Discover Things to do at Inle Lake, Myanmar
As Myanmar is opening its doors to tourism, travellers have the opportunity to marvel at its treasures. Most rush to Bagan and the thousands of surrounding pagodas.
However, more in-the-know visitors head to a blue jewel nested in the green mountains of the Shan State. Here we discover the things to do at Inle Lake.
Inle lake is huge – 116 square km, but surprisingly shallow. Its average depth is less than 2 meters. This has enabled men to settle on the lake, living in harmony with this fragile ecosystem and build their villages over the water.
The best season to enjoy the lake is from October to March, the most ideal being November to February. I personally visited in October and had very pleasant and sunny weather. There were only occasional showers in the mountains, which didn’t bother me.
How to Get to Inle Lake
Almost invariably, the town of Nyaung Shwe serves as the base for visitors to Inle Lake. This small and quiet town is easy to explore by foot, and there are a number of affordable, backpacker-friendly hotels in town.
It is likely you will rush out of your hotel to catch your first glimpse of Inle Lake. However, here you will only find a bridge over a narrow canal. Nyaung Shwe is not built directly on the shores of the lake, but is linked to the lake by this 5km canal.
On this bridge, I discovered the perfect way to explore Inle Lake at my own pace stopping wherever and whenever I want to.
A young man came to me, telling me he has a boat and is willing to take me on the lake. I ended up using his services for two full days of private exploration on Inle Lake.
Meticulously planned group tours are often crammed with an inflexible schedule and end up a disappointment. However, by simply renting a boat from a local, I had the best experience possible. Therefore, I recommend this is what you do!
Things to do at Inle Lake
Now you know how to get to and around the lake, let’s talk about the various attractions here. There are plenty of things to do at Inle Lake and the surrounding areas from floating villages and gardens to markets at pagodas.
While there may be more things to do at Inle Lake that I have not listed, here are a few of my favorites.
Inle Lake’s fishermen have become an iconic sight, with their cone-shaped nets and amazing paddling technique (they paddle standing at the back of their boat with one leg on the boat and one leg on the paddle). They have become a bit of an attraction for tourists on a photo safari.
There are plenty of these iconic fishermen near the exit of the canal from Nyaung Shwe. Here they will just pose whenever they spot a boat with foreigners, however, this is just for show.
Insider tip: head deeper into the lake and you will find those who are actually fishing.
Inle Lake Floating Villages
Visiting the floating villages is one of the most fascinating things to do at Inle Lake, and part of what makes it so special. The villages are often built in the middle of an intricate network of canals or directly on the lake. They are a delight to explore!
You are taken into a maze of wooden houses, bridges, and power line poles. By the way, don’t get fooled by the fancy “floating villages” phrase that is often used. The villages are not floating at all, they are built on stilts. Of course, it doesn’t make them less interesting!
A remarkable attraction worth mentioning is the Phaung Daw U Pagoda. It certainly doesn’t have the grandeur of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, but it is the most important in the region and the most frequently visited – a must-see.
The village of Nam Pan is another recommended option. It is located in the southern part of Inle Lake.
The boat is a very intimate way of exploring these villages. As you make your way through the narrow passages, you are totally immersed in their world, and you are a privileged witness of their particular lifestyle over the water.
Inle Lake Floating Gardens
The Inle Lake floating gardens are a logical extension of your visit of the villages. If you look at a map of the lake, you will realize that a whole area south west of the lake is actually covered with gardens.
The floating villages may be on stilts, but the floating gardens are actually floating. The gardens are kept in place by long bamboo poles, preventing the floating plantations from drifting away.
Do not hesitate to tell your boat driver you want to spend some time exploring the floating gardens. You will cross some other smaller, hidden villages on the way. Be sure to add the floating gardens on your list of things to do at Inle Lake.
Thaung Tho Market & Stupas
The Thaung Tho Market was suggested by my boat driver, and is a quite off the beaten track destination. Indeed, it feels far from the world!
To get there you first have to get to the south of the lake, which is already some 20 km from Nyaung Shwe, and then follow a canal for another 12 km or so. It means that if you want to go there, it should be your first destination in the morning on the lake.
The market itself is a bit of an exotic curiosity. It looks like a makeshift area for a temporary market as the stalls were just simple roofs propped on wooden pillars on the dirt floor. It is not very big but sells a few things, from fruits to clothes.
However, as you stroll in the market, the one thing you can’t help noticing is the pagoda at the top of the nearby hill. Take the long covered stairway up the hill to arrive at this typical Burmese pagoda, surrounded by a real forest of stupas.
Inn Dein is a village and a pagoda complex west of Inle Lake. You can tell by the number of souvenir shops that it is definitely aimed at tourists, but it doesn’t make it less of a highlight of this region.
It is not the shops that make Inn Dein special, but the astonishing number of stupas and pagodas. There are more than a thousand pagodas here! It is above all an archaeological site, with groups of pagodas dating back to the 12th century.
There is a mysterious atmosphere around these ancient brick constructions partly covered by vegetation.
Not all pagodas in Inn Dein are ancient though. There actually are a whole lot of modern constructions. It is interesting to see how architectural and construction techniques have gradually evolved since the 12th century.
Do not hesitate to go all the way to the end of the area with the most modern stupas – you will notice a small isolated pagoda accessible by a clean path. Here a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding mountains will reward you.
How Many Days to Spend in Inle Lake
I spent two consecutive days exploring Inle Lake with my boat driver. It felt just right. With two days to spend in Inle Lake, you have enough time to both see the most common sights and go a little off the beaten track.
If you like to travel slow and want to explore Nyaungshwe, you should stay for three days.
In Nyaung Shwe, I strongly recommend the Nanda Wunn Hotel. It has large, comfortable, wooden bungalows. Its location is great, right in the heart of Nayung Shwe. It is also easy to walk to the canal following the main road.
Final Thoughts on Inle Lake
There are some amazing things to do at Inle Lake and the surrounding area. This blue jewel should be one of the top priorities of your Myanmar itinerary! Along with Bagan, Yangon or Mandalay, Inle Lake clearly is a highlight of Myanmar.
Myanmar is still a very traditional country, yet the development of tourism is rapid. I really recommend going to Inle Lake as soon as possible, if you wish to experience the remnants of this traditional atmosphere.
One can never know how much or how quickly the influx of tourism could change everything, as we have seen in many other countries. I believe we still have some time before it happens.
In any case, Inle Lake is so gorgeous that I guarantee you will come back with your mind packed with wonderful memories.
Guest Blogger Bio:
Julien Mordret is an exploration addict with a special love for the great outdoors, adventure, Latin America and South East Asia. His insatiable curiosity gives him a big appetite for remote and little-known destinations. He is secretly dreaming of visiting every country on the planet.
He shares his experiences, travel tips and what he learned about the world at Exploration Junkie through interactive virtual tours, articles, travel videos and inspirational itineraries. You can follow his adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.