High in the hills of the Taunggyi District in the Shan State of Myanmar is Inle Lake, a large freshwater lake known for its unique biodiversity and local population. Residing on or along the lake are almost 70,000 inhabitants from various ethnic groups. The majority of them are Intha, a Tibeto-Burmese group, which translates to the “sons/people of the lake” and all of the locals are referred to using the same term. The majority of the people live in stilt houses and travel on long narrow wooden boats to go about their daily affairs. The lake’s rich ecology and marine life are the reasons it is to be protected as a UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserve (WNBR) and added to the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Program (MAB). The lake’s beauty and warm locals make it a must-see destination for anyone visiting Myanmar.
Getting Situated in Nyuang Shwe
Unless you plan on hiking around Inle Lake, all of the transportation points will lead you to the town of Nyaung Shwe in the township of the same name. We caught a night bus out of Yangon that dropped us off close to town at sunrise. We first needed to pay a $10 USD Inle Lake Tourist Zone entrance fee before continuing on pick-up trucks into town.
We had no lodging booked, so we needed to stop at a number of guesthouses. There are a number scattered across town most with average accommodations for a reasonable price as far as Myanmar goes. Some were full or couldn’t accommodate our group. We ended up staying at the Hotel Remember Inn. Note, the prices were cheaper in person with cash than advertised on the internet. The rooms were pretty large and only had fans, but the temperature wasn’t our problem, it was the rain, but more on that later. They even had a large enclosed rooftop area where we had some drinks with some decent views in the background.
Establishing a Game Plan
The family who owned the Hotel Remember Inn assisted us in many ways. They provided local tourist maps that on one side highlighted the points of interest in town and the other side around the lake. (Make sure to get one.) They helped us book the boat tour, suggested renting bicycles and helped obtain them. They got us transport around town due to the poor weather, and when it was time to leave town they helped get our bus to Bagan. They even found and gave me a map that helped me get to Magway and Pyay, which I planned on traveling to visit the Pyu Ancient Cities. They were like a one stop service shop. Heck, they even let me put my stickers up in the lobby.
10 Things to Do Around Inle Lake, Myanmar
With our base of operations established, we compared our new friends’ suggestions with our research and established a game plan for the two days we were in town. I would recommend you stay at least that long if not longer. During our brief stay we managed to cover all of the activities and destinations below with one exception that would have required more days than we had to spare. Here are 10 Things to Do Around Inle Lake:
# 10 – Eat Dim Sum
Located in the town of Nyaung Shwe is the Live Dim Sum House. I’m sure your probably thinking why would you go to a dim sum restaurant in Myanmar, but I’m telling you, this is the best place I ate while I was in town. The group I was traveling with was in agreement that the food was tasty and the prices were very reasonable. For four people we ate like kings and queens. We shared multiple dishes and the bill totaled $28 USD and $10 of that were drinks. Consider grabbing a bite if you’re in town.
# 9 – Nightlife with Locals
Nyaung Shwe is a sleepy little town without the typical backpacker nightlife. It is virtually impossible to walk on the dirt roads at night in total darkness. With the exception of some ambient light emitting from some random windows, even fewer street lights and moonlight if there is any, the town is pretty much pitch black, so pay attention when you walk at night or you might hurt yourself. By 10 – 11 p.m., the few restaurants that are still open are just about closing for the evening, so if you’re going out for the evening, whether it be for food, beverages or both, plan accordingly.
One night the group I was traveling with ended up at Daw Tin Yee Restaurant. It was a small little hole in the wall that served cheap food and drinks. They had a make-shift bar on one wall and a television played what I interpreted as a locally produced action film. It was a bit late when we arrived, and the kitchen was closed, so we didn’t end up eating anything. We ended up spending the night well after closing with a few locals who bought us drinks as we chatted into the night discussing Premier League football and tattoos. Their English was very good, and it made for a memorable evening. They tried to keep us out all night, but we needed to eventually head back to our guesthouse and get some bed before an early morning tour the following day.
# 8 – Explore the Town of Nyaung Shwe
The town of Nyaung Shwe serves as the portal to Inle Lake for thousands of tourists each year. It is a relatively quiet little town with one main street with a number of side streets lined with shops, restaurants, guesthouses, travel agencies and residential homes. There are a few stupas around town, some associated with the Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery and the Bawrithat Pagoda. The Museum of Shan Sawbwa was near our hotel, but it was closed when I went to see its contents dedicated to former Shah rulers. With the exception of a few restaurants, everything closes early, so plan accordingly. Use the local town tourist map to help you navigate your way around town. It’s not like you can get lost, but it is useful.
# 7 – Sample Locally Produced Coffee
I don’t know about you, but I love a good cup of coffee! I especially enjoy sampling locally cultivated beans and trying new preparation methods. It has made for many new coffee experiences. If you’re looking to sample coffee harvested in the countryside around Inle Lake then travel west out of Nyaung Shwe to the Nature Forest Garden Restaurant just outside of town.
