Why You'll Love Inle ...
- No matter when you come, Inle Lake stays cool and breezy all-year-round while other parts of Myanmar is scorching hot.
- No roads or sidewalks, no cars or buses, everything is literally overwater, how people conduct their daily life is simply fascinating.
- Home to many ethnic groups, great chances to learn about their cultures, livelihood, and traditions, which is something missing from Yangon, Bagan, and Mandalay.
- For staying, consider something like the water houses in Tahiti or Maldives, but only even better services and better value.
Best Experiences in Inle Lake
Boat trip lovers will be in their elements visiting Inle Lake. No cars, no buses, no Tuktuks, no streets, no sidewalks, no traffic lights and boat is the only transportation means. Rowing on this one-person-wide wooden boat seems initially unsafe. No sweat, besides a live jacket, you can count on your boatmen who are very experienced and will be paddling slow.
After all the excitment of Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay, it would be nice to slow down, right? Going slow must be the best way to appreciate this extensive lake and approach to these friendly lake dwellers during their daily chores. While you are there, make sure you set time for all these great experiences.
When alluding as "Inle Lake Region", it covers the lake itself and villages over the water and on the lakeshores. Boating can be fun, but, well, it's just boating. Nothing extraordinary unless you get to see how life is like for the people living here. Anchor your boat to a floating house and take the stairs up to their living room, you will be welcome by more than a warm smile.
5-day market in Inle Lake is a THING for sure. The marketplace moves from one rustic village to another following a 5-day rota and for outsiders, it's very complicated to spot the right one. The locals certainly learn the scheduel by heart; so does your local tour guide. Boating to one of the lakeside village where the Shan and Intha people, as well as some Pa-O from the nearby mountains travel all the way to trade their produce.
How the fishermen control their boats is something that you've never seen elsewhere before: with one leg on the bow of the boat and the other on the fishing basket, they are performing something that can only be closely described as water ballet. They go out for fishing during the early morning and sunset, which are both great time for photographs.
Pagodas, temples and monasteries are ubiquitous in Myanmar; Inle Lake is no exception. Every village has its main pagoda but monasteries are shy of that number. Among some famous monasteries such as Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery (known as the jumping cat monastery but the cats don’t actually do the jumping now) and Nga The Chaung Monastery, we find Shwe-Yaunghwe monastery is the most impressive, for the structure, long history and friendly novices who'd like to chat with you.
The market fair is not the only place to encounter friendly hill tribe people. Some restaurants, guesthouses and workshops are run by some ethnic minority people and you are welcome to drop by. The most unique handicraft of Inle Lake is the lotus stem weaving, innovated and passed down by the Intha people. The Intha are hard workers and widely known for weaving, dying and cigar-making. They also hire other ethnic groups to work at their workshops or souvenir stands.
If you have more than 5 days in Inle Lake region and would love to spice things up a bit, getting around Inle Lake will be a good idea. You can go hiking around Kalaw the former British highland station, cycling to the Red Mountain Vineyard or visit the Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp. Most of these excursions can be arranged on your own provided you know exactly where you are going and how. Another enthralling option is to book a hot air balloon flight over Inle Lake in the early morning.
Inle Lake doesn't boast for luxury fancy restaurants. Instead, you will have more options of home-run and home-made Shan cuisine at a lovely floating restaurant. Stunning view over the lake, busy boat traffic, vendors navigating around and azure sky reflecting over the water, makes up for the experience. Besides, Shan cuisine crowns as the best local food in Myanmar featuring rich yet light flavors and organic ingredients that are grown on the lake.
For most Myanmar trips, Inle Lake is designated as the second last destination before flying out from Yangon or Mandalay. Itinerary is pretty straightforward: arrival, boat trips for a couple of days and relaxing, which takes 3 to 4 days. To make a better plan for your stay in Inle Lake, here are our tips:
- Learn about the best time to come, which falls during mid-October to March when the sky is clear and rains less. Also, there are some local festivals during April to October that welcome you to be a part of the celebration, such as Phaung Daw Oo Paya Festival, the Thadingyut festival of lights and Hot Air Balloon Festival.
- Lakeshore hotels and resorts are more popular than those in town and in Nyaungshwe. If you are traveling during the peak season (November - March), make sure you book the hotel at least two months ahead.
- Inle Lake is often visited through the main town Nyuangshwe, 4km to the lake's northern tip and connected to the lake's main channel. Villages for your visit will be selected by your tour guide with the best approximation to your hotel/resort.
- People living on the lake itself and its shores are mostly Intha and a mixture of other Shan, Taungyo, Pa-O, Danu, Kayah, Danaw and Bamar ethnicities. Most of them are Buddhism and greatly depend on self-sufficient farming and fishing. Coversations on their livelihood is always the best topic.
- Shoes must be removed (socks stay on) before entering a local house. Locals don't have chairs at home, instead you will be sitting on the floor with the family around a low table. The host will offer you a cup of tea and some simple snacks.
- A village visit is often integrated with visits to the floating gardens, as well as the village's main pagoda or other main buildings such as school and hospital.
- Paduang is the Shan name for the Kayah people, a sub-group of the Karen people who can also be found in Thailand. The Paduang here in Inle Lake are not indigenous. They can be distinguished by the neck rings and ankle rings or referred as the Long Neck. They are much more like free-lancers who can come and go freely and make a living by weaving, selling neck rings or working for their Intha landlords.
- For more information of great restaurants in Inle Lake, please check out our list Best Restaurants in Inle Lake.
No matter how many times we've been to Myanmar, Inle Lake is always alluring us back for more. If you need more inspiration, talk to our team and we will scoop out the best possibilities for you.
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