Prior to visiting Myanmar, I have zero knowledge about Inle Lake. I used to hear about Yangon, Mandalay, and Bagan but never heard of Inle Lake. I only knew about it when I asked my brother what places to visit in Myanmar. He mentioned the 3 cities and included Inle Lake.
Inle Lake is a freshwater lake located in Nyaung Shwe Township of Shan State in Myanmar. It is the second-largest lake in the country with an estimated surface area of 116 km2. It is a major tourist attraction in Myanmar and every tourist entering Inle Lake Zone has to pay an entry fee of 15,000 Kyats (~US$ 9.93).
The best way to explore Inle Lake is to go on a boat tour for one day. You get a glimpse of the local life and visit local handicraft shops. During the tour, you will see how they do traditional fishing, get to visit the floating gardens, a pagoda, and monastery, and see stilt houses. If you only have a full day to spend in Inle Lake, then going on a boat tour is the best activity to do there.
In this post, I will tell you everything you need to know when going on a boat tour over Inle Lake- how to get there, where to book the tour, the cost of the tour, and the tour itinerary.
How to Get to Inle Lake
You can get to Inle Lake by bus, by plane, or by doing the trek from Kalaw to Inle. By plane, the nearest airport is Heho Airport. From the airport, it is an hour’s drive to Inle.
If you are on a tight budget, taking the bus is a cheaper option. There are buses to Inle from Yangon and Mandalay. From Yangon, travel by bus takes 10 hours while from Mandalay it is 8 hours. The best bus line in Myanmar is the JJ Express, though Famous Bus is also good. I used Famous Bus to Inle. You can book an overnight bus to Inle Lake through Klook.
If you have plenty of time and up for some adventure, I think doing the trek from Kalaw is a good experience to get to Inle. From what I have read, you can travel to Kalaw town and from there you can book a guided tour for the trek. You can also book this trek in Yangon at Baobabed Hostel.
Where to Book the Tour and Cost of the Tour
You can book the boat tour at any hotel or hostels in Nyaung Shwe. Klook offers an Inle Lake Day Tour but it has to be for groups of three or four. When I did the tour, I did the tour alone. I booked my tour with Wai. He was recommended by my brother and was his guide last year. He was very kind to me, made sure that everything is okay with me, and told me many things about living in the lake.
What I did was I messaged him prior to going to Inle Lake, so I was able to do the tour on the day that I arrived in town. He picked me up at my hostel. I paid 18,000 Kyats (US$ 12) for the tour, with just me on the tour, no other tourists. You can message him on Facebook, look for Wai Phyo.
Another guide that you can contact is Ekko. I met him at the wooden bridge in the village of Maing Thauk. He’s a very nice guy too. You can reach him through his Instagram account: @ekko860.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of different types of accommodations in Nyaung Shwe. For solo travelers, I highly recommend Baobabed Hostel. They offer a complimentary early check-in room. Take note- room, not reception/common area. They have a room where you can sleep in case you arrive really early and you won’t have to pay extra. That room also has its own toilet and bath, and a locker where you can leave your bags. And they also have bikes that you can use for free.
Inle Lake Boat Tour Itinerary
We started the tour really early. Wai picked me up at the hostel at 8:00 am and brought me to the jumpoff point of the tour. As mentioned earlier, I did the tour alone. With me and Wai on the boat are his assistant and the boatman. The boat we used for the tour is motorized. Below are the attractions we saw/visited and all tours pretty much have the same itinerary:
Watch the fishermen in action
Inle Lake is famous for the fishermen doing the traditional fishing method. What they do is they balance with their one leg and they wrap their other leg around an oar and use it to maneuver their boats around while holding a net to catch fish. Some of you may have seen pictures of fishermen doing this balancing act using a conical bamboo basket instead of a net. Wai told me that those fishermen aren’t really fishing, they are just doing the act for tourists. He said that using the conical bamboo basket isn’t very efficient for fishing so these days real fishermen use the net.
Visit the floating gardens
Normally tomatoes are planted in soil but people in Inle Lake found a way of growing tomatoes in the water. What they do is they collect lake-bottom weeds from the deeper parts of the lake and turn them into floating beds in the garden areas. Seeds are then planted on these floating beds. The beds are anchored with bamboo poles. These gardens are resistant to flooding as they rise and fall with changes in the water level.
Explore the floating villages
After visiting the floating gardens, your guide will take you to local shops on the lake but before reaching the shops you will pass by an area with floating houses. It’s so nice to see that they found a way to live on the water. Their houses are built on wooden stilts.
Visit a lotus, silk, and cotton hand-weaving center
There are plenty of shops and factories on the lake, and during the tour, you’ll be visiting a lotus, silk, and cotton hand-weaving center. In the center, one of the attendants explains the process of making a lotus thread. Lotus plants grow in abundance in Inle Lake and they found a way to use it. They say that clothes made out of lotus thread are 7 times more expensive than silk because it takes at least 20,000 lotus stems and 40 days to produce a square meter of lotus fabric.
The hand-weaving center also has a shop where you can buy clothes, longyis and scarves.
Visit a cigar factory
After a visit to the hand-weaving center, the next stop is the cigar factory. Here they show you how they make cigars and they even give a free cigar to try but I don’t smoke so I didn’t try.
Visit the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda
An important Buddhist site located on the lake, the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda houses five Buddha images. These images have been covered with gold leaves and they have been covered with so much that you can no longer see the original form of the images.
Visit a silversmith
Another shop that you get to visit during the tour to Inle Lake is a silversmith shop. In the shop, they explain the process of making silver or gold jewelry. They also have silver, gold, and brass jewelry for sale. It is where I bought my brass pendant that I have been wearing until now.
Lunch at Blue Sky Restaurant
There are restaurants in the lake where you can have your lunch. Wai took me to Blue Sky Restaurant. The restaurant is not floating, it was built on the land. It was in this restaurant where I got to try Thanaka. I got very curious about it and the restaurant happens to have one. Wai demonstrated to me how they do it, and applied some on my face.
Thanaka is a yellowish-white cosmetic paste made from ground bark. It is said to provide protection from sunburn, promote smooth skin, and treat acne.
See the Long Neck Women of Inle Lake
Another attraction in Inle Lake is the long neck women. They work in shops in the lake, they weave scarves, etc. They belong to the Pa Daung tribe from Kayah state near the Thailand border. These women start wearing the necklace at age nine, as protection from the tiger. They have a necklace that you can try. I tried wearing it and it was heavy and very uncomfortable.
Visit the Jumping Cat Monastery
Built in the 1850s, the monastery is the biggest and the oldest wooden monastery in the region. It was called Jumping Cat Monastery because there used to be cats doing jumping performances for tourists. But they don’t do this anymore. Inside the monastery, you will see a collection of 500 ancient Buddha images.
Reach the edge of the wooden bridge at the village of Maing Thauk
The last part of the tour is a visit to the wooden bridge at the village of Maing Thauk. It is like a small version of U-Bein Bridge and near the bridge are floating gardens. There are resting huts along the bridge. I had a great time hanging out at this bridge and talking to locals.
Hope you liked my Inle Lake Guide. If you have questions about Inle, feel free to write it down in the comments section or you can message me on my IG or Facebook page. Subscribe to my blog if you don’t want to miss any of my posts. And please follow my Facebook page @iwentanyways and like my Instagram accounts @iwentanyways and @tnadeperalta for updates. You can also check out my highlights from my trip to Inle Lake in my IG @tnadeperalta. I have plenty of videos there from the tour.