There is a dining area elevated on bamboo stilts in a similar fashion to what you would see of houses on the lake. The view isn’t as impressive as those seen at the Red Mountain Estate Vineyards & Winery (# 5 – See Below). You can barely see the lake and the majority of the view is just lush mountain jungle, but is more remote and relaxing. They offer some basic dishes, but I didn’t order anything. I was there to sample the Myanmar organic coffee they were serving and relax before meeting some friends later in the day. The coffee was strong and a bit gritty. I had two cups and spent some time writing up some travel notes before meeting my friends at the Khaung Daing Natural Hot Spring Inle (# 4 – See Below). It was worth the stop, since it was on my way, but by no means a must do.
# 6 – Visit Buddhist Temples
Sometimes it feels like everywhere you look in Myanmar and you will notice a white or golden stupa rising out of the lush green jungles. This was especially true in the countryside surrounding Inle Lake. There are temples and stupas peppered throughout the area, many of which are only a short ride away. You can reach them using a variety of methods of transportation. There are a few that can be found walking around Nyaung Shwe. Some can be accessed directly from the water during an Inle Lake Boat Tour (# 1 – See Below). Others require traveling to some of the other towns and villages surrounding Inle Lake, which will require some sort of wheels (# 2 – See Below). I did not realize that I was meters away and missed the Paung Pine Temple. Ask some locals for recommendations and directions to the closest and prettiest temples.
# 5 – Sample Locally Produced Wine
Only a short ride east from Nyaung Shwe is the Red Mountain Estate Vineyards & Winery. The property is covered with vineyards that total some 400,000 plants all of which have been imported from France and Spain. Sitting atop the mountain is the Red Mountain Restaurant. They served a variety of local and Western dishes and offer a wine tasting for 3,000 kyat ($2.50 USD). They did not have wifi at the time.
The weather was not cooperating the day that we went to the winery. It was windy and the skies were a dark grey. It rained heavily throughout the day, but it was only drizzling at the time. It was actually colder than I expected. Standing outside in the fog I imagined how beautiful it would have looked had it not been for the conditions. If the weather is nice, consider heading over to the property. The outdoor seating will allow you to take in the picturesque scenery.
Instead we remained inside where we ate and sampled the wines. The meal cost me another 6,000 kyat ($5 USD). Now I’m not a sommelier, but I was less than impressed with the 4 wines offered in the wine tasting. My friends were also not sold. After talking with some other visitors, everyone came to the same conclusions. I noticed a few people purchase bottles, but we didn’t buy anything. The views were better than the wine, but for the price you can’t really complain.
# 4 – Relax at Hot Springs
Approximately 10 kilometers southwest of Nyaung Shwe is the Khaung Daing Natural Hot Spring Inle, “the first natural hot springs & day spa centre in Inle Lake.” The facility’s “natural hot mineral waters flow into the thermal pools and private baths providing the picturesque setting for fine relaxation and good health. There are two main areas – the private rooms, which offer private mineral baths and the garden spring, where you can… enjoy the very romantic view of Shan Mountains.” The garden area has 3 thermal pools of varying temperatures and a bar that serves drinks and food. It made for a very relaxing afternoon. The hot springs are open to the public between 5:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. with a cost of 10,000 kyat ($8.50 USD) for 2 hours.
# 3 – Hiking
Another popular activity around Inle Lake is to go hiking. There are a variety of options available to anyone interested in trekking through the countryside. There are some single day excursions, but the most popular option is a guided three day, two night hike starting in Kalaw that generally concludes with an Inle Lake Boat Tour (# 1 – See Below) before ending in Nyaung Shwe. It should cost around 40,000 kyat ($34 USD). Although I did not go on the multiway trek, I did speak with a number of people who did, and their only complaint was poor weather. If you have the time and the weather is good, consider taking this slower, but more scenic hiking route to Inle Lake.
# 2 – Bicycle Ride Around the Lake – Single Day Self-Guided Bicycle Tour Itinerary
One of the best ways to explore the countryside around Inle Lake is to rent a bicycle. In a single day you will be able to visit a number of points of interest already mentioned above. The entire trip is approximately 30 kilometers and will take 3 hours bicycling at a moderate pace not including the time spent at each destination. You may spot a number of other temples and stupas (#6) as you ride through the countryside. I would recommend the following route:
- Depart west from Nyaung Shwe on Yone Gyi Street across the bridge
- Continue Straight on the same road until you reach a T intersection.
