What to Do in Inle Lake – Boat Tour, Attractions and Tips
Updated in January 2020
Inle Lake in Myanmar is one of the most magical places on earth. From the minute we started our boat tour around the lake, we fell in love with the scenery and sights. From the traditional fishermen with their cone-shaped nets, the local villages and the stilt houses, the floating gardens and lively market, the unique workshops and the hill-side tribes with their colorful headdresses. If you are wondering what to do in Inle Lake, Myanmar and how to plan the perfect boat tour around the lake, we’ve gathered some of our best experiences for you.
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Inle Lake, Myanmar – An Overview
Inle Lake is a freshwater lake (the second largest in the country) which is located in the Nyaungshwe Township of Taunggyi District of Shan State. The lake is famous for its floating villages and gardens and the unique way of life of its inhabitants. The people of Inle Lake are called Intha, meaning “sons of the lake” and they are members of the Tibeto-Burman ethnic group that live around the lake. In addition, other small ethnic groups live in the area including the Pa’O tribe. Most of Inle Lake’s inhabitants are farmers and fishermen with unique farming and fishing methods of their own.
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How to Get to Inle Lake
By Plane – The nearest airport is Heho Airport (for domestic flights) located approximately 46 km northwest of Inle Lake. It will take you about 45-60 minutes by car to get from Heho airport to Nyaungshwe, the main town and gateway to the lake.
By Bus – Buses from Yangon to Nyaung Shwe take about 12 hours, From Mandalay and Bagan it will take you around 8-9 hours.
For more details about getting to Inle Lake.
How to Get around Inle Lake
By Boat – Riding a boat is the easiest and most fun means of transportation around Inle Lake. If you are staying in the main town, Nyaungshwe, most tour boats start from there but even if you are staying at one of the lakeside hotels, the hotel can arrange for a water taxi or a boat tour.
By Bicycle – Many places in Nyaungshwe have bicycles for rent. However, for many of the attractions around the lake, bicycles are not the most comfortable means of transportation since we are talking about long distances.
By Taxi – If you are staying at a hotel, ask them to arrange a taxi for you but it’s usually much less convenient unless it’s for a nearby destination.
When to Visit Inle Lake
The best time to visit Inle Lake is during the dry and cool season from November to February. There are fewer rainy days and the average temperatures are approximately 22 – 33°C. If you’re lucky, you might be able to see the famous Phaung Daw Oo pagoda festival which is celebrated for 18 days usually during October-November.
You can also visit the lake during the hot season, from March to May, when there is hardly any rain, and the temperatures are a bit higher at an average of 24 – 35°C. In April you can experience the Burmese New Year celebrations.
It’s not recommended to visit Inle Lake during the rainy season from May to October since you will probably encounter heavy rain showers frequently.
How Many Days to Stay in Inle Lake
There are so many things you can see and do around the lake and our best advice is to stay at least three days in Inle Lake and preferably even longer. We would have loved to stay here an additional day or two simply because of the special atmosphere and scenery. After you see all of the attractions, just relax and enjoy the unique vibes of the area and the wonderful and welcoming locals. One of our most fond memories from our time at the lake is our encounters with Inle Lake’s residents who never stopped waving at us when they passed our boat, and when we waved back at them, the echo of their cheering quickly followed.
Top Things to Do in Inle Lake – Boat Tour and Attractions
The main attractions of Inle Lake can be seen on a boat tour. Hiring a private boat tour is very affordable and totally worth the price. Usually, it costs about $ 20 -25 for one day. The hotel or hostel can arrange for a private boat tour without a problem.
Top Things to Do on an Inle Lake Boat Tour
Wake Up at Sunrise to Visit the Local Fishermen
We knew in advance that we would like to watch the sunrise on the lake and try to snap some pictures of the local fishermen with their unique cone-shaped nets and traditional method of fishing. Since the lake is full of water plants and weed, standing on one leg at the end of the boat helps the fishermen have a better view of the bottom of the lake, they use the other leg to navigate the boat and can use both of their hands for fishing. Since the lake is pretty shallow (2-5 meters) they can trap the fish by thrusting their cone-shaped nets into the water and then they spear them through the hole.
