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.
The shore and islands of Inle Lake accommodate 17 villages, all of which are on stilts. The lake does not actually have a shoreline; an individual cannot walk around it directly. The water of Inle Lake gets shallow as hyacinths and marsh paddies become dense; the path becomes impassable, and suddenly there is solid land.
The inhabitants of the island are called the Intha, and they are devout Buddhists. This is the reason there are about a hundred Buddhist pagodas and about a thousand stupas in this area. The most remarkable feature of the lake is the leg-rowing Intha fishermen: they drive their flat-bottom boats by standing on the stern with one leg and using the other leg with the oar to row in order to obtain better vision over the reeds.
Inle Lake is remarkably different from the three key tourist destinations of Myanmar: Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay. It is significantly smaller compared to the aforementioned main cities. It does not have as many attractions, but it is an established tourist centre in the country. This is because Inle Lake presents its visitors a different side of Myanmar; it is an example of a rural countryside town that is calm and peaceful, perfect for a vacation of relaxation. The views are also amazing. Tourists get to see the diverse landscape of Myanmar through the areas that surrounds the lake.
Just like in other places in Myanmar, most of the attractions in Inle Lake are pagodas. The Inthas, the inhabitants of the area, are devout Buddhists and places frequently visited in their area are proof of their religious beliefs. One monastery is also a popular attraction, mainly because of the interesting performance of in-house felines. Lastly, Inle Lake is home to a different kind of garden, something that visitors from all over the world delight to see.
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.
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.
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.
Nyaung Oak Pagodas
The village of Indein is a tourist destination for the ruins of ancient pagodas, and Nyaung Oak is one of them. Nyaung Oak is not a single pagoda; rather, it is a group of pagodas found immediately behind the village. The ancient pagodas may be crumbling, but the intricate details of the structures can still be seen. In some parts, the elaborate stucco carvings of celestial beings and mythical animals are still apparent.
Because it is the most anticipated and most significant religious event in Inle Lake, the Phaungdawoo Festival can be considered as an attraction in its own right. The18-day event includes a grand procession of Buddha images, a boat race and other activities. Four of the five Buddha images in the Phaungdawoo Pagoda are transported on a royal barge which is pulled by big Inle traditional boats. The festival is generally held in September or October, depending on the Myanmar calendar.
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.
Shwe Indein Pagoda
The Shwe Indein Pagoda is situated at the end of the marvellous Indein creek, which is linked to the Inle Lake after the Phaungdawoo Pagoda. One can find a Buddha image enshrined in a whitewashed stupa found on the summit of a hill. Around the hill, there is a cluster of ancient stupas, most of which are ruins. It is said that the pagoda was built in the 17th and 18th century.
Inle Lake Activities
At first glance, it seems like there is not much to do at Inle Lake. Visiting pagodas is a given, since it is done in almost every city in Myanmar. Sightseeing is also an expected activity. As a rural area, Inle Lake and its surrounding areas boast stunning lake views and glimpses of a picturesque countryside. Indeed, Inle Lake is the destination for a laid-back and relaxing vacation. Nonetheless, the lake offers its visitors several things to do in its vicinity.
Because it is a body of water, naturally some of its activities involve travelling by boat and tourists have the option to choose between two types: the motor-powered variety or traditional canoes. Trekking is also a popular activity in the area, especially with such a vast landscape to explore. The hidden treasures of the lake, such as a sanctuary and hot springs, also give Inle Lake visitors plenty to do.
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.
Location: In between the Nyaungshwe, Pinlaung and Peh Kon Townships of the Southern Shan State.
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 the hike from Inle Lake to Kalaw and vice versa. Hikers can also enjoy long walks either to the north or south of the Nyaungshwe Pass. Guided day hikes can be organized by guesthouses and hotels.
Hot Springs Bathing
Most tourists are not aware of the fact that there is a hot springs to be enjoyed at Inle Lake. Tourists can keep themselves warm in this hot springs, and they can choose between public or private bathing. The hot springs in Inle Lake can be accessed by a boat ride from Nyaungshwe or a bumpy, hour-long bicycle ride.
Location: Near the Intha village of Kaungdaing.
There is an unwritten rule that states that every tourist should experience at least one motorboat trip during a visit to Inle Lake. In this case, a motorboat is a long dugout canoe with a huge lawn-mower engine. These boats bring tourists to attractions such as the Phaungdawoo Pagoda and the Jumping Cat Monastery, as well as to floating gardens and souvenir shops. Almost every hotel and guesthouse in Nyaungshwe can arrange boat excursions, but naturally the high-end hotels charge more.
Inle Lake Nightlife
Inle Lake does not have nightlife. After all, it is a rural area in the southern Shan state in the country of Myanmar. It does not have clubs, pubs, discos or karaoke lounges. When the sun sets in Inle Lake, you won’t hear loud, pulsing music and bodies swinging to the beat.
Instead, a different kind of landscape reveals itself when night falls in Inle Lake. The simple night time activities of the townsfolk is shown as illuminated by the lights of the night sky and the candles they use. One sees Inthar fishermen going back to the shore after a long day of fishing, and wives preparing and cooking supper.
Tourists who wish to experience nightlife in Inle Lake can enjoy cultural shows and boat races instead. The luxury hotels and resorts in the area offer these to interested parties, especially for groups and corporate events. These shows and races are not only entertainment, but they also share the culture, customs and traditions of the people of Myanmar.
Inle Lake Shopping
Shopping is an entirely different experience at Inle Lake and because it is a rural area, Inle Lake does not have malls, shopping centres or supermarkets. The Inthar people that live on the lake get what they need from floating markets present in every village. The sellers carry all their merchandise on boats and conduct sales from there. With so many people on boats hawking their wares, there are times when the canals of the lake experience heavy traffic.
