It will be a regret if you do not go to visit Inle Lake when setting your feet on Myanmar. Inle Lake is considered as Myanmar's precious pearl with the unique landscapes and specific culture of Inthar people, surely that you will have many interesting experiences.
In western Shan State, you will find the serenely picturesque Inle Lake, famous for its floating villages, gardens and markets and the unique way of life of the local Intha people, with their functioning communities based entirely on the water.
Inle Lake is the second largest natural lake in Myanmar. It is a beautiful highland lake situated in the middle of the Nyaungshwe Valley of the Shan Plateau, nestled between two mountain ranges that extend from north to south, feels like a different world to the rest of Myanmar.
Floating Village in the are of Inle Lake
Inle Lake is 35 kilometers away from the nearest airport at Heho, and there are flights to there from both Yangon and Mandalay. There is an entry fee of around US$10 for the Inle Lake area, which you have to pay when entering Nyaungshwe.
The lake area is an example of a rural countryside town that is calm and peaceful, perfect for a vacation of relaxation. Although the lake is not large, it contains a number of endemic species some of which are found nowhere else in the world. The views are also amazing.
Life on water
The beauty of Lake Inle comes not just from the nature but from its relationship with the people who live on it. An estimated 100,000 Intha (Angsa) people live on and around the lake. In their own language the word Intha means "Sons of the Lake". They are devout Buddhists and places frequently visited in their area are proof of their religious beliefs. Their way of life is certainly well adapted to this environment. With no roads or sidewalks to speak of, locals and visitors alike get around in one-person-wide wooden boats outfitted with outboard propellers, which emit a noisy whine when at full throttle and can be raised and lowered depending on water levels. Fishermen work the lake, using a mesmerizing one-legged paddling technique you won’t see anywhere else in the world. This unique way of rowing has make them famous. The Intha have also developed a singular form of aquaculture: a network of interwoven seaweed and hyacinths creates a thick layer of humus over the years, and this is attached to the bottom of the lake with bamboo poles, and then planted with tomatoes, cauliflower, aubergines and flowers.
A Floating Tomato Garden On Inle Lake
Towns growing from the islands, houses suspended above the water, and floating commerce that takes place between them all. The villages of Inle Lake are wonderfully picturesque. Stilted houses of teak and bamboo line the banks of the lake, and the narrow canals that feed into it. Some villages are even built on the water and access is by boat only. Some homes are simple huts, while others are multi-story structures of sturdy teak and come complete with satellite dishes. Life is carried out on the banks of the lake and rivers – this is where children play, people bathe, do their laundry, and wash everything from buffaloes to motorbikes. And as with all of Myanmar, religion plays a massive part in local life, and numerous pagodas and monasteries can be found on the lake and its shores.
A Pagoda On The Lake Shore
The lake is the livelihood of these people – the fish beneath the surface provide their daily meals and also the means of trade with the communities on the shore. But increasingly the lake is bringing the residents of Inle a new source of income – the tourists who arrive by the boatload every day. There are many restaurants dotted around the lake where you can indulge in their delicious catches of the day. Along with fishing, traditional handicrafts are an important part of the local economy, and you will get to see silk weavers and silversmiths plying their trade on the lake.
Just like in other key tourist destinations in Myanmar, there is no shortage of dining establishments at Inle Lake and it may be a rural destination, but that does not mean the place is lacking when it comes to gastronomic delights. The restaurants at Inle Lake can be divided into two main categories. The first serve local Inthar dishes or Shan cuisine. Often, Chinese food is not far behind Shan dishes in a typical menu. The second category encompasses more western-style eateries that normally specialize in pancakes and pasta. The mix of western and local dishes makes for a more cosmopolitan approach.
Hence, if you are planning for your trip to Myanmar, Inle Lake deserves being a must - visit destination in your list.
Getting to Inle Lake
The easiest way to get into Inle Lake (and the most comfortable) is by domestic flight. Prices for flights are around US$110 from Yangon and US$75 from Mandalay, but unlike bus companies the government is heavily involved in the domestic air market, a good chunk of your money will be going into their hands. The closest airport is in Heho, which is a taxi-ride (about 1 hour) away from the lake itself (walking down the road from the airport, towards the highway, should see quoted fares drop, if not, try your luck hailing a taxi or passing pickup on the highway itself). Taking a taxi from the airport is expensive, as of Sep 2015 there is a fixed, non-bargainable price of 25.000 Kyats to go to Nyuang Shwe. When returning, you can often save by booking a shared taxi through your hotel or one of the many travel agents around. Check with them the day before you fly out.
Domestic flight from Mandalay
A less expensive but more uncomfortable and time consuming option is that which most Myanmar people take - the bus. Buses depart daily, and cost around US$14-20 (12 hours) from Yangon or US$12 (7-8 hours) from Mandalay. The journey from Bagan has improved a lot; 2 buses at 7:30 and 19:30; it takes 7 hours to Kalaw and ~8,5 to Nyang Shwe, and costs 11,000 kyats (US$ 8.44). Bus arrives directly to Nyaung Shwe, walking distance to many guest houses. Overnight buses do run and with the new road between Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw the time taken for the trip has been shortened.
Day bus transfer from Bagan to Inle Lake
There is also a direct bus from Hsipaw (14 hours) which leaves Hsipaw at 4.30pm and costs 15,000 kyats (US$11.51). Supposed to take 12-14 hours but expect some delays. From southern destinations like Hpa An or Kyaiktiyo you can change buses in Bago instead of going through Yangon.
A train coming from Kalaw, Thazi or even from Yangon (direct), can bring you to Shwe Nyaung, which town is situated only 13 km away from Nyaung Shwe, the main touristy town where you'll find most accomodations, restaurants, souvenirs shops as well as travel agencies and tour guides.
The train from Kalaw is about 3.5 hours through mountains and fields, lots of scenic views on the way.
Train to Inle Lake
The train from Yangon is about 30 hours, direct, including a 5 hours-stop in Thazi where passengers can have a rest and sleep (in the train). Definitly the cheapest way to get there. To get from the train station (Shwe Nyaung) to your accomodation in Nyaung Shwe, you can either catch a pick-up truck or take a taxi.
Accommodation near Inle Lake
With Inle Lake being such a huge draw in Myanmar for backpackers, there are numerous guesthouses, hotels and hostels to choose from. There are places to suit every budget.
Virtually all of these high end Inle Lake resorts are located in the South Lake and are almost universally gorgeous. The Villa Inle Resort, Pristine Lotus Spa and Shwe Inn Floating Resort are the best regarded, but also carry per-night rates of $100 to $250.
The Villa Inle Resort
There are numerous cheaper Inle Lake resorts available to book online too, like the well-regarded Aquarius Inn and Pyi Guest House.
For those looking for slightly more up-market digs, there are two spots travelers rave about: Princess Garden Hotel – Rated No. 1 on many travel sites, this hotel costs around $35 a night and Teakwood Guesthouse running about $35 per night.
Image sources: Internet