While places like Mandalay, Yangon and Bagan are filled with Pagodas that are built on land but Inle is a region in the Shan state of Myanmar where Pagodas rise from the water. The huge Inle lake with an area of 116.3 km² is famous among tourists for its spectacular landscape and stilt houses.
LIFE ON INLE
This 13.5-mile long freshwater lake cradles a unique ecosystem. People living on the Inle lake transport themselves and their commodities in motorboats or long canoe-like rowing boats. After parking their boats in the basements or empty spaces of their thatch-bamboo houses on stilts, people carefully climb into their houses via a rickety staircase.
Intha community, a tribe of people living on the Inle lake, is involved in fishing and farming to support their livelihood. In this, tourism further adds to their economy. Activities like one-legged fisherman skill showcase, puppet shows, boating tours, exhibiting local handicrafts, rotating and floating markets; all of these collectively supports the lives of the people here.
*Entrance fee to Inle Zone: 13000 kyat/USD $10 (valid for one-week)*
This entry fee is generally termed as a SCAM all over the internet and I am still unsure if that is true because we weren’t asked to pay it while entering Nyaung Shwe. So, it is advisable to be aware of this scam in Inle.
Around the 5-mile wide Inle lake, there are Shan mountains with people of various communities like Shan, Pa;’O, Taung Yo, Danu, Kayah and Danaw living around them.
BAGAN TO INLE
Our Myanmar backpacking trip initiated from Yangon then led us to Bagan for 2 days and finally moving to Inle from there. An overnight bus from Bagan to Inle was booked with the help of our hostel in Bagan. At 7 pm the bus picked us up from Bagan and dropped us at 4:30 am in Nyaung Shwe, the gateway to Inle lake zone.
Bagan to Inle bus cost: 25000 kyat/19 USD
Bagan to Inle Minivan cost: 12-15 USD
You can also take a cruise over the Irrawaddy river to reach the Inle Zone. It is for sure a longer way to reach places but an experience in itself if your cruise tour comes with all the faciltiies.
THINGS TO DO IN INLE
It was one fine morning in the village of Nyaung Shwe when after relishing a tasty Burmese breakfast at our lodge, we picked our cycles and left to spend the rest of our day on a boat. Our English-speaking guide Myo, provided by Beyond Boundaries, was with us.
I, Ankita and Prakriti was feeling quite exhausted for a few days because before coming to Myanmar we were enjoying a local festival at Basar in Arunachal Pradesh. And thus in order to reach Yangon, we flew to Kolkata from Basar and then finally to Yangon.
Once we stepped onto our motorboat which took off with a roar, our exhaustion translated to relaxation as soon as the cool gusts of winds hit our faces. That surge felt hopeful, we were excited for the rest of the day.
Seagulls coordinated their flight with the speed and direction of our boat. It was a magical start to our first day in Inle. Since it was just the starting of the peak season in Myanmar, there was a dearth of a high number of tourist boats around us. Guess, December was a good month to be in Burma.
The boat ride lasted for 30-40 minutes before it halted near the banks of a village called Maing Thauk.
Hike from Inle Lake (Maing Thauk) to Loi Khaut
We got down from our boats, though against our will, trust me we were still a little dizzy from the buzzing sound of the motor that was in our boat. Additionally, I needed one extra hour of that boat ride to clear steer of all my tiredness. Despite all this, we were excited about our hike.
We started our hike around 9 am keeping in mind that it gets really sunny during the afternoon hours in Myanmar and we had to reach Loi Khaut Village by lunch time. The hike started from a flat ground full of dried grass and scattered boulders. Our guide kept on making us choose the right trail and the shortest way to reach our destination.
I was also cross-checking the same trail on maps.me, offline version of the navigation app, and was wondering if we would really have been able to figure out the best route only by ourselves.
There were some paths that were painstakingly steep to be attempted in hot and humid weather but the surprise of having a Burmese feast later during the day, kept us moving.
Our guide was really knowledgeable and kept telling us about the region while we were huffing-puffing and often stopping for short breaks. He showed us a shrub full of red Christmas flowers and then a plant from which Burmese Cigars are made. It is called Carbia Myxa or Thanal Phet. Its Churro leaves are used to roll the tobacco and the finished product is sold as Cheroots or Burmese cigars.
We used to sit on boulders to chat for a few minutes. A local that accompanied us shared some of his energy powder (Twe Se which is good for blood circulation) with us. It tasted like pomegranate powder which is known as Annardaana in India.
