In all of the places that we visited in Myanmar, Inle Lake was our favorite. (Bagan is a close second). It was peaceful, beautiful and lush. The mountains enclosing it were serene. After the dusty cities and towns we visited earlier, Inle felt like a breath of fresh air. The lake is located in the Shan State, with about 70,000 Intha people living on or around it. We stayed in a small town on the north side of the lake called Nyaung-Shwe, which has many restaurants and hotels and is a great starting point to reach the lake. Inle Lake is quite large, 13 miles long and 7 miles wide, and is the main tourist attraction in the area. Most people who come hire a long boat for the day to observe life on the lake, and the boat drivers bring you to see any of the tourist attractions that interest you. We stayed for three nights, which gave us time to enjoy some of the best activities in the area. We loved our hotel and the food at Inle Lake, and discuss them toward the end of the post.
Hiring a Longboat for Sunset Viewing
The first afternoon, we hired a longboat (about 7,000-10,000 Kyat, $10) and went out around 4:00pm to go watch the sunset. The ride only took us 30 minutes to get to the sunset viewing spot and the sun didn’t set until 5:30, so we ended up waiting for quite a while. We were entertained by the famous Inle Lake “fishermen” who came over with their boats and net and posed for the camera; and then asked for tips. I say “fishermen,” because it turns out they are actually pretending to be fishermen for the tourists. The fishermen on Inle have a unique way of paddling: they use one foot to paddle. It was very fun to watch and impressive how they could balance like that! There were fishermen in the distance, but they were not interested in posing because they were fishing!
We really enjoyed our boat driver, as he was very nice and spoke reasonably good English, so we decided to hire him again for a full day trip around the lake the next day.
Full Day Trip Around Inle Lake on the Longboat
We met our boat driver the next morning around 8am. He was all bundled up waiting for us at the dock. The sun was still hidden behind the trees, so it was a chilly morning. From Nyaung Shwe we cruised through the marshes that connect the surrounding villages and finally made it to the open, expansive lake. We then had another 30 minutes or so to get to a village. The houses and shops are all on stilts above the water. The villagers use long boats and canoes to get around; as in Venice, bridges connect some of the houses. Some were coming back from the market, their boats piled high with produce. Others were on their docks doing dishes, laundry or hanging out with their children. They live, eat and sleep on the water; how peaceful. It was so much fun to glide through these water villages and get a peek into their lives.
As part of the boat tour, we went to see local crafts and trades. We visited the silver smith, cloth weavers, cigar makers and boat makers. At each stop we were given hot tea, shown around the shop and saw how they made each product. It’s astonishing to learn how long it takes to make a shawl or pendant. Of course, everything was for sale; some say these shops are constructed solely for tourism.
We also visited a bustling and crowded market on the edge of the lake. We arrived by boat along with other tourists and many locals coming to do their shopping. The market was filled with produce, trinkets, clothes and anything else you might need. We stopped at a little stand that was selling tea and snacks and enjoyed sitting and observing the crowds.
We spent a full day on the boat cruising around the lake, the loud motor buzzing in our ears. It was a chilly day and was windy at times on the lake, but thankfully the boat driver provided us with a cushion for the wooden chair and a blanket. The day long boat rental cost us 25,000 Kyat ($26). If you want the basic tour it usually is 18,000 Kyat. We paid extra as we had the driver take us all the way to Indein village in the southwest part of the lake.
We took a short plane flight on Mandalay Air from Bagan to Heho and then hired a taxi from the airport to get to Nyaung Shwe, about 1 hour away. Since most travelers at the airport are going to Inle Lake, we suggest sharing the cost of a ride with someone else. We also got a slightly better rate ($20 instead of $25) by booking directly with the hotel ahead of time.
We stayed at the very popular Princess Garden Hotel, run by a very friendly couple. Like everywhere in Myanmar, you shouldn’t expect luxury, especially after coming from Thailand. $40 a night for a room seems fancy, but in reality it’s similar to a $25 a night room in the rest of South East Asia. Having said that, the rooms were nice, and I loved having a little porch to sit on in the morning and warm up as the sun started peeking through the clouds. Their complimentary breakfast was amazing; you got a choice of eggs, pancakes, toast, fruit and coffee or tea. The breakfast room was overlooking the pool and bungalows. Every night when we came home after dinner the staff would come by our room with a tray of juice and treats, such a sweet touch.
Vegetarian food was not hard to find in Inle Lake. In fact, we wished we could have stayed longer in the area to give us a chance to try out more places. Our favorite place to eat in Nyaung Shwe, hands down, was the night market. We went to the same stall, Aung Shwe Restaraunt, every night. It was the 2nd stall on the right. I LOVED the shan noodle soup, which is a simple bowl of rice noodles, vegetables and peanut sauce. Most shan noodle soup is not vegetarian, but this lady made it vegetarian for us, and it was fabulous. We also loved her parata’s (she called them Paladar) and roti with curry. We would leave full having spent a mere $4-5 between us. Amazing!!
We also enjoyed eating at Lin Htett. They were another authentic place where you could actually see the locals eating, so you knew you were getting good food and weren’t getting completely overcharged! The meal we got here was simple and delicious.