Myanmar’s Inle Lake is a one-of-a-kind place where cities and farms alike are built on the water
Looking for fun and adventure in Southeast Asia? Then Inle Lake is the place to be. Beautiful sights, incredible people and a unique experience of life on the water all combine for a trip you won’t soon forget.
To read about my visit to Inle Lake, visit the blog here:
For all the high-resolution photos from Inle Lake: Click Here
Entrance Fee: There is no entrance fee to enter the Inle Lake region however you’ll have to hire a boat to see most of the sights (and reach the sites!) of the magnificent lake
Visiting Hours: There is no curfew on Inle Lake, however most shops and sites open around 7:00am and close upon sunset or about 8:00pm
Location: Inle Lake is a freshwater lake located in the Nyaung Shwe Township of Taunggyi District of Shan State, part of Shan Hills in central Myanmar. The lake sits northeast of the ‘new’ Myanmar capital Naypyitaw and just south of the capital of Shan State Taunggyi
By Air (Recommended): There are winter and summer rates for flights through all major airlines in the country although most flights are around $100 USD. The closest airport is to Inle Lake is the quaint Heho Airport, located about 45 minutes away by taxi from the main town of Nyaungshwe. Taking a taxi from the airport can be quite expensive (25,000-40,000 kyat, about $22-$35 USD). A good way to save money is to book a taxi in advance with your guesthouse for about 15,000 kyat or to walk down the road to the main highway to negotiate a better rate. It’s a bit of a walk (roughly 15 minutes) especially if you have baggage.
By Bus (Cheaper): Buses depart daily from Yangon (Rangoon) and take about 13 hours. Buses take 10 hours from Mandalay. Air conditioned buses from Bagan take 9 hours and cost $11-12 USD. The lake is about 2 hours from Kalaw and about 14 hours from Bago and around 15,000 Kyat. For the inter-city buses in Myanmar, it’s always a good idea to pack warmer clothes as the air-con can get pretty low. If you are looking to sleep, on some buses earplugs are recommended as music will be playing on the video screen in front of the bus. Another cheap option is a 1-hour pickup from Taunggyi which runs 600 kyat. Pickup trucks leave from the main market.
There are so many things to do and see on Inle Lake that it’s hard to fit everything into a single trip. A boat ride on the lake is an absolute must. You can visit some more ‘touristy’ sites such as a blacksmith workshop, hand-crafted bamboo and cigar shops, old-school linen factories and more. Some local spots like the markets are brilliant, as well as the ‘Jumping Cat’ Buddhist Monastery (the cats no longer jump, however) and the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda. Local villages are incredible and the Indein Pagoda Forest is a must-see site located about 20 minutes down the Indein Creek from the city. There is also plenty of hiking to do, spas to bathe in, bicycle tours to travel around and plenty of people- and bird-watching to do. If you are really into trekking, you can go 3 days to or from the city of Kalaw up in the Shan Mountains. You can walk around the towns rather easily or rent a bike for about 1,500 kyat per day to see even more.
Inle Lake is a freshwater lake and the second largest lake in Myanmar. It has an estimated surface area of almost 45 square miles (116 km2) and is one of the highest at an elevation of 2,900 feet (880 m). During the dry season, the average water depth is 7 feet (2.1 m) with the deepest point being 12 feet (3.7 m). During the rainy monsoon season, this can increase by 5 feet (1.5 m).
The watershed area for the lake lies to a large extent to the north and west of the lake. The lake drains through the Nam Pilu or Balu Chaung on its southern end. There is a hot spring on its northwestern shore also worth a visit.
Inle Lake contains a number of endemic species. Over twenty species of snails and nine species of fish are found here and nowhere else in the world. These include the silver-blue Scale-less Sawbwa barb, the crossbanded dwarf danio and the Lake Inle danio. For birdwatchers, it hosts approximately 20,000 brown and black head migratory seagulls in November, December and January.
In June 2015, Inle Lake became Myanmar’s first designated spot on the World Network of Biosphere Reserves list and was one of 20 places added to the UNESCO 27th Man and the Biosphere (MAB) International Coordinating Council (ICC) meeting.
There are roughly 70,000 inhabitants of Inle Lake and they live in four main cities bordering the lake and in numerous small villages along the lake’s shores, including on the lake itself. The entire lake area is in Nyaung Shwe township. The population consists predominantly of Intha, with a mix of other Shan, Taungyo, Pa-Oh (Taungthu), Danu, Kayah, Danaw and Bamar ethnicities. Most are devout Buddhists, and live in simple houses of wood and woven bamboo on stilts; they are largely self-sufficient farmers.
Most transportation on the lake is by traditional small boats or by somewhat larger boats fitted with single-cylinder onboard diesel engines. Local fishermen are famous for their distinctive rowing style which involves standing at the stern on one leg and wrapping the other leg around an oar. This unique style evolved for the reason that the lake is covered by reeds and floating plants making it difficult to see above them while sitting. Standing provides the rower with a view beyond the reeds. However, the leg rowing style is only practiced by the men. Women row in the customary style, using the oar with their hands and sitting cross-legged at the stern.
Hand-made goods for local use and trading are a main source of commerce. Typical products include tools, carvings and other ornamental objects, textiles, and cheroots. A local market serves most common shopping needs and is held daily but the location of the event rotates through five different sites around the lake area, thus each of them hosting an itinerant market every fifth day. When held on the lake itself, trading is conducted from small boats. This ‘floating-market’ event tends to emphasize tourist trade much more than the other four.
The Inle Lake area is renowned for its weaving industry. The Shan-bags, used daily by many Burmese as a tote-bag, are produced in large quantities here. Silk and lotus-weaving is another very important industry producing high-quality hand-woven silk fabrics of distinctive design called the ‘Inle longyi.’ A unique fabric from the lotus plant fibers is produced only at Inle lake and is used for weaving special robes for Buddha images called Kya Thingahn (lotus robe).
The best time of the year to visit is during September and October. The ceremonial Hpaung Daw U Festival, which lasts for almost three weeks, is closely followed by the Thadingyut festival of lights. Inthas and Shan turn out in their best clothes and in great numbers to celebrate the Buddhist Lent. Traditional boat racing, with dozens of leg-rowers in Shan dress in a team on each boat, is a famous event during the Hpaung Daw U Festival.
Inle Lake is fast becoming a major tourist attraction and this has led to some development of tourist infrastructure, such as plumbing electricity throughout the lake area. Many small and large privately owned hotels and tour operations have arisen during the past few years. Local shops are being flooded with consumer items, both local and foreign. Another big attraction is aquaculture and the floating farms on the lake.
Inle cuisine is different from Shan cuisine as it incorporates local natural produce. The most well-known Inle dish would be the Htamin Jin – a rice, tomato and potato or fish salad kneaded into round balls dressed and garnished with crisp fried onion in oil, tamarind sauce, coriander and spring onions often with garlic, Chinese chives roots (ju myit), fried whole dried chili, grilled dried fermented beancakes (pè bouk) and fried dried tofu (topu jauk kyaw) on the side. The Spicy Tomato Inle Lake salad is a favorite and highly recommended.
For My High-Resolution Photos of Inle Lake: Click Here