Inle Lake Travel Guide
Welcome to my Inle Lake Travel Guide. I hope this will inspire you to visit this unique place, despite some controversies perhaps. But more about that later on.
In western Shan State, you find the picturesque Inle Lake, famous for its floating villages and the unique way of life of the local Intha people. The communities here are based entirely on the water. One of the things the lake is famous for, is the unique rowing-style of the fishermen, wrapping one leg around their oar. The lake is pretty big at 22x10km. It lies between mountain ranges. Things here look very different from any other place in the country.
Fishing and handicrafts are important parts of the local economy and along the way you’ll get taken to many handicrafts store. You’ll see silversmiths, silk weavers, cigar makers and more. Being one of the most popular destinations of the country, expect boatloads of tourists here. The boatmen are tempted to take you to many handicrafts store and they get a provision on the over-priced goods. It’s interesting to visit a few, but more interesting is it go to around and view the local way of life.
Inle Lake is a gorgeous place and the boattrips to explore the different locations are great. But I do have very mixed feelings about this place. Let me explain.
Personal thoughts about Inle Lake
My first visit here was in 2012. While the country had just opened up, the effects of tourism had already made the floating market impossible work with. With all these tourists in the way, locals couldn’t do their thing. The floating market had moved to on-land locations. Back then you did still have the fishermen on the lake, rowing with their unique way, trying to catch fish. During my second visit in November 2019 there were a lot more fishermen, but only acting their moves and trying to have tourists pay for the shots. Entire groups of fishermen tried to squeeze themselves in the shot, all asking for money.
The amount of tourists has exploded in the years, the whole town has changed to accommodate all that. This is just what happens when tourisms grows, but it doesn’t make it more fun. Especially when you arrive at other places, things can be crowded. Knowing how it was before, I found it hard to enjoy this time.
The reality of Myanmar is that a lot of things are government controlled and owned. So some of these local little shops and markets that seems run by the locals, are actually run by the government. Everything is ridiculously over-priced and buying any souvenirs here is likely to support a corrupt system. I’m biting my tongue here to not get too political.
All in all, yeah Inle Lake is a gorgeous place that is worth visiting, but it’s also the example of a tourist trap run by a regime that is in the least bit interested in supporting its own people. Be aware and buy your souvenirs elsewhere where it will support locals. Please, support locals, consciously.
Inle Lake Travel Guide: Things to do at Inle Lake
Balloon flight over the lake
If you have the budget for it, a great thing to do is a balloon flight over the lake at sunrise! The balloons sometimes even land shortly on a boat to take off again!
Inle Lake boat tour
The number one thing to do at Inle Lake is a boat tour to visit all the different towns on the lake. Start your day early to catch sunrise from the lake. Alternatively you can do a sunrise (only) tour, or a sunset tour.
The floating garden is a unique piece of work. The pieces of ground are held together with bamboo, floating on the lake. It covers a huge area and produces many kinds of vegetables year-round.
You will see long-necked women who are working on their garment. This is pure for tourism purposes to show-off their ‘giraffe necks’.
There are many small workshops, factories, and shops on the lake, some more interesting than the other. You can visit shops like cigar or gold maker and factories where they create beautiful clothing. And of course there’s plenty of souvenir shops to found everywhere.
Next up, visit Maing Thauk Village which is located on the east side of Inle Lake. This village is almost completely built on the water and it is impressive to see how these people live their lives.
One of the best things is though watching the local life, kids playing in the water, people busy with everyday life, going around on the water.
Indein is a small village West of Inle Lake. It’s known for its market and many ancient pagodas. The pagodas come in many shapes and sizes and in various states of preservation. Most look as if they’re about to fall apart. It’s an interesting littly ‘city of pagodas’ to wonder around. You should make sure your daytrip includes this place, it’s worth it.
There are plenty of more places to visit, temples along the way, pagodas, people to meet, objects to see. You can easily spend two to three trying to cover most of Ine Lake.
Daytrip: Pindaya cave
You’ll need to hire a car with a driver to take you here, but it’s an interesting daytrip to the Pindaya cave. It’s an important pilgrimage site for Burmese Buddhists, set in a limestone hill. It contains 3 caves, but only 1 is open to public. It’s about 150 meters long and contains over 9.000 Buddha statues. Many statues bear the name of the person who donated it.
Getting around at Inle lake
Most boat trips around Inle Lake start at the town of Nyaung Shwe, where you’ll have to pay K12.500 entry fee upon entering the town. The boarding area for boat trips is located around the bridge at the western end of Yone Gyi Road in Nyaung Shwe. From here you‘ll want to set off early in the morning for your trip around the lake.
There ‘sa lot to see on Inle Lake and in the surrounding villages. Unless you’re staying for three days or more, you will need to be selective about what you want to see. Boat drivers can advise you on the best sights.
Exploring the area on a bicycle
You can hire a bicycle for around K1500 per day in Nyaung Shwe, allowing you to explore the beautiful scenery on the eastern side of the lake, including Maing Thauk and the Red Mountain Estate vineyard. You can also join a bike tour to see the countryside, many rice fields, a bamboo forest, visit ethnic villages and enjoy scenery.