Visiting Inle Lake
When you think of Myanmar, it’s probably the thousands of temples in Bagan that come to mind. And it’s understandable, given the exceptional heritage it is. But quickly, travelers got to know another destination inside Myanmar that became a real hit as well: Inle Lake.
With 116 sq. km, it is Myanmar’s second largest lake, and it is a true jewel. Not only it has a high landscape & nature value, but it also offers really fascinating insights of the culture of Myanmar.
As Myanmar is opening up to tourism, it is inevitable that Inle Lake will become more and more popular as well, but I believe it is still time to go and enjoy the serenity of this place.
I visited the lake in October, which is the beginning of the best season to visit Inle Lake (October to March), even though you have an even better chance of good weather from November to February). In any case, I had a nice, pleasant sunny weather.
As Inle Lake is an absolute must-see in Myanmar, I wrote this article to help you prepare your trip and help you not miss anything on and around the lake.
How To Get To Inle Lake?
Before getting into the various places you should not miss at Inle Lake, let’s see how to actually get there. It’s not complicate. All you have to do is take a bus to a town called Nyaung Shwe, and pay the 12500 kyat / 9 USD fee allowing you to enter the Inle Lake area.
Nyaung Shwe is the gateway to Inle Lake and it has a relaxed atmosphere, you will probably come across other backpackers there! It shouldn’t be difficult to find a place to stay in Nyaung Shwe, I can recommend the Nanda Wunn Hotel. It is well located, comfortable and affordable.
So how do you visit the lake once in Nyaung Shwe?
I didn’t really want to rely on group tours and such stuffs, I like to travel independently and stop wherever I want for how long I want. And that’s easy! All I had to do is to hang out around the bridge over the canal linking the town to the lake, and find someone with a boat willing to take me. In fact, they are the ones approaching you.
I found a young man using the family boat to offer tours on the lake to foreign visitors, and I ended up going on the lake with him and his little brother on two consecutive days for an in-depth discovery of the region.
That’s why I think 3 days is a good amount of time to dedicate to the Inle Lake area in your Myanmar Itinerary.
I will now go over what are the best things to do and see on the lake itself and then around the lake.
What To See On Inle Lake
Inle Lake Fishermen
I don’t really like the idea of considering these men as a tourist attraction, but it’s true that most people traveling to Inle Lake wish to see them. The way they paddle with their leg standing at the back of their boat, and their surprising cone-shaped nets are truly unique and picturesque.
On our way to exploring the lake, we passed by a few of these fishermen, close enough to say hi and take a few pictures.
A first big attraction of Inle Lake is its network of “floating villages”; or rather villages built on stilts on the lake. I enjoyed wandering in these villages a lot. It’s a fascinating way of life you are able to witness from the boat.
People live in harmony with nature and the lake’s environment, and have perfectly adapted to it. This was allowed by the fact that Inle Lake is generally shallow, no more than 2 m / 6.5 ft.
Among others, my boatman took me to village called Phaw Kone in the southern area of the lake, to visit a lotus and silk hand weaving workshop called Shwe Pyae Shun.
Of course it’s all business, he probably takes all tourists there and gets commissions on purchases, but it’s fine. I played the game and bought a pretty little scarf. A nice souvenir for me and some support to them. It’s an interesting visit anyway! Interestingly, the whole village is actually specialized in weaving.
This time, they are floating for real. The floating gardens of Inle Lake are the result of really hard work. First, men have to harvest huge amounts of water plants from the bottom of the lake, to make the base of their cultivation beds.
Second, large bamboo poles are used to anchor the beds, and they are the only links between the floating beds and (relatively) firm ground. After adding more layers of water plants, they obtain a thick, strong and super fertile bed on which they can sow their seeds.
This way, in spite of an unconventional method, they manage to grow very successfully all kinds of vegetables, such as cucumbers and beans.
These floating gardens ended up covering large areas around the villages in the outer regions of the lake, crisscrossed by a whole network of waterways. I always wondered how my boatman never got lost in there.
It is another fabulous example of adapting to the environment and using what Nature gives us without destroying it. As an avid garden enthusiast myself, it was definitely a memorable visit.
Hpaung Daw U Pagoda
In the southern part of the lake, the Hpaung Daw U (or Phaung Daw Oo) Pagoda and the surrounding village are a must see. The typically Burmese pagoda, with a golden stupa at the top of its roof, is an important Buddhist site.
It houses 5 Buddha statues that have been covered with gold leaf, to the point of losing shape. 4 of these statues play a central role in a yearly celebration where they are taken for a procession from village to village.
Don’t hesitate to take off your shoes and go inside, everybody’s welcome. Just know that according to the tradition, women are not allowed to touch the Buddha images.
The Hpaung Daw U Pagoda is only accessible by boat and makes a great stop on your discovery of Inle Lake. The green, mountainous landscape around the lake is fantastic, and the small restaurants in the village around the pagoda are perfect for a lunch break.
What To See Around Inle Lake
Shwe In Dein Pagoda Complex
After reaching the southern tip of the lake, you will still need to travel for about 8 km / 4.5 miles on a small, meandering creek heading west, in order to reach In Dein. This place has got quite a bit of attention these past years and it is becoming quite of a tourist hot spot.
Shwe In Dein is actually made of two groups of ancient and stupas (a Buddhist structure containing relics).
It is estimated that there about 1600 of them, and most date back from the 17th and 18th centuries, some of them from the 14th century. However, it is believed that stupas had been erected in In Dein since the 8th century.
The first cluster is located next to the Indein village, and it is a real trip back in time. The religious monuments are often crumbing and are truly fascinating to explore.
After going through a 700 m / 760 yard covered walkway, you will reach the second group of pagodas. These are in much better condition, some covered with gold, shining under the sun, and surrounded by greenery and a hilly landscape.
The Shwe In Dein Pagoda Complex is a really surprising, strange place, definitely not to be missed when traveling to Myanmar.
Thaung Tho Market & Pagoda
This place is less famous and much less visited than In Dein. To get there, you need to follow a creek for about 11 km / 7 miles south of the lake. It is actually the first spot my boatman decided to take me to, as he knew it was market day.
Apart from the market, there is another cluster of stupas you can visit. It is smaller than In Dein, so if you decided to go to Thaung Tho, you should go before In Dein. This way, you can have a first approach of these amazing Burmese stupa clusters at Thaung Tho, and then discover huge ones at In Dein.
The market itself has nothing extraordinary, but it does feel nice to wander a bit off the beaten path, being able to see the local life going on, and being the only foreigner.
From the market, a covered walkway leads to the stupas. They are in good condition and from there on the hill, you can get a bit of a bird’s eye view to the surrounding countryside and mountains on the horizon.
It is not an absolute must-see, but Thaung Tho is still an interesting visit if you have some time to spend around Inle Lake.
Inle Lake is for sure a highlight of Myanmar and after reading this article you probably realized that this goes way beyond the lake itself.
By visiting this region, you will not only discover a gorgeous natural area surrounded by a lot of greenery, but you will also get immersed in the Burmese culture, watch a unique lifestyle and unique agriculture on the lake. You will get to visit important spiritual and archaeological sites.
The Inle Lake region concentrates everything that makes Myanmar such a special place to discover, go quick before it gets flooded with tourists!