Inle Lake is a large freshwater lake surrounded by hills in the Shan state of central Burma. The shallow lake that is about 18 kilometers in length is a place of scenic beauty with a relaxed, tranquil atmosphere.
The lake is known for its floating gardens and “leg rowers”, so called because of their distinctive style of rowing, standing on one leg, attached to the other leg an oar, which they paddle in the waters.
The people that live here are the Intha, who grow crops as tomatoes and flowers in floating gardens on the lake. Their wooden houses are built on stilts because the water level is much higher during the rainy season.
The Intha as well as the Pa-Oh who live in the surrounding hills sell their crops at the “5 day market”, which is held in a five day rotating cycle in five villages around the lake. The rural area surrounding Inle Lake is dotted with small villages, ancient stupas and teak wooden monasteries.
To do & see at Inle Lake
There is plenty to see & do around the lake, like taking a boat trip, cycling around the lake, hiking or visiting a monastery. The fee to visit the Inle Lake is US$ 10 per person. Some places have a separate camera/VCR fee.
The main town of the Inle Lake area is Nyaungshwe, connected to the lake by a kilometers long canal. Its main attractions are the morning market and a number of Buddhist monasteries. One of them is the Shwe Yan Pyay monastery, a 150 years old red painted teak wood monastery on stilts with large oval shaped windows. The Shwe Yan Pyay monastery houses young boys studying the teachings of the Buddha. Another monastery worth a visit is the Yadana Man Aung Paya, with its beautiful golden pagoda topped with a ornamental hti.
Villages around the lake
The village of Khaung Daing on the North West end of the lake is best known for its hot springs. The Khaung Daing natural hot springs nearly 10 kilometers from Nyaungshwe are most easily reached by boat. Visitors can use the swimming pools and a spa.
A few kilometers South East of Nyaungshwe is the Red estate vineyard. In a tranquil, natural setting with great views of the surrounding valley visitors can taste several locally produced wines. A tasting menu costs 2,500 Kyat. The vineyard is about 20 minutes by bicycle from Nyaungshwe.
Ywama village on the West end of Inle Lake is known for its busy floating market. It is one of the villages where the “5 day market” is held in a five day rotating cycle. Inphaw Khone is a weaving village near the bottom of the lake. Using traditional weaving methods, the villagers produce cotton and silk items like shawls, which are for sale in local shops.
Near the bottom of Inle Lake is the area’s most important Buddhist monastery, the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda which enshrines five highly revered golden images of the Buddha. During the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda festival the images are carried around the lake on a Karaweik Royal barge.
Ancient pagodas of Indein and Kakku
An 8 kilometer boat ride through a long, narrow canal from the bottom of Inle Lake leads to Indein village. Indein is one of the villages that hosts the “5 day market”, where the Pa-Oh who live on the hills sell their crops. The main attraction of the village is its hundreds of ancient pagodas, scattered among two fields around the village. Another group of pagodas can be found South East of Inle Lake. The site of the Kakku pagodas has only recently been opened to visitors. Because of its remote location it takes considerable effort to get to.
North of Inle Lake are the Pindaya caves. An important pilgrimage site for Burmese Buddhists, every corner and nook of the cave in a limestone hill is cramped with images of the Buddha.
How to get to Inle Lake
Inle Lake can be reached by air, bus or train.
The airport nearest to Inle Lake is Heho airport on NH4 National Highway about 35 kilometers from Nyaungshwe. A taxi from the airport to Nyaungshwe will take around 45 minutes to one hour and cost around 35,000 Kyat. A taxi booked from hotel or local travel agent will cost between 15,000 and 20,000 Kyat.
Several airlines serve Heho airport from destinations within Burma.
Air Bagan offers several flights daily from Mandalay and Yangon to Heho airport. Visit their website for more information. Air Mandalay offers one flight daily from Mandalay to Heho. Prices for the 35 minutes flight start at US$ 46. Yangon Airways serves Heho from several domestic destinations, including Yangon (68,000 Kyat), Mandalay (32,000 Kyat) and Bagan/Nyaung U (49,000 Kyat).
There is no direct bus service to Inle Lake. The nearest long distance bus station is Taunggyi, about 25 kilometers from Nyaungshwe. The 630 kilometer trip from Yangon to Taunggyi takes some 14 hours, one way tickets cost 16,000 Kyat (US$ 19). From Mandalay to Taunggyi, the 300 kilometer trip takes some 8 to 9 hours and costs 10,000 Kyat (US$ 12).
The train station nearest to Inle Lake is Shwenyaung, about 12 kilometers North of Nyaungshwe, the largest town around the lake. The train ride from Thazi to Shwenyaung is known for its scenic beauty. The very slow ride takes about 10 hours; tickets cost US$ 3 for ordinary class, US$ 8 for upper class. From Shwenyaung, take a taxi or bus to Nyaungshwe.
The most fun and often quickest way to get around in the Inle Lake area is by boat. Renting a boat carrying up to five people will cost about US$ 20 for a day. Travel agents and hotels offer standard tours that include several stops at places like a handmade cigar factory, a weaving factory or a blacksmith. At most of these places are shops where you will be offered items at much higher prices than elsewhere. Often, tribal people or children with animals pose for photos for a fee. To avoid the shops, head for the pier and hire a boat from its owner. Make sure to agree on price, duration of the trip and places to go to.
Many places around Nyaungshwe are close enough to be reached on bicycle. Renting one for the day will cost around 1,500 Kyat.