In the wet season, the depth increases to 5 metres (about 12 feet).
Inle Lake is a wetland wildlife sanctuary and is one of the sites in the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Myanmar.
The Lake is the home to a number of endemic species like 20 species of snails and nine species of fishes that are found nowhere else in the world.
Inle Lake is also a paradise for birdwatchers during the winter season when a large number of migratory birds from China and Mongolia flock to the lake.
Inle Lake has some of the warmest people in Myanmar. Even though, boat tours and Intha fishermen has become touristy, the people are still smiling and are not indifferent.
Things to do in Inle Lake
There are actually a number of things to do in Inle Lake. While the most activity here is the Inle Lake Boat Tour, you can also go for hiking and cycling. Inle is quite a laidback area and you can easily spend here 3 to 4 days at leisure.
Inle Lake Boat Tour is the most common thing that visitors do. If you have only one day in Inle, then this is the best you can do to utilize the time. Since we had only 24 hours at Inle, we decide to find a boat tour and explore Inle Lake.
Inle Lake Boat Tours are quite easy to find. Your hotel or hostel can guide you through it. There are several travel agencies in the market area in Nyaung Shwe where you can get information about the tours. Most of these tours will give a pick-up from your hotel.
1. Get on an Inle Lake Boat Tour
We booked our Inle Lake boat tour from our hostel. The operator picked us up sharp at 9 AM and we reached the jetty for our boat tour. We had opted for a shared tour. You can also hire the entire boat for yourself.
Our trip started and we were all pretty excited about what was in store for the day. After all, not everyday, one gets to see a floating market or the life on the lake. The boat tour will cover most of the things to do in Inle Lake and follows a common itinerary.
An Inle Lake boat tour would cost around 10000 Kyat per head, if you also opt to go to Indein village. If you opt out of Indein, then it will cost around 7000 Kyat per head. This was the cost when we had travelled to Inle Lake. You can also book the entire boat for the tour.
2. Take photographs of the Intha Fisherman of Inle
Those pictures of the Burmese fishermen standing on one leg and balancing a conical net gracing hundreds of postcards are from Inle Lake. As I had already mentioned, the Intha fishermen were one of our reasons to visit Inle Lake.
Inle Lake is the second largest lake of Myanmar located by the hills of Shan State. The Intha people are the members of a Tibeto-Burmese group living in and around the villages of Inle Lake. Intha literally translates into “children of the lake” and true to the name, the Intha people with their ingenuity have made the lake their home.
The transportation in the lake is mainly by small boats or flat bottomed boats fitted with motors, which is necessary for the shallowness of the lake. But there are also a few traditional fishermen who still use the leg rowing technique.
The Intha fishermen are the iconic symbol of the Inle Lake.
Their traditional leg-rowing technique is said to have evolved in the 12th century and have been passed down from generation to generation. It is said that the Intha boys start learning this fishing technique from the age of 13 and they continue fishing until they reach around 75 years of age.
The fishermen row with the help of their legs as they stand at one end of their small wooden fishing boat. This standing position has a couple of advantages. Firstly, the Intha fishermen can get a view of the lake beyond the floating reeds and hyacinth. They would not have got a proper view from above if they were in sitting position. After all, the average depth of the lake during the dry season is only 2 metres.
They use their legs to row the boat and while standing, the fishermen can also see the bubbles of shoals of fish. Their hands are free to handle the fishing nets. These nets can be quite heavy and bulky if they have got a good catch.
They also carry a spear with them that is used to remove the weeds and expose the fishes below.
The entire process is a spectacle to watch.
Isn’t it difficult for the Intha fisherman to balance on one leg, propel the boat forward and then catch fishes? Of course, it is. But they are learning this process since childhood and living near the water gives them this extra agility and skill to do this.
It is always great to see something new. So watching the few balancing fishermen of Myanmar with their conical nets was indeed something that we would remember.
Unfortunately, the traditional ways of fishing are declining very rapidly. The lake is becoming smaller due to floating garden agriculture and the deposit of silt. Also, nowadays, most fishermen prefer to use motorboats and modern fishing methods.
And the worst is that all this has become extremely touristy. Your boat will take you to a group of fishermen at the end of the Nyaung Shwe Canal, who are waiting for the tourists to show off their traditional moves. Of course, they expect a certain amount of compensation for this.