After 3 hours, all tanned, we reached the main access road of the Loi Khaut village, a small region where the Pa’O tribe lives.
The first spot in the village that we went to was the Buddhist monastery which also had a monks’ school adjacent to it. The village mostly had 2 storey houses constructed out of bricks or bamboo.
As soon as we entered, we all wished our host Nyat Tse with our usual phrase ‘Mingalaba’ (a way of greeting in Burmese). It looked like she was happy to receive us, the smile on her face was quite prominent. We saw her doing last-minute lunch preparations for our noisy tummies and heating some drinking water.
A few minutes later, as we were curiously inspecting her house which was covered with bamboo mats from inside, our host arrived with a huge platter full of Burmese dishes. The colours and the aroma of the food already made us sat around a little table kept on the ground. We all were secretly salivating.
We were served with Burmese speciality called tea leaf salad and green tomato salad, red bean soup, avocado salad, some rice crackers, and potato. Avocado salad was the one that we three were most excited for and undisputedly here it was the best from our Myanmar trip.
This was inevitable. We were at a house of one of Myanmar’s ethnic tribes and how couldn’t have we got dressed in their traditional attires? Aunty Nyat Tse immediately got us all her traditional pairs of dresses as soon as she got to know that we were enthusiastic about her lifestyle and their dress-up.
The blue-coloured blouse with a jacket and long skirt goes with the colourful towel-like headgear. The whole colour combination resembles the skin and the scales of a dragon because the Pa’O tribes’ people are believed to be the descendants of the dragon.
On our way back from the Loi Khaut village, we chose an alternative route. Just beside the trail, there were potato farms and avocado trees. We collected some of the fallen ones for our breakfast in the next coming days.
For the first time during our stay in Burma, we saw drying of tobacco leaves which would have been used for Burmese Cigars later.
Inle Lake Tour
There are various things that you can experience on your Inle Lake tour. Workshops where you can witness traditional arts and crafts, hiking up to the villages to meet ethnic tribes or experiencing the unique monasteries; it is advisable to spend at least 3 days and 2 nights in the Inle zone.
Our Inle lake tour and hike to Loi Khaut was arranged by Beyond Boundaries Myanmar. They specialise in offbeat Myanmar tours.
Boat Tour charges on Inle Lake: 23500 kyat/18 USD (Depending upon the inclusions, the tour ranges from about 12-15 USD)
Shared Boat Charges: 9100 kyat/7 USD (6-7 people)
Witnessing the Skills of Intha Fisherman
You might have read on many internet sources that these one-legged fishermen merely perform their skills of precariously balancing on a wooden boat while moving around with a stick and a net to attract tourists and photographers. But in fact, this traditional method of catching the fishes is still used in the region. And there’s a solid reason behind that.
The Intha or Innthar fishermen use this method because the lake is usually covered with reeds which makes it difficult to catch fishes while sitting in the boat. Standing on the boat gives a clear picture of where the fish is moving.
Using one leg they balance the boat on which they stand and the other leg is used for rowing it. The conical bamboo net and harpoon are used together in this method. This practice works in Inle because the lake is surprisingly shallow and the fishermen keep an eye on the appearance of fish bubbles.
The view differs at different times of the day. We were fortunate enough to witness these fishermen during morning as well as the sunset. At the end of their skill show, they will expect a small token of appreciation from you which you can happily give if you end up clicking loads of photographs.
Lotus Weaving at Inle Lake in Paw Khon
This is the only place only in the world where Lotus weaving is done. The stems of Lotus are twisted by hands to carefully extract sap-like threads and roll a few of them to form one thread at a time.
The water of Inle lake lets the lotus flower flourish and support this industry. This makes up for a perfect Made in Myanmar souvenir. Though the fabric is super expensive because it takes 300-400 lotuses for just one piece of scarf to be produced.
Lotus weaved scarf price: 261258 Kyat/200 USD
Shan Paper Making
It is always wonderful to watch the behind-the-scenes of the souvenirs that we all like to buy. Shan paper, a craft speciality of the Shan state was being produced at this place. The paper is further used to make items like jelly-fish lamp, notebooks, frames and other décor items.
Collect other Souvenirs
Apart from shopping for Bagan umbrella and Burmese Cigars (cheroots in Nam-Pan village), you can also meet the Padaung people at Inle Lake. We specially planned our trip to Kayah to explore their village and the lifestyle of the Long-Neck Tribe.
Read that blog post here.
