Idle away your days on the placid waters of Inle Lake. Nestled in the Shan Hills, the lake’s beauty is as enchanting as the the rich culture and traditions of the local residents. Whether your interests lie in adventure, culture or crafts- or if you are simply seeking out a place to relax- Inle Lake has it all.
Long tail wooden boats are the main means of transport on Inle Lake and are a fun way to get around. However given the lake’s size – 20 kilometers long and almost 10 kilometers wide- you would need several days to reach every corner of the water. But fortunately the sites are mostly concentrated in one area and a one-day trip provides a great overview of the lake and its people.
The Inthar people are the lake’s native residents and observing their way of life is one of the more intriguing cultural aspects of Inle. The Inthar are mainly fishermen and their unique one-legged boat rowing technique will leave you awe-struck. Make sure your boat driver goes through the canals of the Inthar stilted villages where you will see fascinating floating farms and local ways of life.
The Inthar and other lake residents are known for several cottage industries including silversmiths, blacksmiths, cigar rolling and weaving. You can visit family workshops to see these crafts and although now they all feature a souvenier shop they are still interesting stops to see hand-crafted items being made. Of particular note is the lotus weaving, which uses the fibers from the stem of the lotus flower to create luxurious silks.
Although you may be ‘templed out’ from Bagan, you should still make a stop at the lake’s most famous religious site is Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda. The pagoda is home to five famous Buddha images which, over the years, have been covered in so much gold leaf they have lost their original shape. Every year the images are carried by barge to different villages around the lake, a huge festival that includes lots of music, celebration and boat racing. The 150 year-old teak Nga Phe Kyaung monastery is also impressive with dozens of old Buddha statues carved from wood and stone.
Further away from the main part of Inle Lake, the stupa-covered hill of Indein, on the lake’s western shores, are of historical interest but also a fun boat trip. Hundreds of stone and stucco stupas fill the hill and the journey there takes you through a jungle-like canal. To the far south of the lake, around 2.5 hours from the top of the lake, the Pa-oh village of Sagar (also referred to as Samkar) has ancient stupas that are often ‘sunken’ under water. The town is also noted for its pottery and is interesting to explore on foot.
If you are a nature lover, Inle has some additional attractions. There are several species of birds and in the early morning is a good time to catch a variety of them soaring above. The hills surrounding the lake are ideal for trekking and half day or multi-day programs can be arranged to the Pa-Oh, Shan and Palaung villages in the highlands. As well biking around the lake shores is a fun way to explore as rice paddies, sugar cane fields and even a vineyard can be discovered amongst the local villages.
Although it feels disconnected from the outside world, it is surprisingly easy to reach the lake shores as it is serviced by Heho Airport, an hours drive. The lake itself is generally accessed via Nyaung Shwe, a quaint town at the northern end of Inle’s main canal. There are several options for hotels in Nyaung Shwe, but mainly budget to mid-range.
On the lake itself, there are dozens of hotels on stilts above the water ranging from mid-range up to luxury. Allow at least a full day for the lake itself and, if you have the time in your itinerary, a second day can be filled with any number of excursions.