I am not sure when I will be able to go to Srinagar which has the famous Dal Lake with its crystal clear water, houseboats, floating markets, floating post office, etc. So when I was going on the road trip to Myanmar I made sure that I must visit Inle Lake. The only issue was that it is located on the North-Eastern side of Myanmar and away from the initial planned route. Somehow after tweaking the plan I managed to include Inle Lake also.
How To Reach Inle Lake
Inle Lake is well connected by Bus with Yangon, Bagan, and Mandalay and I would recommend the overnight bus unless of course, you want to book a car and travel which is an expensive option.
If you are traveling by bus then I would recommend JJ Express as they have a very neat and clean bus and very good service. When you book your bus tickets your destination will be Nyaung Shwe which is the city center from where you can take a taxi or just walk down to your hotel depending on the distance.
If you are adventurous then take the slow train to Shwe Nyaung. There are no direct trains from Yangon, Mandalay or Bagan and you have to change at Thazi. You can book trains online at https://myanmartrainticket.com/. Remember these are just third party services and they would book physical tickets on your behalf and deliver it to your hotel.
If you want a quick in and out of Inle Lake then catch a plane to Heho from there you have to take a one-hour taxi ride to Inle Lake. Flights to Heho depart from Yangon and Mandalay and can be booked online.
Entry Fee for Inle Lake
Any foreigner coming to Inle Lake will have to pay an entrance fee of 15,000 Kyats (October 2018). This is usually collected while your vehicle enters the Inle Lake zone. There is a check post where you need to pay and get a receipt against the money. Keep this receipt with you as these might get checked while touring around Inle Lake.
Tip: Many online articles will suggest you schemes to avoid paying these entry fees. Please avoid those schemes and pay the entry fee and roam around the town freely.
Where To Stay In Inle Lake
The simple answer to this depends on your budget. There are cheap hostels, hotel rooms, and expensive resorts. I used an online aggregator site booking.com to get a real good deal. Since I was staying a full day and not overnight so I just needed room to relax and move on. If you have time and money then would suggest staying at one of the resorts on the Lake with a fantastic breathtaking view of the lake.
How To Visit Around Inle Lake
The best way and the cheapest way would be to book a narrow motorboat which can accommodate around four persons. You can book the whole boat to yourself or save money share with other passengers. It’s very easy to find the tour operators and in all probability, the place where you are staying can get you connected. The prices are almost similar thus no need to bargain much but just be aware of the current ongoing rates.
A full boat will cost you around 20,000 to 18,000 Kyats and can accommodate four-person, so if you pay the full price then you have the full boat to yourself.
You will be picked up from your hotel in a vehicle and then taken to the pier from where all the boats depart. Have a clear understating of the total duration of the trip and the places covered.
Keep in mind that the boat during the trip around the lake will take you to curio shops selling silver jewelry and tobacco products. You need not buy them and are free to photograph at these places without any pressure to buy these.
I was getting irritated with the number of curio shop stops and had to tell the boat guy that I am more interested in photographing the lake and its surroundings and nit interested in buying stuff.
If you are sharing a boat with other tourist then do share phone numbers so that it stops you don’t keep waiting for them and vice versa. Last but not the least, do wear a life jacket that will be available for each passenger during the trip. This is for your safety. Keep a firm grip on your mobile phone and camera as there are chances of water splashes from passing boats. If possible use waterproofing cases.
Places To Visit Around Inle Lake
Inle Lake itself the prime attraction which needs much of the attention. On a bright clear day, the lake looks wonderful with blue water and hills in the backdrop. It is the second-largest freshwater lake in Myanmar and covers around forty-five square miles. Its rich in flora and fauna with many indigenous species only found here at Inle Lake.
There are many villages in and around the lake. Some villages are built right on the lake with the help of wooden stilts on which the houses are built. There are also floating markets catering to these communities. People use the water as the main mode of transportation using motorboats or oars to rowboats.
Village Life at Inle Lake
You will find numerous small, medium, and big wooden houses on stilts around the lake. While some villages are located on the shores of the lake some can also be found standing right in the middle of the lake. Everything out here has been adopted against the background of the lake. Don’t be surprised to find a post office in the middle of the lake or for that matter a floating fuel station which is used for refueling the numerous boats.