However, this local tradition of Inle Lake should not be missed.
We did see a few fishermen using the traditional way to fish as we cruised along Inle Lake. But they are very few in number and they will not pose for you.
The leg-rowing tradition is kept alive each year at the Phaung Daw U Pagoda Festival.
3. A visit to the Cheroot Factory
The visit to the cheroot factory is another interesting thing to do in Inle Lake. This visit is included in your Inle Lake boat tour itinerary.
Like all the other worshops and factories, this one is also located on stilt houses. In Myanmar, we had seen that drinking beer and smoking a cigar is quite common among the locals. The local cigars are quite popular in Burma, especially among older people.
Once we reached the cheroot factory, we saw young boys and girls and some ladies were sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor and rolling cheroots ad cigars. One of the ladies told us that they roll almost 400 – 500 cheroots per day.
Inle Lake is known for its flavoured cheroots and cigars. The cigars here are made of totally natural ingredients. The tobacco leaf forms the outer coating. While rolled inside the leaf is an elaborate blend of fruits like pineapples, bananas, coconut and star anise, tamarind, honey and other natural ingredients. Even the glue used to hold the cigar is made from rice. So everything is organic and natural here.
We saw how these people roll the cigars and cheroots. You can also buy a single cigar for tasting or even a packet there.
4. Witness the art of Burmese lotus weaving
This is one of the most interesting things that we did at Inle Lake. Infact, before this, I had not known that silk can be made from lotus! Our boat went through one of the offshoot channels and brought us in front of a house.
Inside, there was a bustling factory. A pretty young lady explained to us the process and nuances of making silk from lotus. One of them showed us how the fibres are extracted from the root. He would slice the outer skin of the root very cautiously keeping the micro thin filaments intact. He would then twist the two parts of the roots in opposite direction intertwining the thin strands of fibre until they resembled the width of a thread.
They would continue to do this until they got sufficient amount of thread to put on the loom to start weaving. The looms were also homemade where they weaved the threads into clothes. The entire process is labour intensive and takes time.
The colour they use for woven clothes is also obtained from natural sources. There is a shop as you cross the factory from where you can buy scarfs, shirts and clothing items made of lotus. The lotus silk does feel quite soft to touch.
But yes, they charge almost double the amount of actual price from the tourists. And you will encounter this “tourist-tax” prices in almost everywhere in Inle Lake.
5. Take a visit to the silversmiths
There are several silversmith shops dotted around the Inle Lake. The Inle Lake Boat Tour will take you to one of these workshops to see how the silversmiths separate the silver from the ore and finally process them into fine silver jewellery.
We were taken to one of the stilt houses standing on long wooden poles. As we entered the workshop, we saw the traditional process of working with silver.
A young lady explained to us the process of how silver is extracted from the ore and the process of silversmithing. We watched in fascination as the silversmith separated the silver, coper and aluminium from the ore and the dedicated way they made the silver filigrees for the jewellery and other items.
At the back, there is a showroom where silver necklaces, earrings, bangles and other handicraft items were in display. You can buy any of the silver items from there if you wish.
6. Meet the Padaung ladies
So we went to meet the long-necked women of Myanmar. Our boat took us to a rather secluded area until we arrived in front of another house. As we entered inside, we were greeted by a long-necked woman. They belong to the Kayan Lahwi tribe, which is the subgroup of the larger Kayah tribe. In their own language they prefer to be known as Kakaung, meaning “people who live on the hilltops”.
They are also known as Padaung in the Shan area. The Kayan people are not the original inhabitants of Inle Lake. Their original homeland is in the hill region of Kayah state in the east-central Burma where Burma meets Mae Hong Son Province of northwestern Thailand.
Padaung” means “long neck” in the Shan language. There are about 20000 of then Kayans living in Kayah state and 40000 in Shan state. A few of them have migrated to Thailand between late 1980 and early 1990s.
The Kayan women have set up workshops on the lake as they found economic potential in the area in the form of attracting tourists. For, the Padaung women are known for the coils that they wear around their necks. A woman can apparently wear 32 rounds of coils around their neck.
These coils are made from brass and gold alloy. As much as it intrigues the tourists about the long necked Kayan women, these coils actually do not elongate the necks of the women. The coils when added often push the collar bone down and deform the ribcage thus giving an illusion of long necks.