- Make a right on Inle Lake West Corridor Road to first visit Paung Pine Temple (#6) then make a u-turn and travel south to the Khaung Daing Natural Hot Spring Inle
- Or skip the temple and make a left on Inle Lake West Corridor Road and travel south towards the Khaung Daing Natural Hot Spring Inle (Approx. 1 hour riding time)
- Before relaxing at the hot springs, climb the nearby staircase to visit a small temple at the top of a hill that provides picturesque views of Inle Lake (#6)
- Spend 2 hours at the Khaung Daing Natural Hot Spring Inle (#4)
- Stop at the Nature Forest Garden Restaurant (#7) (Before or After the Hot Springs)
- Double back to Nyaung Shwe this time continuing on Yone Gyi Street through town
- Just at the edge of town you will make a right heading south and follow the signs to the Red Mountain Estate Vineyards & Winery (#5)
- Make a left into the main gate of the Red Mountain Estate Vineyards & Winery (Approx. 30 min riding time)
- Wine sampling & picturesque views of Inle Lake
- Double back to Nyaung Shwe for a relaxing walk, dinner & drinks (#8,9,10)
This route is a great way to visit a number of points of interest in a single day itinerary. You will get to leisurely ride around the countryside surrounding Inle Lake and sample a variety of locally produced beverages. You will pass a number of religious sites, relax at hot springs and witness picturesque scenery that will make your camera shutter. Despite the inclement weather, my group had an enjoyable day. This is worthy of being on your must do list.
Travel Tip: Poor weather could make for a very muddy day. If you are uninterested, unwilling or unable to ride a bicycle, you can rent a taxi van for the day, but it would be wisest if you had a group of people to divide the costs as they often charge for the vehicle. Prices should average somewhere around 25,000 kyat ($20 USD).
# 1 – Inle Lake Boat Tour
The best way to experience Inle Lake is on a boat tour. It is not only on the top of my list, but it is also the #1 tourist excursion in the area on every list you can find. Most obviously there is the natural beauty. The lake and the surrounding mountains covered with the peaks of golden stupas emerging through the lush green jungle canopy provide for scenic views. Migratory birds soar along wind currents until they dive bomb down to attack freshwater fish for their next course. Plant life covers late portions of the lake. During this the boat powers through the water as water splashes you wet and the fresh air blows in your face. That is until it slows down to travel through what felt like a maze of small canals. You will pass fields of produce and flowers being grown on the surface of the water, especially hydroponic tomato production. The ecology of Inle Lake was alive and bountiful.
You will witness the daily lives of countless locals who work in a variety of industries. The most obvious of them includes the fishermen working hard on the lake’s waters to net their daily catch using a hypnotic single leg paddling technique unique to the region if not world. You will also be introduced to a variety of local businesses full of artisans producing handmade goods.
First, we stopped at a textile shop that produced a variety of different types of hand woven fabric that are turned into clothing, sheets and other similar items. Next we went to a house filled with women rolling cigars that were free to sample. We made a short stop at the U San Shwe – Shwe War Win Silver Workshop for a lesson in silver production and jewelry making. Over the course of the day, I made out like a bandit using my 10 Steps to Save Money & Negotiate to Get the Best Price when acquiring some cigars, wooden boxes and finally tattoo books at our last stop, which was an interesting antique shop.
We also made two stops at temples. The first was to the Hpaung Daw U Pagoda (also spelled Hpaung Daw Oo or Phaung Daw Oo) at the southern end of the lake. It is a modern temple and close to a number of restaurants. Our final stop was to the village of Nga Hpe Chaung to see the Kyaun Khon Kyaung (Jumping Cat Monastery) where an abbot taught cats how to jump through hoops. I didn’t see any jumping cats, but there were plenty of interesting wood carvings throughout a site built directly over the water. Both locations have a number of shops in a market area. Following out stop at the monastery, we headed back for our roughly one hour boat ride back to the Nyaung Shwe harbor.
Tours are easily arranged with the receptionist at your guesthouse, or you can book one right at the harbor. It should cost somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 kyat (approx $15-20 USD). The tour price includes transport with a captain who will make various stops including a place to get lunch. If you have somewhere specific you want to go then tell your captain. Otherwise, I don’t think there is much choice as to where they will take you. I suspect that most boat captains are bringing you to places they have business agreements with, where they earn a commission if you purchase anything at their shops or for bringing customers to their restaurant. If you are interested in reading more about this excursion in more detail then make sure to read my full length article once it is completed.
There are many interesting things to do on Inle Lake and in the town of Nyaung Shwe. The highlight of the trip will be the boating tour. There are so many places along the lake to visit and the same can be said when exploring the surrounding countryside by bicycle. The people you will meet are open and friendly. The area is rich in natural beauty and cultural splendor. It’s amazing that it only on the tentative list of potential UNESCO sites. The only down side to our visit to Inle Lake was that the rainy season was in full effect. We all agreed that the landscape would have been even more beautiful in stunning weather as opposed to the grey skies and muddy streets we experienced. Weather is at its best between September and October, but don’t let the possibility of poor conditions anytime of year stop you. Make sure to visit Inle Lake!