Mighty and mysterious Inle Lake is one of Myanmar’s famous “big four” destinations, next to the Swedagon Pagoda in Yangon, the historical city of Mandalay and the centuries old temples of Bagan. I only had two weeks to spend in Myanmar, but a visit to Inle Lake was a must and I didn’t regret it coming there. It was the highlight of my trip in terms of nature and scenery.
Inle Lake is 22km long and 10km across, which makes it the second biggest lake in Myanmar. It is located in the heart of the Shan Plateau about 700 km north of Yangon and is inhabited by many different ethnic groups. The Intha tribe is probably the most famous one, its people are the Lake dwellers and well known for their leg rowing. That’s also the most famous picture you will see of Inle Lake with these local people out on the lake and fishing on their traditional leg rowed boats.
The one day boat trip on Inle Lake
Almost all hotels and guesthouses in the area are located in Nyaungshwe, a village to the northern end of the lake (some pricier options can be found in some scenic resorts built up right on the lake). There are many travel agents all over the place that offer boat trips on Inle Lake (as well as half or full day hiking and cycling tours), most guesthouses offer them too however I found them a bit more expensive than the travel agents. Or you do it like I did and just walk to the pier and ask book your tour right there. It can’t get cheaper than that as you don’t pay commission to anyone and you can show up whenever you want instead of thinking about the departure time the day before.
There are generally two types of boat trips being offered: Full day and half day. I wouldn’t recommend going out only for a half day as it takes almost one hour to cross the lake to the first village you are visiting. Inle Lake is huge and you should really take your time and try to experience its calm atmosphere and the people village life as much as you can – the boat trip on Inle Lake is what you come here for anyway. A realistic price (always negotiable) is 15,000 Kyat for a full day tour. You will share the boat with 15 other people or as little as 3 people as in my case.
As for the trip itself, the boat goes gently along the small river in Nyaungshwe and after twenty minutes you reach Inle Like, the first impressive view – it just seems so huge and endless. From there there boat just drive, drive and drive straight along and you feel like you will never reach anything. But after one hour hour so you arrive at a busy village with a nice temple, local market and restaurants. You can take your breakfast there and then hop back on the boat. Tours slightly differ but what you will do then is a mixture of village exploring and shopping tour, they will bring you to expensive silk and gem shops and (more interesting) a cigar factory. Here you can see young Burmese girls rolling 100 cigars per hour. You can tell your boat driver to skip all these shopping tours like, but chances are that he will still take you to these places. The cigar factory is really interesting though. You have your lunch at another scenic restaurant on some village right on the river and exploring more quiet and remote places in the afternoon.
Tip: It can get quite hot on the boat (especially in the early afternoon) and there is no sun protection – so take your own, and put on plenty of sunblock.
If you have the time, it is possible to rent bicycles in Nyaungshwe for just 1 USD per day. Drive around, the scenery is really beautiful. As mentioned there are also hiking tours being offered at the travel agencies. Apart from that, there is not much more to do around Inle Lake so that in my opinion, three or maximum four nights are enough time to spend there.
So how to get to Inle Lake?
It is possible to take a flight from Yangon to Heho, which is 35 km from Nyaungshwe and Inle Lake. Your cheapest option is normally Air Mandalay, sometimes Air Myanmar also has good offers. If you prefer overland travel, you can take a bus from Yangon to Taunggy, about 25 km from Nyaungshwe. The ticket costs around 17,000 Kyat or 20 USD, the trip takes about 13 hours and there are both day and night buses available. Note that Yangon’s bus terminal is more than 30 minutes from the city center, taxis can be booked at your guesthouses for 5 USD. To get from Taunggy to Nyaungshwe, there are small local buses traveling up and down. The fare is not more than 2 USD (or the equivalent in kyat) and it takes about 20 to 30 minutes to get there. You don’t need to book your hotel room in advance, just walk around and have a look at some places and also the rooms before you take one. Prices are negotiable and 10 to 15 USD will pay enough for a decent room with aircon and hot shower.