Young girls start adding a coil around their neck from the tender age of 5 years and continue to add a coil each year until marriage or till they attain 25 years of age. Replacing the coils is supposedly a lengthy procedure and is also uncomfortable to these ladies.
I wondered why these women would do such a thing. There are no single answers to this question. Our guide told us the most common and popular theory. These coils were used to protect the women from tiger bites that usually occur in the neck region. But then I countered why the men folks did not wear such coils. To this, he had no answer.
There is another theory that the women were made to wear the coils so that they look less attractive to neighbouring tribes, thus protecting the women from being kidnapped and becoming slaves. Another theory suggests that wearing the coils make the women resemble a dragon, which is an integral part of Kayan folklore. There must have been other theories as well, but our guide thought these three were the best.
The women would pose or you and take selfies with you. But in return, it is expected that you buy something from their store. They sell a number of handloom and handicraft items in their workshop.
Well, this entire arrangement is quite touristy. It is upto you whether you want to visit these lovely ladies or give it a miss.
As you come out of the building, there was a walkway leading to a place that had a number of stalls. Souvenirs were sold there in large numbers. We went around the market, clicked some pictures and came back to our boat.
7. Marvel at the stilt houses on Inle Lake
Stilt houses are basically the houses standing on wooden poles on the lake. We had seen stilt houses in Majuli and parts of Assam before. These parts of Assam face floods every year and the stilt houses with their unique architecture and engineering are the best way to keep the water at bay. It was almost the same at Inle Lake.
Though not new, it was good to see a floating village on Inle Lake where houses stood on wooden poles. We saw a floating post office too and there were also a few hotels and tourist accommodations that had come up.
8. Take a look at the floating gardens
The floating gardens of Inle Lake are perhaps more interesting. Instead of limiting themselves to the land, the farmers of Inle Lake have broadened their horizon to the waters as well. They farm on the man-made gardens on the surface of Inle Lake.
These gardens are the result of a lot of manual labour. The farmers gather clumps of sea weeds and water hyacinth from the lake bed and secure them in place with large bamboo poles. These poles are then secured to the muddy bottom of the lake. More layers of sea grass and silt are then dumped over the mounds created and then seeds are planted.
Tomatoes are the most successful crop in these unique floating gardens, though the farmers also cultivate beans, cucumbers, gourds and flowers. The tomatoes grown here are shipped across Myanmar and accounts for about 80% of the country’s stock.
Though this form of agriculture has boosted the region’s economy, but the continuous use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers and deposition of the silt are destroying the natural ecosystem of the lake.
9. Shop at the local markets
The local market is open at the centre of Nyaung Shwe town and there are a few other floating markets dotted around the lake itself. But the most interesting one is the rotating local market of Inle Lake. The local markets take place at five different villages on 5 days (Nyaung Shwe, Heho, Taunggyi, Minethauk, Shwe Nyaung), each of them hosting an itinerant market on the fifth day.
Starting from local produce, vegetables, food items to decorative items and handicrafts, you will get everything you need in these markets. These markets mainly cater to the need of the local people. The market place is usually busy and is a social place for the locals.
You can go for a retail therapy in these markets, but we would suggest you to take a guide with you. Not only the language can be a problem, but you will be told the touristy rate for the merchandise. I hope you understand what I mean by “tourist rate”!
There are other markets along the Inle Lake at Indein village and near the monasteries as well. These places also sell souvenirs that you can bring back home. Wood carvings, paintings, handicrafts and several other items are on sold in these markets. Make sure to haggle.
10. Visit the Hpaung Daw U Pagoda
This was our last stop on our Inle Lake Boat Tour. Hpaung Daw U Pagoda is one of the most important religious sites in the Shan state. The central shrine of the main hall in the pagoda houses 5 small golden images of Lord Buddha. Our guide told us that people from all over Burma travel here to put gold leaf on the image of Lord Buddha.
The original image of Buddha cannot be seen now with so many gold leaves being applied on it. However, there’s a catch. Only men are allowed inside the main shrine and apply gold leaf.
I had this faint hope that Buddhism does not discriminate in terms of sex. There are a number of temples and mosques in India that do not allow women to enter (no offence meant to anyone). But then my hopes were squashed and I sulked standing at one corner.
