Lake Inle, Myanmar

A leg-rowing fisherman on Lake Inle, Shan State, Myanmar

A fisherman on Lake Inle, Shan State, using one of their unusual rowing techniques.

What is Lake Inle?

Inle Lake is an attractive, tranquil (when longtail boats are not buzzing by) freshwater lake in Burma’s Shan Hills, awash with interesting characters, such as leg-rowing fishermen and ethnic tribes trawling the markets, as well as floating tomato fields 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.

A Lake Inle stilt village, Shan State, Myanmar

An Inle village, photo by Christopher Michel.

***Boat trips

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).

Places worth visiting on the lake

Lake Inle's famous floating vegetable fields, Myanmar

Lake Inle’s famous floating vegetable fields.

***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.

Lake Inle things to see and do

• 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 tourists. Go to a five day market to see the real thing!

• Boating on the lake.

A leg-rowing boy on Lake Inle, Myanmar

An Inle boy displaying the customary leg-rowing skill, unique to Lake Inle and enabling the rower to see and avoid patches of floating weed.

Jumping Cat' Monastery view from Lake Inle, Myanmar

The lake’s ‘Jumping Cat’ Monastery, Nga Phe, which also has a fine collection of Buddhas in addition to. . .

a Jumping Cat in Nga Phe Monastery, Lake Inle, Myanmar

. . . a jumping cat.

Buddha gold blobs in Hpaung Daw U Pagoda, Lake Inle, Myanmar

Hpaung (aka Phaung) Daw U Pagoda, the holiest pagoda in the Shan state, where 100’s of years of daily gold leaf have turned these five Buddhas to blobs – that’s what a high carb diet does for you.

Accommodation

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.
Note that mosquitoes are a major problem after dusk even during the dry season.

Food

Nyaungshwe is great place to eat; choose 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.

Festivals

3 weeks during September/October though it is not Myanmar’s best time weatherwise (still the wet season) Hpaung Daw U Festival & Thadingyut Festival (Festival of Light). This is the biggest event in the Shan State. 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.

3 days in Mid-November, Tazaungdaing Festival, another Festival of Light but particular to Taunggyi (a hill town 20km from Nyaungshwe), with added fire-balloon competition.

Getting there

• Fly in via Heho airport, an hour’s drive.

• Buses from Yangon (620 kms, 8 hours drive), Mandalay (225 kms, 3. 5 hours) and Bagan (320 kms, 5. 5 hours) are likely to be very cramped and uncomfortable.

• Pickup trucks travel to/from the large town of Taunggyi an hour’s cheap ride away.