In the same Ywama village, you can witness the villagers making traditional gold and silver wear as well.
As soon as you reach the textiles area, you can hear the wooden parts of the loom click against each other. You will be able to see various types of fabrics being manufactured here including the fabric made from lotus stems and the Inle longyi made out of silk which is Myanmar’s traditional wear.
Visiting the Monasteries and Stupas of Inle Lake
At the Un templo en el lago, Inle Lake, Myanmar
There are about 200 hundred monasteries around the Inle lake. Many of them were similar to the ones we saw in Bagan but there is one out of all these monasteries that stands out.
The Jumping cat monastery/Nga Phe Kyaung in Nga Phe village is the oldest and the biggest wooden monastery in the region. It is an interesting addition to your Inle Lake itinerary because here the cats are trained to jump across hoops by the monks of the monastery. If you don’t end up finding the cats jumping during your visit then you can always spend a good time with them while they lounge in the monastery.
Visit the Local Market
The visit to this local market was an interesting part of our day because not only we used a boat to reach the bank but also a mini-tractor which is also called Tolaji to reach the market.
Markets are the best places to get a deep insight into the lives of locals.
Some of the markets which you can visit are Maing Thauk, near Nyaungshwe; Thaung Thut, at the southern end of the Inle; and Inthein, which is quite a photogenic market. These markets are floating markets and can be anywhere in the 14 villages present around Inle lake.
You can enquire about their proper schedule from a local or your boat man.
The Floating Gardens of Inle to witness Hydroponic tomato farming
Later in the day, from moving at a lightning speed to cruising slowly midst the floating gardens in Kay Lar Ywa village, was an experience in itself. The floating gardens are based on an aqua biotic system where 60% of Myanmar’s tomato production is done.
Like the traditional fish catching method, practice of hydroponic farming has prevailed in this region since the 1960s. During the rainy season, these gardens get adjusted as per the level of water in the lake because the bamboo poles that these gardens are tied to, let them move up and down.
Local Red Mountain Vineyards’ Wine
In Nyaung Shwe, there’s a local Vineyard in Shwe Laphone Village. Visit it during the sunset time to enjoy sipping your wine under a beautiful golden light. You can reach the winery after half-an-hour of cycling from Nyaung Shwe or by a tuk-tuk ride.
It is strongly recommended to try Syrah (Shiraz), Shiraz Tempranillo (Red wines) and Sauvignon Blanc wines (white wine).
Wine tasting charges: 3000 kyat/2.30 USD
There is another winery in Aythaya village which is actually the first vineyard estate in Myanmar.
Other places that are worth a visit around the Inle lake are the Inthein village, Phaung Daw Oo Paya in Tha Ley, Nyaung Ohak with ruined stupas, Shwe Inn Thein Paya, Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung, Hmaw Be, and Samkar.
In Khaung Daing, an Intha village you can try Shan state’s famous tofu thoke (tofu salad).
300-year old Pindaya caves with 8000 Buddha images can also be visited if the time permits.
WHERE TO STAY IN INLE REGION?
Blue Vanda Lodge
As I mentioned, we were exhausted by the time we reached Inle and really wanted to indulge in some luxury on our supposedly backpacking trip. The beautiful Blue Vanda Lodge in Nyaung Shwe came to our rescue. The lodge is set amidst a lush garden with individual luxurious hut spaces and personal porch areas. Our bedroom and bathroom space made us experience all the luxury and relaxation we were craving for.
I had Shan noodles before reaching Inle but the best was yet to come and I didn’t know. We had the tastiest bowl of Shaan noodles at our breakfast in Blue Vanda Lodge.
Lodge also had the facility of free bicycles and so we utilized them for both the days.
Besides enjoying a boat tour on Inle lake, one can also cycle around the perimeter of Inle lake. The boundary is flanked by the Shan hills, paddy fields, hot springs, monasteries, stupas and local markets.
Make sure you ride up to the surreal Maing Thauk Bridge.
Cycle Hire charges: 1500 kyat/1.50 USD (per day)
You can rent your bicycles from KKO Mountain Bike Rental (Ko Kyaw Kyaw Oo) on Youne Gyi Road.
Hostels in Inle Zone
- Song of Travel
- BaobaBed Hostel
- Ostello Bello Hostel
WHAT AND WHERE TO EAT IN INLE REGION?