However, I must also say that this is the only place in our entire Myanmar trip that we saw “Ladies Prohibited” sign. I entered and explored many other temples and pagodas in Myanmar without any hindrance.
11. Explore Shwe Indein Pagoda
Visiting the Shwe Indein pagoda was definitely the highlight of the day. It took us around 20-25 minutes of a boat ride through the winding and narrow canals lined with trees to reach Indein village. We landed on a small jetty. Indein is a small place. There are only a few shops and a few houses. But we saw the ruins of stupas from the jetty itself.
There are two main groups of ruined and weather-beaten stupas to the south and south-west part of the village. The largest and the most impressive one is the Shwe Inn Thein Paya perched on the hilltop. You can reach there through a covered walkway that is lined with endless number of souvenir stores.
It is said that there are 1024 stupas there. The main site is the most impressive one with older brick stupas found lower down and newly made and restored stupas as you wlak your way up the hill.
I don’t know whether there are thousand stupas or not, but the place surely had me at a loss of words. Very rarely I had seen such a beautiful place. We spent some time exploring the stupas and pagodas. We went inside the old and ruined ones, looking for any beautiful details and statues.
The contrast of the old and new is striking. As we walked through the dilapidated stupas, it was the charm of the ancient. As we were in the new complex of stupas, I can vouch that I had not seen so many golden stupas packed together so closely. The place was simply incredible!
12. Pay a visit to Nga Hpe Kyaung (jumping cat monastery)
Nga Hpe Kyaung Monastery is a wooden monastery built on stilts over the water. The monastery is almost 200 years old and is quite plain-looking. But like in most other monasteries, the treasures are within the walls of the monastery.
Nga Hpe Kyaung Monastery is also known as the Jumping cat Monastery. It had earned such a name because earlier a monk had trained a few cats living at the monastery to leap through small hoops. When the cats did that, he would reward them with fishes. All this was done for the entertainment of the tourists.
However, with the death of the monk, the practice ceased. Now the cats do not jump but sleep lazily on the floor and look at you with indifferent eyes when you walk past them.
The reason you should visit this monastery is not the cats but the amazing collection of the Buddha statues in Shan, Tibetan, Bagan and Inwa styles. The main meditation hall consists of around 20 glittering statues of Buddha.
Once you have seen the statues and the cats, we suggest you to head out through the back door of the monastery. There is an open walled corridor with a boat landing area. This place will give you a wonderful view of the lake and the mountains beyond.
Other Things to do in Inle Lake
The Inle Lake Boat tour will take you through most of the things to do in Inle Lake. But you can also enjoy the place in other ways as well.
Take a hot air balloon ride over the lake
A hot air balloon ride is one of the newer things to do in Inle Lake. When we were at Inle, the balloon rides were not taking place because of the weather. But I am sure, a balloon ride over the Inle Lake would be an amazing experience to cherish forever.
Go for cycling around the village
If you have some time at hand and want to explore the area around Inle Lake at leisure, then it is best to rent a bike and wander around Nyaung-Shwe, the small town around Inle Lake. You can explore the countryside, visit the ethnic villages, rice fields, bamboo forests and meet the friendly locals. This is one of the best ways to explore the local life around Inle Lake.
Visit the Red mountain Estate Vineyard and Winery
The Red Mountain Vineyard is about half an hours bike ride from Nyaung Shwe, the hub of Inle Lake. You can also take a car to visit the vineyard and winery. The estate produces wine from the locally grown grapes in Inle Lake.
There is a bar at the highest point of the hill. It looks more like a beautiful café set on a tranquil location. There are a variety of wines, both red and white, that you can choose from. The price is also reasonable. Take a glass of wine, savour the taste and look at the panoramic view of the Nyaung Shwe town below.
Inle Lake Travel Guide
How to reach Inle Lake?
Inle Lake is located in Shan state of Myanmar. You can get into this tranquil and beautiful place either by flight, bus or train.
Getting to Inle Lake by Bus
I think buses are by far the best option to reach Inle Lake. Night buses are available from Mandalay, Yangon and Bagan. Mini vans are also available from Mandalay to Inle. From Mandalay it takes about 8 hours by bus and from Yangon, it takes around 12 hours. You will get tourist buses and mini vans as well as VIP Buses. The VIP buses are a bit expensive, but they are definitely much more comfortable.