Waking up so early and seeing the cloudy sky was not a great start for the day. Though we didn’t have our usual morning coffee fix, the crisp morning air and the wind in our hair quickly woke us up. There’s something magical about having the lake all to yourself with the enchanting morning mist lingering over the surface of the water. We quickly encountered a few fishermen who spotted us from afar and gladly posed for the enthusiastic tourists. Soon after, we were lucky enough to encounter an actual photography session taking place on the lake (You can read about it in our travel letters).
Explore the Floating Villages
When you first arrive at Inle Lake you’ll be amazed by the stilt houses and the local customs of the Intha people. Growing up on the lake means you’ll be rowing your boat from a tender age; otherwise you will be stuck in your house… When we first arrived at the lake, we took a boat from Nyaungshwe to our hotel on the lake. To our request, our driver took the longer route and visited some of the floating villages. The hues of blues and greens, the reflections of the beautiful scenery, the colorful clothing lines drying in the wind, the local kids who were playing with balls from one boat to the other and flying kites from the roof of the stilt houses made us fall in love with the lake from the start.
Visit the Unique Inle Lake Workshops and Artisans
Our Myanmar itinerary included many small local workshops because we have a special interest in arts and crafts and similar cultural experiences. Many family-owned workshops can be found all around Inle lake, unfortunately, some of the workshops in this area are much more commercial and touristy than elsewhere. Nevertheless, most of the workshops that are found here, are unique to the lake so be sure to stop by at some of them.
Lotus Weavers of Inle Lake
There are many weaving-lotus factories around the lake since this craft is unique to the area. The Intha people have been weaving garments from lotus stems for over a century. This fabric is considered as one of the most expensive and finest fabrics in the world since it takes about 20,000 lotus stems and 40 days to produce a square meter of lotus fabric. We were transfixed by the skillful hands of the women at the lotus-weaving workshop we visited. So much time, effort and talent are put into these garments, and there’s no doubt the views from the windows of this simple factory, were some of the best we’ve ever seen.
Another exceptional workshop we visited was the cheroots family-owned workshop. Cheroots are cigars that are clipped on both ends. They come in different flavors and are hand-rolled by the local women. Cheroots have a long history in Myanmar since the times of the Burmese Kings. We were welcomed by the women who were busy rolling the cheroots and were happy to demonstrate their cigar-rolling skills. It was a great opportunity to deepen our knowledge of the locals’ everyday lives and customs since one of the daughters spoke perfect English and was happy to answer all of our questions.
Shop at the Five-Day Market
The origins of the Five Day Market date back to ancient times when the local leaders of the Shan State used to collect taxes from the local villages. To save time, they started gathering people from nearby villages in one town on certain days. The local villagers started bringing with them goods for trade, and to this day the colorful five-day market travels between the villages of Inle Lake. Ask your hotel/host/guide for the current location of the market. The market is always packed with residents of the lake and the hill-side tribes who come to buy the fresh produce for the day. Many of the houses on the lake do not have refrigerators, and therefore the locals rely on the fresh produce that is sold in the market. Markets are always one of our favorite places to get lost in, and here many of the visitors still wear their tribe’s traditional garbs, especially the Pa’O women with their colorful headdress. It is also a great opportunity to buy souvenirs or try some of the local snacks and fruits. After wandering around for a while, we bought ourselves a fresh coconut and just watched the world go by…
Have Lunch on the Lake
In Inle Lake, do like the locals do, don’t look for the touristy restaurants but stop at one of the floating local restaurants. On our first day, we stopped at one of the floating restaurants in the middle of the lake. The place was packed with locals and only few tourists were there. We asked our guide for some food recommendations and ended up sharing fish and various vegetable-dishes that are unique to the area.
