Inle Lake is the second largest natural lake in Myanmar. It is situated in the middle of the Nyaungshwe Valley, nestled between two mountain ranges that extend north to south. The lake has a length of 22km and a width of 11km and is 875 metres above sea level. Inle Lake is 35 kilometres away from the nearest airport at Heho, and there are flights to there from both Yangon and Mandalay.
Attractions Of Inle Lake
The Phaungdawoo Pagoda is one of the most recognized shrines in Myanmar. In fact, it is the most sacred pagoda in the whole southern Shan State. It is found in Inle Lake, in the main boat landing in Ywama. The name ‘Phaungdawoo’ means ‘front of the raft’ in Burmese. The Phaungdawoo is home to five Buddha images, which were said to be donated by King Alaung Sithu. The pagoda was built for the purpose of keeping these Buddha images. A small entrance fee applies.
Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery/ Jumping Cats Monastery
The Nga Phe Kyaung is the biggest and oldest monastery in Inle Lake. It is a beautiful wooden structure that was built on stilts over the lake at the end of the 1850s. The monastery is home to a collection of ancient Bagan, Shan, Tibet and Ava-style Buddha images. However, it’s most famous for the jumping cats. An abbot at the monastery has trained the cats to jump through a hoop like in a circus.
Inle Floating Gardens
Inle Lake has a unique style of aquaculture. The Inthas live on the lake and also live off of it, thanks to their floating gardens. Intha farmers grow flowers and vegetables such as tomatoes and squash on long strips of floating land. The land is formed through the collection of tangled water hyacinth, weeds and reeds that accumulate on the rim of the lake; the Inthas tie the land down to the bottom of the lake with long bamboo poles.
Alodaw Pauk Pagoda
The Alodaw Pauk Pagoda is one of the 84,000 pagodas built by the famous king Thiri Dhamma Thawka. When King Anawrahta arrived in Inle Lake, he rebuilt the pagoda because the only thing that was left was the foot of the original. The pagoda was originally named the Innphaya Pagoda, but it was changed into Yadana Pagoda before assuming its current name. The Alodaw Pauk Pagoda is home to the gem-encrusted Shan-style Buddha stupa.
Hundreds of red, white and brown stupas stand in varying states of disrepair on a hill in Indein, a Myanmar village located at the end of a narrow creek directly off Inle Lake. The journey to Indein is a joy: the twists and turns of the creek took us past farmers, accompanied by water buffalo, tilling the rice paddies and families bathing along the banks.
Located on the eastern shore of Inle Lake, half of Maing Thauk village is on the lake and half is on land, with the two parts linked by a long wooden bridge. Here you will find a bustling market and, further up the side of the mountain, the Maing Thauk Forest Monastery, from where you can see lovely views over lake. Maing Thauk can be reached either as part of a boat tour, or by car or bicycle from Nyaung Shwe.
A Shan State hidden gem, Kakku is a collection of 2,478 stupas commissioned 2,000 years ago and it is a religious centre for the Pa’O people, a Buddhist tribe from Myanmar. Due to local laws it is required to take the trip with a local guide: we made a stop along the way to collect our tickets and our Pa’O guide up in the Taunggyi tourism office en route from Kakku from Lake Inle.
Long Neck Kayan Women
The Kayan people are native to northern Myanmar where the women wear large brass neck rings. The practice starts as young children when rings are worn to deform the collar bones and upper ribs which, over time, create the appearance of a stretched neck leading to a very distinctive look. It’s possible to see some of these women weaving cloth at the many crafts shops in the Inle Lake villages.
Colorful five day market
Inle Lake’s five day markets, so called because they rotate around the lakeside villages, are picturesque and the perfect spot to indulge in some souvenir shopping .
Ride a Bike to Myanmar’s Wine Country
Active travelers can hit one of the many biking and hiking trails that wind out from Nyaungshwe, passing by pleasant countryside and bucolic Burmese villages. The bike trail from Nyaungshwe to the Red Mountain Winery is one not to miss: a pleasant two-mile jaunt leading gradually uphill until you reach a winery set amidst Inle Lake’s surrounding hills.
Once you arrive, you can book a wine tasting session that lets you sample the fruit of the local vineyard: a sweet Sauvignon Blanc, a Shiraz-Tempranillo blend and a white wine blended from Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat Petit Grain.
See the traditional fisherman of Inle Lake
Although modern fishing methods means the majority of fishing on the lake is now done via a net some traditional fishermen can still be seen in the quieter corners of the lake. Using the same rowing technique as the boatmen they balance expertly in the boat while they dip their traditional fishing nets into the water.
How to get to Inle Lake
The closest airport to Nyaung Shwe and Inle Lake is at the tiny town of Heho (HEH). Heho lies approximately 40 kilometres northwest of Nyaung Shwe, just off the highway between Taunggyi and Kalaw.
The closest railway station to Nyaung Shwe is at the junction village of Shwe Nyaung, a few kilometres north of town on the Thazi to Yaksauk line. From Heho, the track winds up to Kalaw then down to Thazi, where it hits the main Yangon to Mandalay line. There are, in theory, two departures per day for Kalaw and Thazi at 08:00 and 09:45. These trains stop at Heho (the town, not the airport), Aung Ban and Kalaw before reaching Thazi, 250 kilometres distant some 11 hours later. It’s very slow, but very scenic.
Highway express buses from Yangon and Mandalay also run several buses to Taungyi and Nyaungshwe near Inle.
How to get around
Around Inle Lake
We need to hire a private boat to getting around and to transfer to or from the lake resorts. Some resorts around Khaung Daing and Maing Thauk are accessible by road.
Around Nyaung Shwe
The town is small enough to be walkable, though bicycles are a fun and easy way to get around. They can be rented from most guesthouses and hotels as well as travel agents and cafes.
When to go
The best time to visit is September and October. This is mainly because of the ceremonial Phaungdawoo Festival, the most important event held there. This festival lasts for almost three weeks, and occurs between late September and early October. The Phaungdawoo Festival is closely followed by the Thadingyut, another festival and one of Myanmar’s best-known events. The Inthar and Shan folks wear new clothes to celebrate theend of Buddhist Lent, or ‘Waso’.
Other activities around the lake
For those who do not want the noise that comes with motorboats, canoe trips prove to be a good alternative. It is a delight to pass through the villages and observe the serene surroundings in silence. Going on canoe trips is also better for those who want to take pictures. One place visitors can go to by canoe is a big nat shrine found in the midst of a swampy jungle of banyan tress opposite Nanthe village.
Inle Lake is also a place for ecotourism and is the home of Inle Lake Sanctuary, a wetland sanctuary with an area of 642.32 square miles. Established in 1985, this sanctuary was made to protect and conserve natural vegetation, wetland birds and freshwater fish. Another objective of the sanctuary is to conserve the geological characteristics and scenic beauty of the mountain areas. In this place, tourists can learn about the traditional floating agriculture practised by the Inthar people.
Hiking is another activity often done in and around Inle Lake. Two favoured destinations for an all-day hike are the Koun Soun Taungbo Monastery and the nearby Ta-Eh Gu Cave. Another popular option is hiking from Kalaw to Inle Lake and vice versa.
Ballooning over Inle Lake
Nestled between the mountains of the southern Shan State lies one of Myanmar’s top destinations, spectacular Inle Lake, in the Southern Shan Hills, with the scenery providing stunning panoramic views . Flying over stilted villages, leg-rowing fishermen, floating gardens and layered mountains as a backdrop, Inle Lake is probably the most extraordinary place in the world to fly in a hot air balloon.