Set in the foothills of the mountainous Shan state, lies a beautiful freshwater lake dotted with floating gardens and communities built above the water on stilts. Inle lake draws in many visitors; it is almost obligatory to make a visit when you come to Myanmar.
We left Mandalay in the morning and our hotel organised a bus to get to us to Inle. The journey took 6 hours, with a quick change at Shwenyaung (a town on the outskirts of Inle) where a taxi waited for us and drove us to Nyaungshwe where our hotel is located. On arriving into Nyaungshwe we were required to pay a tourist entrance fee of 12,500 kyats ($10/£8), a french men who shared the taxi with us refused to pay (he grabbed his bags and started storming off thinking it was a scam – we can assure you this is not and the fee is mandatory, just like Bagan).
WHERE TO STAY
Nyaungshwe is where the majority of budget hostels and hotels are located, if you look at it on a map it is not quite by Inle Lake (it’s 3 miles away). The hotels that fringe the lake are luxury and pricey resorts, if your budget extend to their prices by all means stay there but we feel you will miss out on Nyaungshwe’s character and charm.
In Nyaungshwe you will find many resturants, shops, a market and travel agencies for onward connections to other parts of Myanmar. When we explored the town, we were surprised how pleasant it was which added to our Inle experience. It was easy to navigate due to it’s grid layout and it never felt too busy or too touristy (we where there in late March). There are several ways to get to Inle Lake; a long canal links the town to the lake so you can take a boat, just ask any of the boat drivers dotted alongside the canal in town. Secondly, you can cycle there by renting a bicycle cheaply and thirdly, by car/taxi which your hotel can organise for you.
We stayed at the Green Valley Inn in the centre of Nyaungshwe, it is a small family run bed and breakfast. Few hotels in this area provide air conditioning (Green Valley does) which is needed during the hot season. They have decent WiFi and serve a lovely filling breakfast each morning. The staff are friendly and helpful especially when planning travel to other places.
WHAT TO DO
After checking in to your hotel, rent a bicycle (from your hotel or from local bike store) and go exploring. If you have the energy and it’s still morning or early afternoon, do the Inle circular bike route; take the East exists out of Nyaungshwe and join the main road, heading south for 7 miles. Remember to take water with you and cycle at a steady pace before reaching Maing Thauk (signs and roadside boat drivers will point to you to turn right).
The road will come to an end and a long pedestrian bridge takes you further into the water village. Stop for a lunch break here, lock your bikes and continue on foot along the bridge where there a couple of restaurants. Maing Thauk is a lovely lakeside community, with homes built on stilts and if you have the time, you can ask a boat driver to give you a small boat tour around the village.
Once refreshed and your hunger satisfied continue on and cross the lake itself by boat – boat drivers are plenty here so just ask one of them, settle a price and put your bike on board. A boat can normally fit 3-4 bikes and passengers at the same time, you may want to share your boat with others to keep the cost low. The crossing takes about 15 minutes which takes you to the west side of the lake to another village, at the same time providing you a great view of Inle. When you reach the other side of the Lake, head North and follow the main road back to Nyaungshwe.
On your way to Maing Thauk you probably passed signs for Red Mountain Estate Vineyards & Winery, this is worth a stop (or for another day out). The winery provides a wine tasting selection which is grown and produced on site. It’s popular towards sunset as the bar and restaurant is perched on top of a hill facing the lake in the distance.
For an easier and less strenuous way of seeing Inle Lake, organise a private boat tour with a local travel agent or via. your hotel reception. We booked one from an agency across the road from our hotel and cost 20,000 kyats ($15/£12) for the whole day. Our boat driver took us to various parts of the lake (which is not accessible by road) seeing fishing villages, floating gardens where crops like tomatoes are grown on the water and watch how local crafts are made like weaving and jewellery. This also provide opportunities to shop, and buy some unique souvenirs to take back home. Stick around for the sunset – it is beautiful and memorising (you can get some great photos). Depending on the season, ask your boat driver to take you to the most southern tip for Sankar Lake. Stunning pagodas fringe the lake and few tourists make it this far. Due to hot season the canal that links Inle and Sankar had dried up so we could not go.
Beyond Inle, if have the time (and money) make a visit to see the Kakku Pagodas, where there are over 2000 stupas, hundreds of years old. Pindaya Shwe Oo Mn Pagoda was also recommended to us, a cave system housing multiple Buddha statues and shrines.
WHERE TO EAT
Nyaungshwe has a wide selection of restaurants and although the town is catered towards tourists, you can still find authentic local and regional dishes here. Favourites include Sin Yaw Restaurant, friendly English speaking staff, very patient to explain the individual dishes to you. Ever Green Restaurant serving simple affordable Burmese food and a very generous happy hour for drinks (800 kyat/50p draft beers). Missing burgers? go to One Owl Grill – serving the best burgers in Nyaungshwe, slightly pricier than other restaurants but we think it’s worth it. For a sunset view go to Minthamee Bar & Bistro they have a good happy hour between 5-7pm and the food is very tasty which makes a great stop for dinner.
- Power cuts are frequent in this area, they usually don’t last long and most places have generators to keep the lights on. We recommend you bring a portable powerbank for your phone and pack a torch/flashlight.
- There are hot springs on the north west side of the lake, we didn’t go after reading some mixed reviews – mostly not meeting people’s expectations, the hot springs were based around two small man made pools (it sounded too much like a tourist trap for us).
- Pack a jacket or waterproof with you when boat riding, morning temperatures can be quite cool.
- Wear appropriate clothing when visiting religious sites, covering legs and shoulders.
- US Dollars are widely accepted, and getting local cash (Kyats) was easy through the ATM’s situated near the market.
- The lake is an incredible biodiverse area with many people relying on it as well as animals and birds. Be a responsible traveller and help the environment by disposing your litter properly, reducing plastic usage and consider eco-friendly ways to get around.
Myanmar has always been a dream destination for us ever since Rob had an old guide book at his home – which had ‘Burma’ as it’s title then. The country really surprised us when we first arrived at Yangon, how modern and diverse the city is. Small reminders of it’s colonial past are still visible through the old buildings that stand. 50 years after the British left, the country endured one of it’s most challenging times through military command and only until 2010 the country opened up to a new democratic future. One of the highlights of our trip, was going to the gates of Aung San Suu Kyi’s house where she was imprisoned for 15 years, for such an inspiring figure we felt obliged to pay a visit. Maybe one day her house will be turned into a museum?
Historic sites are plenty in Myanmar – Bagan was a spectacular and fascinating place with it’s 2000+ temples that are centuries old. Everywhere we visited, the people were so friendly and welcoming which we will never forget, the food as well from the delicious Shan Noodles to Tea Leaf Salad we miss already. We found it fairly easy to travel around and if you are are lost people would offer to help. We leave Myanmar with smiles, it’s been an incredible trip and full of surprises.
Gallery Preview, for more photos of stunning Inle click here