Inle Night Market, Nyaung Shwe
Inle’s night market was the second best after the one in Hpaan and was just a 15-min walk away from our place of stay. Apart from a lot of variety in non-veg, you will also get delicious veg food options like fried noodles, fried rice, fried vegetables, fried Vermicelli, soups and different kinds of salads.
Other restaurants to try around Inle
- Lin Htett Myanmar Traditional Food, Nyaung Shwe
- Sin Yaw Bamboo Restaurant, Nyaung Shwe
- Sprouting Seeds, Kalaw
- Innlay Hut Indian Food House (313), Nyaung Shwe
- Sunflower Restaurant, Nyaung Shwe
- Kyar Nann Taw Restaurant, Inle Lake
- Royal Palace Restaurant, Inle Lake
Average meal Cost: 3500 kyat/ 2.68 USD
And one day you can even cook your own meals by learning Burmese cooking skills at Bamboo Delight Cooking School which is owned by a lovely couple Lesly and Sue.
Mingalar Market in the middle of Nyaung Shwe is a great place to shop local produce and to just know how and what the Burmese shop in their veggies.
BEST TIME TO VISIT INLE
Months from October to early December is the best time visit Inle lake. During these months water of Inle lake is at its highest, an opportunity to see the blooming flowers.
During the month of October, you can witness Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival. Another remarkable festival is the Fire Balloon Festival (October or November) which is a part of part of the full moon celebrations In Myanmar.
HOW MANY DAYS DO I NEED AT INLE LAKE?
Inle lake and the surrounding Nyaung Shwe are can be covered in two full days with a tight itinerary. But in case you want to take it slow and decide to indulge in activities like far-off villages excursion, Burmese cooking classes, cycling to the winery and around the lake, then spare at least 4 days for this region.
HOW TO REACH INLE?
Air travel to Inle isn’t a possibility since the town doesn’t have an airport or a terminal. But you can use other modes of transportation like rail, road and cruise or even trekking.
Ka Law to Inle Trek
The trek is of 2-3 days. The countryside trek stretches from the hill station of Kalaw to the lake of Inle. You will a few homestays to stay in your way to Inle and back. The trek is a great way to meet Myanmar’s ethnic tribes in their natural habitats.
There are trains available from Kalaw to go to Inle in case trek isn’t on your mind. The journey is magnificently beautiful and picturesque.
Except the trek, all other modes of transportation will drop you at Taunggyi from where Inle’s nearest village Nyaung Shwe is 30-40 minutes away via a minibus ride.
Kalaw to Inle Train Ride: 3000 kyat/ 2.5 USD for 3-hour journey (11:40 am and 1:30 pm)
Yangon to Inle
There’s a direct train and an indirect train from Yangon to Inle. The journey takes about 10 hours to complete.
Overnight buses of 12-hour journey regularly ply from Yangon to Inle and vice versa.
Yangon to Inle Bus Ride: 28800 kyat/ 22 USD (12-hour journey)
And in case you still want to travel via air then take a flight Heho which is 1-hr taxi ride away from Inle lake.
Heho to Nyaung Shwe Taxi charges: 25000 kyat/ 19 USD
THINGS TO REMEMBER
- It can get really sunny on your Inle lake bout tour. Make sure you apply ample sunscreen or the local Thanakka and carry a hat.
- It can also get chilly during morning hours on Inle lake. Do confirm if your boat provides a blanket.
- You can avoid the Inle zone entry charge scam.
- Do pack a bug spray in case you are planning to do any trek.
HOW TO GET A VISA TO MYANMAR FROM INDIA?
Currently, visa on arrival facility is not available to Indian tourists coming to Myanmar. But eVisa makes the process easy. We spent 3600 INR (48USD) on a tourist visa which had a 28-day validity.
HOW TO TRAVEL TO MYANMAR FROM INDIA?
IMPHAL (MANIPUR) – MOREH BORDER (INDIA) –TAMU BORDER (MYANMAR) – MANDALAY
Indo-Myanmar border crossing is an experience that is meant to be taken for a backpacker but due to unstable border condition in December 2019 at Manipur side, we chose flights as an alternative.
The other border crossing that is open from Indian side is RIHKHAWDAR -ZOWKHAWTAR in MIZORAM.
Both passport and e-visa will be required while crossing by road.
We got a good deal at 12000 INR (160 USD) for Kolkata (India) – Yangon – Kolkata flight. Mandalay as a landing city from Kolkata seemed expensive in comparison to Yangon.
For other countries, flying till Bangkok and then crossing the Myanmar border by road is the cheapest option currently.