We took a JJ Express night bus from Yangon to Inle Lake and it was quite a confortable journey.
Getting into Inle Lake by Flight
The nearest airport is the Heho airport, about 45 km from Inle Lake. You can get a flight ticket from Mandalay, Bagan and Yangon. From the airport, you will get taxis to Inle Lake and it will take about an hour to reach.
Getting into Inle Lake by Train
The nearest railway station to Inle Lake is Shwe Nyaung. From there, it is only 13 km to Nyaung Shwe, the main hub of Inle Lake. Yes, Shwe Nyaung and Nyaung Shwe are two different places, though the names seem as if the words are just interchanged. You can reach Shwe Nyaung by train from Kalaw, Yangon and Thazi.
From the railway station, you can either hitchhike or get a bike taxi to Nyaung Shwe.
What is the best time to visit Inle Lake?
Inle Lake has roughly three seasons.
- October to February : Cool Season
- Dry and warm season: March to May
- Rainy Season: June to September
November to February is the peak season to visit Inle Lake. This is the dry season and there are fewer chances of your trip getting spoilt due to the rains. Also, the weather is a bit cooler during this time. October and March is the shoulder season and is also a good time to visit. We had been to Myanmar during October and found very fewer tourists in Inle Lake.
The famous Phaung Daw Oo pagoda festival falls on the Burmese month of Thadingyut, the 7th month of the Burmese lunar calendar, usually falling on the month of September or October. This makes the boat trip on the Lake much more interesting. Though we missed the festival for a few days, but we heard a lot about it.
The best time for birdwatching is from November to February. This is the time when thousands of migratory birds flock around the lake.
Where to Stay at Inle Lake?
There are a number of accommodations scattered around the Inle Lake. However, we recommend you to stay at Nyaung Shwe as the choice of accommodation is more here. Also, the market, bike rental shops and restaurants will be within reach.
Nyaung Shwe has a number of hotels and you will not complain about the standard of accommodation. However, the price can be on the higher range. It seems the entire town has been built keeping in mind about the tourists. There are many fancy hotels and resorts. There are also a few hostels in the area.
We recommend you to book your stay online rather than turning up there and finding a hotel.
Some tips for Inle Lake Boat Tour
- Bring an umbrella, sarong or scarf that you can use for sun protection.
- You can buy the traditional bamboo made hats known as Khamauk from the local market.
- Carry drinking water with you as it is important to stay hydrated.
- Make good use of sunscreen. You can also use Thanaka powder, a powder commonly used in Myanmar as sunscreen. You can see Burmese girls and boys applying them on their face. This is a natural sunscreen made from the ground bark of some native trees. They are quite effective as natural sunscreen, definitely better than the cosmetic ones.
Inle Lake Travel Guide (FAQs answered)
Q. What is Inle Lake famous for?
Inle Lake is a naturally beautiful lake famous for its scenic beauty. The lake is also famous for the Intha fishermen who balance on one leg for fishing.
Q. How do you get into Inle Lake?
The nearest airport is Heho airport, about 40 km away. You can also take a bus to Inle from any major cities of Myanmar.
Q. From where can you get a boat tour?
You can ask your hotel or hostel for boat tour around Inle Lake. They will have contacts for operators. Travel operators are also found in the Nyaung Shwe market area. You can also go to Nyaug Shwe jetty where you will find plenty of boats ready for a tour.
Q. Can you swim at Inle lake?
I don’t think you would want to swim at the lake. It looks very beautiful, but remember that there are houses on the lake and all the household wastes flows directly into the lake.
Q. How many days are required for Inle Lake?
2 days are good to explore Inle Lake area. However, you can stay for more days if you want a leisure trip. Inle Lake is perfect for slow travel.
Q. How do I get to Inle Lake from Heho Airport?
Heho airport is about 45 km from Nyaung Shwe. You can get taxis from the airport that will cost around 25,000 Kyats and will take around 45 minutes to reach. You can ask your hotel for a pick up from the airport.
So that was all about our experience at Inle Lake. While there were many things that were in-your-face “touristy”, we enjoyed our time spent at Inle. In all the years we travelled we have learnt that some touristy things can also leave an amazing experience. The 2 days in Inle Lake we spent were amazing and the place will remain special.
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