Inle Lake is a shallow lake in the middle of Myanmar, the second-largest in the country, some 650 km north of Yangon. Unlike Venice, the locals live right on the water on 22 kilometre long lake in high-stilted houses and use boats for transport. Inle Lake lives its life like a big village. It has everything built on the lake: houses, workshops, temples, monasteries, and hotels. And it’s why the lake is worth visiting. There are 17 villages on stilts on the lake and lakeshore, mostly inhabited by Intha people with a total population over 70 000. Other tribes living there are Shan, Pa-O, Taung Yo, Danu, Kayah, and Danaw.
How to get to the Inle Lake?
I can talk about two options: airplane and bus. You can fly to Heho airport and then take a 45 kilometre car transfer to Nyaung Shwe. A cheaper and much less comfortable option is taking a night bus from Yangon, for example. The upside of the bus option is that you arrive in Nyaung Shwe in the early morning and can depart to Inle Lake right away and still catch the sunrise on your boat trip. There is a 15,000 kyat entry fee for the Nyaung Shwe/Inle Lake area, which is payable when you first take the journey into Nyaung Shwe.Nyaungshwe is connected to the lake by a canal about 7 kilometers long. The boarding area is located around the bridge at the western end of Yone Gyi Road.The current rate for a private six hour boat cruise is $15. The region’s iconic longboats are comfortable, featuring a cushion-topped chair, a lifejacket, a warm blanket, and an umbrella. Try to book a boat with an English speaking driver, otherwise, you will have to guess the names of the places and what is going on there. As we have booked our transfer to our lake hotel with Asian Tour Travel Company, we just went with the same non English speaking driver on the lake tour for a not so big additional fee. So we had no explanations. Things are easier at workshops where there are local English speaking guides explaining the production process.
First day. What you will see on the Lake?
Inle Lake fishermen
The fishermen have become a real draw for visiting tourists there. The men in this region begin fishing when they are 13 years old and carry on until around 75 years old. For centuries, endemic fish and the iconic Inthar fishermen have co-existed on the Inle Lake in Myanmar. Inthar means ‘sons of the lake’, and the Inthar fisherman, perched on the back of his teak canoe and holding his conical bamboo net and harpoon while rowing with his other leg, has long been an iconic image of the people of Inle and Myanmar. Every day the fishermen will catch a small selection of carp using conical shaped nets which they submerge in the 10 feet deep lake.
Craftsmen workshops with shops
Workshops on Inle Lake are designed to cater for tourists and every workshop has its production part and a shop. If you are not good at bargaining, you will soon find out that shop prices are about the same level as in Europe. But getting to know more about the production process is very interesting, I find, and at the end of the day, you are not forced to buy anything. Here is a list of workshops we visited on our boat tour.
In a weaving workshop, I learned that it is possible to get yarn from lotus and then use it to weave a scarf, for example. It was very special indeed.
Ywama village is famous for its goldsmith and silversmith craftsmen. The artisans of this village have created amazing traditional gold and silver wear loved by visitors.
Workshop of long neck ladies
At Ywama village we were met by two older long neck Padaung women busy weaving some traditional fabric and their 2 daughters. They keep many unique customs to this day, including wearing many necklaces to have a longer neck. This long neck tribe has about 7000 people nowadays. Girls start to wear necklaces at the age of 5. The more laces are worn, the longer their necks become. A female adult may have up to 35 necklaces.
Boat making and wood carving
We also visited a boat making and wood carving workshop where you can learn about boat building and also buy some intricate wooden fridge magnets, among other souvenirs.
Religious buildings on the Inle Lake
Nga Phe Kyaung (Jumping Cat Monastery)
It’s called like this because a monk once trained the cats to jump there. But the old monk died, and so the cats are no longer jumping. However, it is a nice monastery worth visiting for its ambience. And yes, we still ended up visiting the monastery regardless of the not jumping cats. There are cats but they are not jumping.
Ywama village stupas
I was really impressed with a view of golden stupas at Ywama village.
Phaung Daw Oo
Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda is the most famous pagoda in Inle lake region, Myanmar. The pagoda houses five small gilded images of Buddha. They are totally covered with gold, which makes the visitors not be able to see the original form. Only men are allowed to offer the gold-foil onto the Buddha images. The five Buddha Images represents the Kakkusandra, Kaunagamana, Kasatpa, Gautama and Arainmareya Buddhas of this world.