Discover the Stupas at Indein Ancient Village
Indein took us totally by surprise. When our guide first informed us that our next stop on our boat ride was going to be an ancient village with some stupas and pagodas, we weren’t too thrilled. Inle Lake has such stunning natural scenery and so many cultural attractions, and since we’d already visited so many pagodas and stupas during our time in Myanmar, we wanted to continue exploring the lake itself. Also, we’ve never heard about the stupas of Indein before so we assumed they weren’t such an exciting sight. When we first arrived at the small village, we saw groups of tourists congregating inside the somewhat touristy restaurants located at the pier, and we lost any shred of enthusiasm we’d managed to gather. After lunch, we walked slowly through stands of souvenirs and hagglers who asked us to take their picture for 1 dollar and after a while we saw several ancient stupas behind the corner which were very nice but weren’t that exciting as well. If you are still reading this, keep on walking because you are about to be amazed by the hundreds of stupas of ancient pagodas in various shapes and sizes. Some of them are well-preserved while others are falling apart. Many of the pagodas have been restored and it is absolutely breathtaking to walk around the compound and take in this amazing sight. Visiting Indein is one of the top things to do while visiting Inle Lake, just choose to visit it at a time when it is less crowded. Our guide actually planned it perfectly because after lunchtime, we encountered very few tourists among the pagodas.
Explore Inle Lake’s Floating Gardens
At the end of a very long day, we decided to take it easy, so we took a canoe ride through one of the floating gardens. We were welcomed by a lovely family, drank some tea, ate peanuts and then waited for one of their sons to bring the smaller canoe. The villagers grow their crops in large gardens that float on the water, a farming method that is unique to Inle Lake. It is such a relaxing experience to ride in a small motorized canoe among the crops, looking for tomatoes and cucumbers and drown yourself in all that luscious greenery. The reflections are to die for and we couldn’t stop taking pictures. If you manage to do it in the late afternoon you would have the best light for taking pictures with the beautiful golden hues that color the whole scenery.
Additional Things to Do in Inle Lake – If you Have More Time
Visit the Local Village of Sweets and Snacks Makers
Did you know that not far from the main town, Nyaungshwe, there’s a local village of about 30 families that make local sweets and snacks. It’s more than just your regular food tour, it’s a cultural food tour. Get yourself to the Tofu Palace (About 30 minutes away from town) and there you’ll find small “agencies”, or rather villagers that will gladly show you around. You’ll go through the different local families see and taste some of the Burmese sweets and snacks they make. Everything is made by hand by traditional methods. From small local ‘donuts’ and local candies to salty snacks that are made from rice and corn dough which are then grated over hot oil and fried. There were also rice crackers, fried Burmese chickpea tofu and more. Unlike some of the touristy workshops on the lake, these are really authentic (for now at least). At the end of the tour you are expected to give a small donation for the villagers.
Visit the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda and Nga Hpe Kyaung Monastery
The Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda is one of the most important monasteries in Inle Lake, Inside you’ll find five Buddha images presumed to be more than 800 years old. They are almost unrecognizable since they are covered by gold leaves placed on them by devoted pilgrims. If you happen to visit Inle Lake around October, you’ll be lucky enough to attend the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival.
The Monastery Nga Hpe Kyaung is also known as the Jumping Cat Monastery since for years, the monks used to train the local cats to jump through hoops. Nowadays, however, the resident cats prefer to sleep happily in the sun and watch the lake.
Trek Around the Lake and Visit the Local Hill-Side Tribes
We didn’t have enough time for this activity but if you’d like to see the magnificent Inle Lake from one of the hills and visit some of the local villages, go a one-day trek to the local Pa’O villages.
Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride Over Inle Lake
If money is not an issue and you’d like to experience a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you can hop on a hot air balloon to see the spectacular views of Inle Lake from above. If this is something you are interested in, make sure to come between November to mid-March.
Where to Stay in Inle Lake
Most of the budget accommodations are located in the main town, Nyaungshwe, but if you can afford it, we recommend staying at one of the lakeside hotels.
Final Tips for your Inle Lake Itinerary
- Currently, there’s an entrance fee for tourists who arrive to visit Inle Lake. It’s for a good cause though, and the $ 10 entrance fee is intended to help the local community carry out conservation work around the lake.
- Money and ATM – there are a few ATM’s around the lake. We exchanged some money when we arrived in Nyaungshwe.
- If you’re staying at Nyaungshwe, you can rent a bicycle and explore the surrounding agricultural land.
We loved all of the places we’ve visited in Myanmar but Inle Lake has a special place in our hearts. The lake has such a charming and laid-back atmosphere and there are so many attractions and things to do around the lake. From the moment we took our first boat ride across the lake, we fell in love with this place and the friendly Intha people who showed genuine enthusiasm to welcome us to their homes.