Shops have an open lakefront so that customers on a boat can come and buy their required stuff right from their boats. Some villages on the banks have built their artificial canals to accommodate the passage of boats.
Inle Lake Boatmen
If you Google Inle Lake then I am sure the most common photos that will show up will be that of boatmen with their conical nets and their legs wrapped around the oars. While boatmen at Inle Lake do stand and row with their legs and there is a logical reason to this, the maximum water level at the deepest point of the lake is around 12 feet and the waters of Inle Lake are full of weed thus its logical for the boatmen to stand up so that they can see the sections with deep weeds to avoid their boats getting stuck.
The tour boat will take you close to these boats but be sure these are for show only and they will pose for you with fish, their nets, and the oars.
Tip: These dummy boatmen will ask for money so if you are in a shared group please discuss the sharing of tip accordingly else if you are alone you have to bear the full tip. Around 2000 Myanmar Kyat should be enough as a tip.
Inle Lake Wetland Sanctuary
Inlay Lake has a protected wildlife sanctuary since there are lots of migratory birds that keep coming to this area. These wetland sections can be visited by boat but there are no human habitable structures. If you are a bird lover and love to shoot these with your camera then this is the best place to spot them.
Apart from birds, these restricted areas are also full of varieties of turtles, fishes, and amphibian creatures.
Inle Lake Gold Rooster Channel Marker
All around the world in lakes and big water bodies channel markers are used to direct boats since within a water body there are no visual references. In Inle Lake, you will see this unique channel marker made with bamboo which has a golden rooster on top. This aids the boatmen in the right direction while ferrying passengers and cargo. The face of the rooster and the tail of the rooster helps boatmen get a reference.
Silver Workshop at Inle Lake
The best part of visiting a curio shop in Myanmar is that you are never forced to buy anything and free to roam around see the workshop and take photographs. You will also not be haggled to pay tips if you take photos. Goldsmith and silversmith are one of the popular businesses around Myanmar and out here in Inle Lake, you can see real silver jewelry making process. Right from smelting the silver then to mix it with other metals and then making fine wires out of the silver which is then crafted into jewelry and other art forms.
Long Neck Kayan Women
When you are in Inle Lake you are far from Kayan state but the curio shops do have them at their shop so that tourists can come and take their photos. This way they make sure that tourists spend some time at their shops and thus increasing their opportunity for a sale.
As said earlier you do not have to pay anything as a tip to these women who happily pose for cameras. You are also not obliged to buy any of their products.
Kayan women are famous for their rings which they wear around their neck and legs. Every year a coil is added to their neck ring thus in over a few years they have a very visually elongated neck. In reality, however, the neck is never elongated instead the collar bone depresses and gives a visual illusion of a long neck.
The real reason for these neck rigs is vastly debated, some say it’s for looking more beautiful and appealing while some say it is to protect women from the slave trade by looking less attractive.
Shwe Indein Pagoda
Shwe Indein Pagoda or sometimes referred to as Shwe Inn Dein Pagoda is one of the main highlights of the Inle Lake tour. Make sure that this is covered in your boat trip as this is one of the places you should not miss.
The boat will drop you off at a point and you would need to walk for around 15 – 20 minutes to reach the main temple and the series of pagodas that are randomly all around.
Just follow the road up on the right and you will reach the temple and the pagodas. There is no official entry fee for the temple yet 500 Kyats will be asked as a photography fee. I somehow managed to avoid paying this unofficial fee by acting dumb.
There is an ongoing controversy as to who built these pagodas, locals believe that the great Indian king Ashoka built these yet some firmly believe that these pagodas were built by Narapatisithu.
There are around 1600 pagodas in all shapes and sizes. Some made purely from terracotta while some have marble finish while some have golden paint over them. The condition of the Pagodas ranges from almost crumbling to the ground to in pristine condition and freshly painted.
Make sure you click a wide shot of this place and get as many stupas as you can in a single frame. This place is referred to as the land of the thousand pagodas and now you will know why just by looking at the placement of several pagodas all around this small hill.
Tip: If you are traveling as a shared boat then make sure you set a return time and a location where you would need to return once you
Lotus, Silk and Cotton Hand Weaving Centre at Inle Lake
With an abundance of lotus plants around the lake the locals have used the root of the lotus plant to extract the fibers and then spinning several of these to form threads which are then made into cloth. These are then dyed and used to make clothing, carpet and other household decorative items.