Stay at the hotel on the Inle Lake
We finished our boat trip in the early afternoon and headed back to our lake hotel. We stayed at Golden Island Cottages Nampan Hotel for our first night. It’s a floating hotel, it is built on stilts in the middle of Inle Lake. All the bungalows have scenic lake views. The staff does everything possible to make you feel like their most important guest. They received our boat with music when we came back from our lake boat trip. Moving and unexpected. We used Japanese massage services provided by the hotel. It was an interesting experience. Even though I try massages in different countries I visit, it was the first time I tried a Japanese one. There were free traditional music and dance performance in the evening at the hotel made by the hotel’s staff.
The next morning after breakfast we were brought back to Nyaung Shwe town for our second day of adventures on the mainland.
Practical information about visiting Inle Lake
The lake is located about 900 metres above sea level. It was the coldest place in all Myanmar during our visit. Daytime was pleasantly warm but mornings and evenings were quite chilly so better bring your warm clothes to keep yourself warm.
The second day. Bicycling around Nyaung Shwe
Hotel at Nyaung Shwe
After getting to Nyaung Shwe, the first thing we did was checking into our superior room in Royal Inlay Hotel near the boat station.We were nicely surprised to find out that we have bicycles for a day free of charge. So we had a day of bicycling. Our day was fully packed with visiting three places near Nyaung Shwe with about 35 kilometres covered in total. First, we went to
Khaung Daing Nature Hot Spring
9 kilometres from Royal Inlay Hotel. The road was good with small ups and downs.Near the hot spring, we noticed stairs to the pagoda on the top of the hill. I recommend climbing up for good views.Khaung Daing hot springs are man-made pools with water from some springs. These are therefore not "springs" as such because there is no flowing water. This water is 100% natural and comes directly from the spring without any treatment. You can choose between 7 USD entrance fee for male or female separate pools and 10 USD entrance for better serviced common pools. Yes, it’s not cheap by Myanmar’s standards; still, I enjoyed soaking in the healing water of the superior pools for 10 USD. Compare the price and the quality of the water with any other places you know all over the world and enjoy it!Then we were pedalling back to Nyaung Shwe to get to our next destination.
Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery
The monastery is located 3,5 km from Royal Inlay Hotel. The road was good quality and very nice with blossoming bushes and a canal from one side.The monastery is a 150 years old red painted teak wood building on stilts with large oval shaped windows. The Shwe Yan Pyay monastery houses young boys studying the teachings of the Buddha. It was really a moving experience.After that, we wanted to be on time for the sunset at Red Mountain winery.
Wine tasting and sunset viewing at Red Mountain winery
Distance 5 kilometres from Royal Inlay Hotel.There are not so many wine producers in Myanmar, but two of them are located in Inle lake region, Red mountain Winery being closest to Nyaung Shwe. It’s known not only for good quality wine but also for great sunset views. Maybe one of the reasons for the development of wine production Myanmar was country's ban on imported alcohol, tobacco and other luxury goods, which lasted from the mid-1990s until 2015. Red Mountain winery is owned by U Nay Win Tun, executive of a gemstone company who is estimated to be one of the country's richest businessmen. Red Mountain Estate started operations in 2002 when French winemaker Francois Raynal was invited to manage the new venture. All of the 400,000 plants have been imported from France and Spain. Excellent wines have been made there since 2006 in the tradition of western wines with modern equipment. Since the beginning, the wines have been produced with locally grown grapes. Try the Shiraz, Shiraz Tempranillo or Sauvignon Blanc. They are really good. Red Mountain Restaurant was opened in 2011 with its amazing view of the Inle Valley.
Practical information for visiting Red Mountain winery
If you're coming by bicycle from Ngyaung Shwe, the last 300 metres up the hill is quite a workout. It will still be a struggle as the bike rented from the town is just an ordinary bike (with a basket and bells). So if you are not sure how it would work for you, just leave your bicycle at the parking lot at the bottom of the hill and make the rest of the journey by foot.If you are going for the sunset, take into account that it will be dark when you come back, so prepare the lights for your bike.
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What did you think? Have you been to the Inle Lake? Or perhaps you’re thinking of visiting there in the near future? Either way, I’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below. You may also enjoy things to do in Yangon.
Author: Anita Sāne
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