Inle Lake: A Complete Guide
In this complete guide, we will share everything you need to know about visiting Inle Lake, the jewel of Myanmar.
Inle Lake was one of our favourite locations in Myanmar and it came totally unexpectedly. I mean, who doesn’t like lakes, but this one is in another level of beauty! The lake itself extends for kilometres and runs into smaller streams of water which are used as ‘highways’. Because Inle Lake is not just a wonderful natural formation, but it’s also home to several villages and to roughly 70,000 people who live on top of the water along the lakes shores.
The people of Inle Lake are called Intha, with a smaller mix of other Shan, Taungyo, Pa-O (Taungthu), Danu, Kayah, Danaw and Bamar ethnicities. Most are devout Buddhists, and live in simple houses made of wood and woven bamboo on stilts. They are largely self-sufficient farmers and to our surprise, they farm directly in the lake, in what are floating farms. One of the most famous product of their farms is the Inle Lake tomato, which is both green and red and absolutely delicious.
Exploring the lake aboard one of the local longtail boats is one of the best memories we have of Myanmar. Their way of living and getting around on the water is extremely unique and fascinating. It is a world made of different rituals and habits, compared to ours. A world where even the things we consider as common, like walking down the street to the coffee shop, take a completely different spin in the lake. Every house has its own little canoe to move around and if you just want to go for a walk you need to paddle all the way to the closest town! In this complete guide, we will share with you our recommendations on where to stay, eat and the best things to do while in Inle Lake.
BEAUTIFUL FACES OF BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE
How to reach Inle Lake
From Mandalay, you will need to make your way to Nyaung Shwe town by bus. JJ Express (the best bus company you will find in Myanmar) has both a day and night bus, the first leaving at 9 am and the second one at 10 pm. We recommend taking the night bus as the scenery is not particularly interesting. You can check out the buses and buy the tickets here.
Otherwise, you can fly from Mandalay to the nearest airport which is Heho Airport (HEH), 46 kilometers from Nyaung Shwe. It will then take you roughly 45 minutes to get to the town by taxi.
Where to sleep in Inle Lake
Nyaung Shwe town is the perfect base to explore Inle Lake. This little town situated on the mainland has recently developed further in order to host the higher level of tourist arriving. It has a lot of lovely hotels and restaurants but still remains a very simple and relaxed place.
In terms of accommodations, we recommend Hotel Royal Nyaung Shwe, which offers very comfortable and spacious room and a wonderful breakfast included in the very affordable cost. Right in front of the hotel, you will also find several bicycles shops where you can rent bikes for the day.
Where to eat in Nyaung Shwe
We had some really fantastic meals during our stay in Inle Lake, which was quite surprising given the fact that we didn’t really love Burmese food up to this moment. We then realised that Inle Lake is part of the Shan region and Shan food is quite different from the rest of the country, it also proved to be very delicious.
This was our number one favourite restaurant in Nyaung Shwe, so much so that we visited four times in five days! They are the only one serving vegetarian dim sums and their menu is filled with interesting dishes using fresh local ingredients. Make sure to order their honey and ginger tea, just too good!
This lovely family run restaurant is set in the most peaceful corner of town, surrounded by gardens and drenched with light. On the menu, you can find delicious local dishes, fresh salads and different types of light snacks.
Conveniently located on the main road, on a pleasant wooden deck, this new restaurant is the perfect place to find something slightly more western. On the menu, you can find avocado on toast and wonderful salads, along with burgers and other main dishes.
Top 5 things to do in Inle Lake
Explore the lake with a boat tour. Head to the canal, where you will find dozens of locals with their long tail boats, offering day tours of the lake and villages. This day tour will take you to some touristy spots but nonetheless, its the best way to explore the local side of the lake. The usual stops are a textile factory where you can see how they produce textiles made out of silk and lotus fibres, still using the same traditional machinery. You will stop to visit a couple of temples and markets, a cigar shop, where cigars and local banana leaf cigarettes are made by hand. Make sure to ask your boat driver to watch the sunset on the lake.
Go for a Burmese wine tasting at Red Mountain Estate. Who would have imagined that Burmese wine even excited? With a short half an hour bicycle ride from Nyaung Shwe, you will reach this wine estate which sits on top of the hill, with a panoramic view over the town, lake and mountains. You can taste five different local wines while enjoying the sunset over the green hills.
Relax at the natural hot springs in Khaung Daing. You can reach these hot spring by bicycle from Nyaung Shwe and for 10$ you spend two hours soaking in three different pools with water around 30 degrees Celsius. A lovely and relaxing half day activity!
For deeper relaxation, treat yourself to one of the many spas in town for a massage. Myanmar might not be as famous as other Asian countries, but their massage techniques are extremely pleasing. Our favourite spa was Lavender Spa & Beauty Center a couple of roads down from the centre.
Visit the cultural museum in Nyaung Shwe. The display and artefacts inside are slightly scarce but it's worth a visit to see the actual building, which was the former haw (palace) of the last Saopha (sky prince) of Nyaung Shwe, Sao Shwe Thaike, who also served as the first president of independent Burma.