Out here you can see the entire process from the extraction of the fibers, spinning them into yarn, dyeing them, and then weaving them into various forms. There is a showroom also attached to these workshops from where you can buy the finished products.
You are free to photograph them and won’t be forced to buy so go ahead and enjoy the process of seeing lotus roots being converted into beautiful garments.
Tip: If you are more interested in going around the lake instead of these forced visits to curio shops then let your boat driver know. If you are traveling with other tourists with a shared service then discuss amongst yourselves.
Floating Restaurants and Resorts
Unless you carry some snacks you would need to eat somewhere and the boat will give you the option to stop at one of the floating restaurants. Price-wise these are a bit steep but overall Myanmar is relatively cheap and the food is good taste-wise.
I settled for a plate of rice with mixed meat and cola. More than the food the break was much needed to refresh and rehydrate for the rest of the journey.
Tip: Most of these restaurants have clean toilets thus use them wisely.
This is another curio visit that your boat driver will take you while touring Inle Lake. Cheroots are very common in these regions and they look like a smaller version of Cigars. These Cheroots are made of Thanat leaves which form the outer shell and it’s filled with a mix of tobacco and dried wood. Some add flavors like cinnamon, honey, tamarind, etc. One end of the cheroot has dried corn placed which functions somewhat like a filter.
Cheroots are smoked by both gender and I have come across several old women smoking them with panache.
Out here in this Cheroot workshop, you get to see the entire process of cheroot making and if you are adventurous then you can roll your cheroot. You can also order your flavored cheroot which will be rolled and packed in front of you. If you are interested not in buying then you can always try smoking one just to enjoy a quick puff.
Hpaung Daw U Pagoda
This pagoda is famous for its gold Buddha, in reality, the Buddha idol has been covered with gold leaf by believers and over the years the original shape of the deity cannot be seen and only gold blobs can be seen.
This is a very popular pagoda and doesn’t be surprised to see many devotees queuing up to place gold leaves. Also, this place has a huge number of shops and you might just find the right bargain.
During October there is a festival where a large golden boat is taken out from this Pagoda and then celebrated across the lake.
Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery
This is a 200-year-old monastery and is one of the oldest in this region. Made entirely of wood this monastery has a charm of its own. What looks like a simple monastery from the outside completely changes once you get to see the inside.
This monastery is also famous for its cats which jumps as these have been trained by the monks to jump through loops. This practice however is not continued anymore and although you can see some fat well-fed cats around the monastery the jumping cat shows are not popular anymore.
Alodaw Pauk Pagoda
This Pagoda was built by a famous king named Thiri Dhamma Thawka. This pagoda is supposed to have relics of Buddha. Though this pagoda is not an important stoppage during the boat tour however you can take a few minutes out to check this place.
The people of Inle Lake have also used the lake as a place to harvest crops and vegetables. They have created floating gardens and fields wherein fruits and vegetables are grown and sold in the local markets.
These floating gardens are created by the accumulation of water hyacinth, seagrass, and seaweeds. These are then held together with bamboo poles and the process gets repeated. This creates a solid yet floating base for the plant seeds to be sown.
Once the tour is over the boat will drop you back to the pier from where you were picked up and the tour operator will pick you up and drop you back to your hotel.
- Wear sun hats as you will be exposed to direct sunlight while touring in the narrow open-top boats
- Use sunscreen on hand and face else be prepared for sunburns
- Carry drinking water as the long journey and walks will dehydrate you
- Carry some light snacks or fruits for a quick bite. Alternately you can buy these from the local floating market or shops around the villages
- Visiting the Pagodas would require you to follow strict dress codes. Men and women need to cover their legs so shorts and three quarters are not allowed. I kept a lungi with me which I wrapped around whenever entering a religious place.
- Carry an umbrella or a rain jacket if you see clouds else you will be out in the open without any protection from the rain.
- Agree with the tour operator the start and the end time of the tour along with the places that will be covered.
- Keep entry ticket that you bought while entering the Inle Lake region along with you. If asked by officials you need to show this else they might fine you.
Share Boat Tour Operator At Inle Lake
Address: Win Quarter, No.53 Phaung Daw Side Rd, Nyaungshwe, Myanmar (Burma)
Phone: +95 9 760 118072