Lake Inle Guide:
The lake is an attractive, tranquil (when longtail boats are not passing by) area in Burma's Shan Hills, awash with
interesting characters, such as leg-rowing fishermen
and ethnic tribes gathering for markets, as well as floating
tomato gardens and cats jumping through hoops, but not much in the way of ancient pagodas, though a side trip to Kakku will provide a stupendous overdose of stupas if required.
Where to go on Lake Inle:
***Boat trip. Generally via noisy long-tail boats (like in Thailand) but you must cruise around the lake, especially before
sunset. If you don't state otherwise your skipper will drop in on various workshops where you may feel obliged to buy something (and skip gets a nice commission). The places worth visiting on the lake are:
***5 Day Market at Nampan or
Phanug Daw U Paya. Locals, including traditionally dressed tribal
people, come here by boat to sell and buy.
**Hpaung (also Phaung) Daw U Pagoda, the
holiest pagoda in the Shan state, with 5 small Buddha images so
totally covered by daily gold-leaf offerings that they have become
shapeless gold blobs.
**Nga Phe Kyaung (Jumping Cat Monastery). Popular with tour groups who go to see monk's pets jumping though
hoops, but it also has quite a collection of old Burma Buddha
images from different areas.
Activities around the lake:
- Cycling is not easy outside Nyaung Shwe because the roads are
awful and have no street lighting, but a day trip can be entertaining if you get it right. Check your bike thoroughly, including lights, before setting off. The route to the Spa Center (concreted hot springs) is particularly worthwhile, with a great chillout and cleansing in mid-ride.
- Hiking in the hills around the lake or even a three day trek to Kalaw. If trekking is not for the exercise and views but to visit
tribal villages, be aware that many villagers only dress up for
Go to a five day market to see the real thing!
- Boating on the lake, as above.
- Fly in via Heho airport, an hour's drive.
- Buses from
Yangon (660 kms, 20 hours ), Mandalay (330 kms) and Bagan are likely to be very cramped and uncomfortable.
- Pickup trucks from the large town of Taunggyi are an hour's cheap ride away.
Day Market. Try to ensure your stay in the Lake Inle area
includes at least one market day.
The local markets are held on a rotating schedule in the Shan
State, with five large villages hosting a market every five days.
But it's difficult to plan for as dates are unpredictable. Pictures.
Kakku. A rough and expensive three hour
drive from Inle, but the shredded blacktop road winds prettily through
bamboo groves and the Pa-O people's rice and garlic fields. The tiny
but highly holy Kakku complex houses 2,478 stupas (pointy Buddha shrines) with
unusual and well preserved carvings. It's awesome and the bugcrew loved it. Pictures.
*Inndein. Another of Myanmar's Pa-O areas, this is a group of
over 1,000 ruined stupas on a hillside to the west of the lake.
It takes about two hours to get there by boat from Nyaung Shwe
and 15 minutes walk.
email from longtraevller: After visiting Bagan it is a little difficult to be very impressed by Indein, however the boat ride to get there is amazing. Going upstream you can see the locals washing themselves and their buffalos in the narrow river. Many of the temples are really just ruins and it is a little depressing to see. It is quite an impressive sight even so. .
**Pindaya. Famous for its limestone caves overlooking the village and Boutaloke
Lake, the caves are crammed with 8,094 Buddha images as well as
stalactites and stalagmites.
It is also a centre of local handicrafts such as Shan paper and
umbrellas. Pindaya is a two hour drive from Kalaw, or 3-4 hours from Nyaungshwe.
The road between Aungban and Pindaya is extremely scenic, through
patch-worked fields of yellow, green and pink.
Kalaw. A cool, pleasant hill town that serves as a base for hiking, or
a day trip to the Pindaya caves, though not much else.
Nyaung Shwe (Nyaungshwe), at the north end of
the lake is the main tourist base for Lake Inle, with plenty of
guest houses, restaurants and tea shops, along with boats, of course. Access to the lake is via a long and tedious channel.
Tourists who want a totally romantic location and don't mind
chewing on dull all-inclusive hotel food can stay in an isolated resort hotel of the stilt-rooms-on-the-lake
sort, be a captive diner paying silly prices for mediocre
nosh, and will need to organise transport to get anywhere.
Mosquitoes are a major problem after dusk even during the dry season.
Nyaungshwe is great place to eat, from fine Chinese meals, Shan
home-cooking, Inle specialities and delicious noodle vendors in the market. The town
is vegetarian friendly too, with plenty of dishes featuring rice, tofu, tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, onions or fish.
If you are tired of Burmese/Chinese food, try the excellent pancake cafes.
Daw U Festival & Thadingyut Festival (Festival of Light). 3 weeks during September/October, though it is not Myanmar's best time weatherwise
(still the wet season), this is the biggest event in the Shan State.
Daw U Festival - A holy boat procession carries gold-covered Buddhas around
Lake Inle and thousands of costumed folk celebrate the Buddhas'
return with music, dance and boat races.
This is followed by the Festival of Light, at the end of Buddhist
Lent and all over Burma.
Tazaungdaing Festival: 3 days in Mid-November,
another Festival of Light but particular to Taunggyi (a hill town 20km from Nyaungshwe), with added fire-balloon