Asia Features

Inle Lake: One of Myanmar's Hidden Paradises

By Catie Funk (Writer and Photographer)

(Our group of 4 (my husband, myself, and another couple) debated about spending an extra 2 days in Myanmar to travel to the Inle Lake area. Skipping the big capital city and beaches, we already knew we wanted to see the heart of Myanmar via Mandalay and Bagan City. But once we arrived at the lake we knew instantly that our decision was right, and soon became entranced with Inle Lake, one of inland Myanmar’s most secretive, yet interesting, destinations.) 

Inle Lake’s rich history and the wide variety of sights continue to help it grow into a major tourist destination. The village makes an easy 2-3 day side trip for travellers visiting central Myanmar. For those who want a completely different look of Myanmar, Inle Lake is the place! It forces you to stop and slow down; enjoy letting the boat captain guide you through the vast waters while you breathe in the fresh air and soak in the sites.

After our short 30 minutes flight from Mandalay to the Heho airport, a taxi drove us the remaining 1-hour drive to the town of Nyaungshwe. It is scrappy, but a well-equipped touristic hub for Inle Lake and surrounding, providing accommodation and transport for not just tourists, but locals too. Visitors can rent bikes for the day for a few dollars and easily explore all the city has to offer - a few restaurants, Buddhist temples, and the weekly market. 

The local tour companies arrange all lake transportation and day tours. A standard day trip costs K15,000 to K18,000 (US$12 to US$15) per person. The extra tour out to the distant Inthein and Shwe Inn Thein Paya, costs another K10,000 per person. The boats carry up to five passengers and are equipped with seated chairs, umbrellas, and life vests. Boat taxis out to the hotel and back are K20,000 total, but with a combined tour and hotel transfer, you can negotiate your rate down by K15,000.

Inle Lake provides plenty of excellent tourist fare. Nestled among the hazy Shan Mountains, 900 meters above sea level, Inle Lake is fringed by marshes and floating gardens that contain stilt-house villages and Buddhist temples rising above the water. Throughout the day you can witness the Intha, (“sons of the lake”), fishermen standing at the very tip of their long slender boats, propelling themselves along with their unique leg-rowing technique.

Only twelve feet deep at its lowest point, Inle lake boasts thriving fishing villages on stilts, bustling local markets, and comfortable hotels and resorts. It’s one of Myanmar's best locations for finding authentic culture and local life.

The best way to fully experience and explore Inle Lake’s watery world is to stay at one of the many lake hotels or resorts that are only accessible by boat. The boat travelled to our hotel on the calm, serene waters of the 13.5-mile-long and seven-mile-wide lnle Lake. For $50 to $100 per night, guests stay in a villa suite with a private view of the sunset and sunrise over the massive lake. With no option but to dine at the hotel at night, guests are forced to relax and absorb the experiences of the local villages.

Scattered along the lake, sights include traditional floating villages. Along with fishing, traditional handicrafts play an important part of the local economy. You’ll see local tradesmen plying their crafts with hand-made cheroots (traditional local cigars), silver jewellery,  and local longis (skirts), woven from lotus stalks that are harvested from the lake.

Some of the Intha villagers have planted floating gardens that grow a variety of vegetables and flowers, for their own consumption and to export around the country. This method of agriculture is another unique aspect of life on the lake, as the villagers have harnessed nature to develop these gardens over many generations.

As with all of Myanmar, religion plays a large part in everyday local life; numerous atmospheric pagodas and monasteries are situated on the lake and along its shores. The oldest pagoda on the lake, Alodaw Pauk Pagoda, is an impressive and large gem-encrusted golden shrine.

Further away, and well worth visiting, are Inthein and Shwe Inn Thein Paya’s complexes of over 1,000 crumbing, hilltop pagodas, that overlook the water down below. A narrow, vine-filled canal winds through the reeds to these lakeside villages, dotted with stupas dating back a few centuries.

The distinctive hilltop pagodas continue with the worshipping traditions they have practiced for centuries. Although a little off the beaten path, Inthein is one of the busiest and most lively stops due to its location on the market circuit.

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This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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