Myanmar Guide (October 2014) | Inle Lake

See also:

PART 1 | Travel Planning and Tips
PART 2 | Yangon 
PART 4 | Bagan 
PART 5 | Mandalay 

INLE LAKE

Taxi from Airport

Took 50 minutes and cost 20,000 kyat (arranged through our hotel). A toll stop on the way requires you to pay a $10 USD tourist fee per person. The airport is really small so if you are returning to fly out you can arrive one hour before your flight.

Where We Stayed

The main place to stay (and most convenient) is the village of Nyaungshwe at the lake’s northern end. Our hotel was a 10-minute bike ride from town, $64 USD per night and so worth it as it was one of the best places we stayed all year – we highly recommend it! It’s called Hotel Brilliant. They just lend you the bikes for free anytime you need them and it’s an easy (flat) ride into town. Still, if you’re too tired to bike into town for dinner they have 4 menus at the front desk from local restaurants so you can have food delivered to your room. Or, eat some instant noodles from your well-stocked mini bar. Or just get a tuk-tuk. The breakfast at Hotel Brilliant is best called brunch as they give you a huge amount of food, including a delicious Shan noodles dish. 

Only down side: Internet was so weak and slow it wasn’t worth using, but quality Internet service hasn’t reached this part of the world yet. Though we tried, you won’t find WiFi in town (you can find wired access) – except at French Touch Cafe where the Wifi worked but was slow.

We also saw several high-end looking hotels on the shores of the lake, while we were on our boat trips. I’d imagine this is a good option for you if you want to literally be on the lake, and won’t mind being away from the convenience and restaurants in the village. Some of them had floating cabins on stilts so that might be a cool experience.

Where to Eat

I love that a modest “mom and pop” kind of place ended up providing one of the tastiest meals we had in Myanmar. It’s called Unique Superb Food House and superb it is. I had the chicken and pumpkin curry. Entrees are 3,500 kyat. It’s located on a quiet side street in the village of Nyaungshwe at 3 Myawady Road. French Touch Café also had some great coffee and food (both Western and Shan dishes). Some of their menu pictured below.

How to Get Around

The main way is by bicycle – there are dozens of places to rent them in town. Also tuk-tuk, horsecart, trishaw and taxi.

What to Do / Itinerary Planning

OK, so the main attraction is the taking a boat ride on the lake. But what else is there to do? A nice four-day itinerary would be:

  • Day 1 | Bike ride to the hot springs
  • Day 2 | Boat ride on the lake (Northern part)
  • Day 3 | Market in the morning; Red Mountain Estate Winery at sunset
  • Day 4 | Boat ride on the lake (Southern part)
  • Add on 1 or more days for trekking, if you’re a serious hiker.

Bike Ride to the Hot Springs

Start early in the morning to beat the heat and enjoy this incredibly scenic bike ride from Nyaungshwe village to the hot springs. Your hotel should be able to point you in the right direction…you bike through town then make a left turn, and just keep going. Eventually you’ll start to climb a hill and you’ll get to a road with a sign “TO HOT SPRING” and arrow pointing to the left. Stop at the café on the left hand corner for a rest and a drink. We didn’t eat but it looked like they had some good food there too. We turned back after that so we can’t tell you about the hot springs, but nonetheless would recommend the bike ride.

Bike ride to the Hot Springs

Turn left here

Bike Ride to the Red Mountain Estate Winery

I’ve tasted better wine in my life but you should go for the view – which is outstanding. And a glass of their Sav Blanc or Late Harvest is nice after a hot bike ride. And when have you ever seen a wine tasting flight for $2 USD? The bike ride is about 30 minutes (give or take) from Hotel Brilliant. Go for sunset both for the view and lower temperatures at that time of day.

The wine menu at Red Mountain Estate

Not sure how good the food is here, but they did also provide a full menu at the winery

Boat Rides on Inle Lake

This was such a cool experience…a highlight of Myanmar and the entire year. 

First, know where you want to go: North or South?

Check out the map below and notice there is one large body of water at the top, and two large bodies of water at the bottom. The one at the top is the Northern part and contains a higher concentration of floating villages as well as the “tourist circuit” of sights to see. The Southern part is much quieter with very few tourists and the landscape is pastoral. It’s hard to say which is better because they are so different so we’d really recommend you get out on the lake twice if you can and experience both. You can’t do it all in one day – there wouldn’t be enough time with the travel required.

Write it Down

Decide which parts of the lake you want to visit and then ask someone at your hotel to write them on a piece of paper in Burmese to hand to your boatman.

Our boat on the Northern Trip - the seats are quite comfortable

The Northern “Tourist Circuit”

You will see the fisherman, floating villages and gardens. On certain days, in certain places, there are floating markets and you should inquire about those.

I rated the sights below using these symbols:

*** Yes, worthwhile
** Yes, if this interests you
* Mildly interesting
^ No, waste of time
~ Cannot advise; did not go here

The main religious sites include:

*** Jumping cat monastery (Nga Phe Kyaung)
*** Thaung tho
* Phaung daw oo pagoda
~ Inn Dein

The typical sightseeing spots include various craft-making centers providing an opportunity to learn about and witness local people making these items, as well as a shopping opportunity. This can be annoying as there is some pressure to buy (and the prices are high!) but you certainly don’t have to buy anything.

~ Shan paper and traditional umbrella making
^ Gold and silver smith
*** Lotus and silk weaving centre (in Inn Paw Khone Village)
** Boat and cigarette making centre
* Black smith

You can also visit:

~ The Pa daung people (long-neck people)

The reason to go to the “jumping cat” monastery is not for the cats (and they don’t jump anymore). Rather, it’s a unique old wooden monastery with some interesting statues inside. It was built on stilts over the lake at the end of the 1850s.

Floating villages

Floating gardens

Fisherman on the lake

Thaung tho

Lotus and silk weaving centre (in Inn Paw Khone Village)

Approaching the Jumping cat monastery (Nga Phe Kyaung)

Black smith

Boat and cigarette making centre

The Southern Tour

We saw even more fisherman on this trip on the way to the Southern part of the lake. You’ll spend more time in the boat (so the stops are nice opportunities to stretch your legs) and you’ll witness more local life, villages, stupas, etc. Our stops included:

*** Collection of ancient stupas at Sankar
** Whiskey distillery (and viewpoint – a small hill you can climb w/pagoda)
** Pottery making at Kyauk Deing

We also got really lucky as our boatman invited us to his house on the way home.

Boat Trip Tips

Bring with you:

  • Sun protection
    It’s intense on the water. Bring an umbrella for shade; don’t forget lip balm with SPF too.
  • Rain protection
    Our hooded rain jackets also provided warmth when it was a little cooler in the morning.
  • Water

There was some thick mud to walk through at Thaung tho so I was glad to have a sturdy sandal. For food….at some point your boatman will take you to a restaurant on the lake. There are all-day trips with boats leaving around 8am.

Boat Trip Costs

We arranged our trips through our hotel and here is what they cost:

NORTHERN LAKE TRIP for 2 people

25,000 kyat for the trip (included tuk-tuk ride to dock)
3,000 kyat for tuk-tuk ride back to hotel
5,000 kyat for tip
11,000 kyat spent on lunch

SOUTHERN LAKE TRIP for 2 people

60,000 kyat for the trip (included tuk-tuk ride to dock)
3,000 kyat for tuk-tuk ride back to hotel
10,000 kyat for tip
8,000 kyat spent on lunch

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