Inle Lake was the fourth and final stop in our trip to Myanmar before heading back to Yangon. Due to lack of time we only spent 1 day here, but if we really could, we would have spent 2 days at least and I would recommend that anyone who visits here do that. This is the last blog for my series on Myanmar. For my other blogs on Myanmar, you click on the following: Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, Mingun.

Inle Lake is a shallow freshwater lake that is found in the mountainous region of Shan State at an altitude of 880m. It is the second largest freshwater lake in Myanmar and is also a popular tourist destination.

Getting There

We took the road from Mandalay to Inle Lake which involves a winding route through the mountains. The travel time from Mandalay to Inle Lake was around 8 hours although the distance is only 330km, due to the winding road and conditions which doesn’t allow for fast speeds, as well as, congestion from road works along the way.

Overnight buses leave Yangon and Mandalay for Inle Lake and will stop at Nyaungshwe which is the town nearest to the lake.

The nearest airport is at Heho where only domestic flights from Yangon and Mandalay land. From the airport it’s still an hours drive by taxi to Nyaungshwe.

Getting Around

Nyaungshwe itself is a rather run down place. We passed through it as we were driving towards our hotel by the lake. Accommodation in Nyaungshwe is considerably cheaper than staying by the lake, plus you have a lot of local restaurants to dine at. However, there is not much you can do there, and there seems to be a lot of construction being done when we were there (December 2017), and it was really dusty and noisy. If you stay in Nyaungshwe you can rent bicycles which I see a lot of tourists do, but most of the travelling is by boats as the main sights are all on the lake.

When we entered Nyaungshwe by road, there was a checkpoint where we had to pay 13,500 Kyats (SGD13.50) for an Inle Zone ticket. Again this ticket is valid for 5 days although we were never asked to produce it whenever we went in Inle Lake.

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It was already late afternoon when we arrived at our hotel at Inle Lake. We decided to stay at Novotel but you have a wide choice of other lake side hotels to choose from. Prices are quite expensive to stay at lake side resorts, but I think it’s worth it if you want gorgeous sunset views and the convenience of staying by the water. However, you will be mainly confined to the hotel’s restaurants for meals especially at night as the lakeside resorts are really in the middle of nowhere.
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Sunset is a popular time for visitors to book a boat and go out into the lake.
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We decided to just relax and have a drink while watching the sunset. After all the rushing for sunrises and climbing of pagodas over the past week, Inle Lake was a welcome respite for relaxing.
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Inle Lake also has a large population of migratory birds during the Dec-Jan period. A pity that I had such a short stay. It would have been great to spend a whole day just photographing the many birds that come here.
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After dinner, it was time to cozy ourselves by the fireplace. During the cold season, night time temperatures in Inle can drop to 10°C or less as it is in the mountains. So you do need some thick clothing to ward off the cold

So getting around the lake involves you hiring a boat to bring you to the various floating villages around the lake. We did a half day tour in the morning as we had to leave for Yangon by 12pm. The distance from Inle Lake to Yangon is 660km and it took us 11 hrs to get to Yangon. By the time we reached our hotel it was almost midnight! So you have to factor these times when you plan your journeys in Myanmar. Google Maps does give an estimated travelling time (which is quite optimistic) but add an extra 1-2 hours buffer and you won’t go wrong.

Our driver/guide again helped to get a boat for us at 25,000 Kyats (SGD25) for a 4 hour tour. The lake side hotels have their own private jetty and the boatman was able to pick us up there. If you stay in Nyaungshwe, there is a jetty in the town where you can get a boat. A full day tour of the lake will cost around 50,000 Kyats (SGD50) but the boats can take up to 4~5 adults so the cost can actually be shared.

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Early morning rays of the Sun filtering pass the mountain mists and illuminating the floating farms on the lake.
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The main tribe living here are the Intha and they grow their food on floating farms.
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The farmers harvest the weeds at the bottom of the lake to be made into the floating plots for farming. Nutrients from the waters of the lake make these floating farms extremely fertile.
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As we enter one of the villages we see that instead of roads, there are canals between the houses.
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The villagers were busy going about their daily routines. Very often our boats will just pass by each other and sometimes bumping into each other. So it’s best to keep your hands inside the boat.
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Usually the boatman will bring you to the usual tourist spots like traditional arts and crafts shops. There are several interesting crafts here like silver ware, silk weaving and cigar making. Here you can see one of the more popular pagodas on the lake.
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One of the stops was this silk weaving factory and shop. They also have their lotus root fiber weave which is unique only to Inle Lake.
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If you have seen the many handcrafted paper umbrellas in Myanmar, you can get one from here.
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Another monastery on the lake is the Jumping Cat Monastery. I heard that the monks here used to train the resident cats to jump through hoops hence the name. But they have stopped that practice now and the cats just hang around and be like normal cats. Although being greeted by cats at the jetty is a novelty.

One of the more unique sights on the lake are the fishermen who are able to balance on the edge of their small boats and paddle with their feet wrapped around an oar.

I bet you can’t do that. Fishing and paddling with 1 leg while balancing on the end of your boat.
One of the fishermen using the traditional wooden basket to catch fish.
If you really want to do the tourist thing, there are fishermen who are dressed in traditional garb and will pose for you. We paid this guy 5,000 Kyats (SGD5) for around 15 minutes of modelling.
Even then it’s really amazing how they can balance on a rocking boat.
It seems that they know all the poses that will help you win in a photography contest..
He even told me to take this shot. And you can see this similar shot in most other travel photographers’ portfolio and in some photography contests.

Before you go boating into Inle lake, you should prepare the following:

  • Warm clothing and a waterproof jacket (or raincoat). It’s really cold in the morning and the wind chill from a moving boat makes it worse. The raincoat is helpful if it rains and also useful in case of spray from other boats. Some of the boats do provide blankets which you can use.
  • A hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. You will be out for a long time under the Sun.
  • Water and food, especially if you are not planning to eat at any of the floating villages.

Besides these, there are other places we didn’t get to visit due to our short stay here like the 5 Day Market, hot springs and a winery by the lake. Compared to the other places, Inle Lake is really a place to relax and unwind, and I recommend that you don’t rush it when coming here.

This is the last post for my series on Myanmar. We covered most of the major tourist sites in the country. However, there are several more sites that we couldn’t visit due to our short trip, so there probably has to be another trip to see them. Myanmar itself is a really large country and there will be more places to undercover.

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