Shopping at Inle Lake is also dependent on the five-day rotating markets. For tourists, the experience can be tricky since the market does not have a specific schedule and venue. The market is open every five days, and its location constantly changes. For market days, the tribe people from the hills come down to sell their goods.
For those looking for a particular product, the shopping can be done in the village in which the product is made.
Inphaw Khone is not a market; instead, it is a village that has become a popular tourist destination because of its weaving workshops. Most visitors stop by to watch young weavers skilfully operate the looms made from bamboo and teak. The result of the weaving is high-quality fabric; in fact, the village is best place to purchase lotus-silk shawls. The shawls can be expensive, mainly because of the arduous process involved in production.
Location: West of Nampan Village.
Mine Thauk Market
The Mine Thauk Market is a large and bustling affair that features a wide selection of merchandise for shoppers. It is also known as the ‘five-day market’ because the people from the hills sell their products in five different locations over a five-day period. This is where the Inthar people buy produce such as tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and the like. There are also people selling Shan bags, Buddha statues and lacquerware.
Mingala Market is another good place to shop for local produce. In this market, there is also a lot of good food for those who are brave enough to try it and one of the most common dishes sold by vendors is ‘kauq-sweh’ or noodle soup. Another delicacy sold here is maung jet, which are round and flat rice crisps.
Location: Win Quarter, Nyaung Shwe Township.
Just like the Mine Thauk Market, the schedule of the Nampan Market also rotates, making it a bit difficult to keep track of. The scene at this market is rather lively, with various townsfolk selling colourful produce and an assortment of other products. It is a treat to see the Pa-O tribal people from the hills come down in their traditional dress to trade in the village.
Location: Nampan Village.
Ywama Floating Market
Ywama Village is well-known for its floating market because it is the biggest in the area. The canal is packed with local farmers’ boats trying to sell goods to locals, as well as pedlars selling souvenirs to tourists. To enjoy the market before it gets overcrowded, one must wake up early as the market is already in full swing by 08:30.
Location: Ywama Village.
Inle Lake Restaurants
Just like in other key tourist destinations in Myanmar, there is no shortage of dining establishments at Inle Lake and it may be a rural destination, but that does not mean the place is lacking when it comes to gastronomic delights.
The restaurants at Inle Lake can be divided into two categories. The first serve local Inthar dishes or Shan cuisine. Often, Chinese food is not far behind Shan dishes in a typical menu. The second category encompasses more western-style eateries that normally specialise in pancakes and pasta. The mix of western and local dishes makes for a more cosmopolitan approach.
One of the most recommended places to dine in Inle Lake is Ann's Restaurant. This is the place visitors should go for a taste of local Inthar specialities. The menu of this establishment also includes tasty Burmese and Chinese dishes and Ann's Restaurant is guaranteed to give diners a unique experience with meals straight from its Shan kitchen.
Location: Myan Ni Gone Village, Nha Phay Kyaung P.O
Those wanting a break from the local Shan and Chinese dishes, as well as pancake and pasta dishes, should consider a visit to Aroma Restaurant. It specialises in Indian food, and also has a branch in the ancient city of Bagan. The tasty Indian meat and vegetable curries are worth a try.
Location: Chaung Road.
Four Sisters Restaurant/Inn
The Four Sisters Inn is actually a hotel that has a great restaurant also open for non-guests. The restaurant came first, and the business expanded to include a quiet guesthouse. This dining establishment is known for its excellent Shan dishes, but the meals are made extra special with the addition of music and dance.
Location: 105 Strand Road, Nan Pan Quarter, Nyaung Shwe.
Golden Kite Restaurant
Around Inle Lake, the Golden Kite Restaurant is considered to be the top dining destination when it comes to pasta and pancakes. The place is also known for omelettes, fruit shakes and its vegetarian tagliatelle. Tourists love this place because the majority of the staff speak English well and are knowledgeable about the preferences of foreign travellers.
Location: Yone Gyi Road, Nampan Village.
Hu Pin Restaurant
Travellers with a penchant for Chinese food will love this eatery in Inle Lake. The Hu Pin Restaurant serves excellent Chinese dishes and its English-language menu is divided into three sections: chicken, pork and fish.
Location: Kan Thar Quarter, Nyaung Shwe Township.
Inn Thar Lay Restaurant
This dining destination is a welcome sight to hungry visitors to the nearby Phaungdawoo Pagoda. The Inn Thar Lay Restaurant, which is in a quaint two-storey wooden house, is highly recommended for its Shan and Chinese cuisine. Dining in the Inn Thar Lay Restaurant is a great way to cap off a visit to Inle Lake's most famous shrine.
Location: Near the Phaungdawoo Pagoda.
Miss Nyaungshwe Restaurant
Most restaurants in Inle Lake either serve pancakes and pasta, or Shan and Chinese cuisine. Miss Nyaungshwe Restaurant falls in both categories, as its menu includes all the aforementioned dishes. Aside from the food, the good views are also one of the reasons people frequently visit; this is because of the outdoor patio. Miss Nyaungshwe also has a good selection of bottled beers.
Location: Phaungdaw Seiq Road, Nyaung Shwe Township.
Nam Pan Restaurant
The Nam Pan Restaurant is another recommended dining spot and is found in the southern part of Inle Lake. The establishment is given thumbs up by diners and loyal patrons for their traditional Shan dishes. Chinese food is also served here.
Location: Nampan Village.
Unique Superb Food House
This restaurant may seem like just an ordinary patio with half a dozen tables, but the food served here is described perfectly by its name – superb. This joint has successfully catered to taste of tourists without losing its local flavour and while the restaurant serves mostly Shan dishes, the speciality of the house is its mouth-watering filet mignon.
Location: 3 Myawady Road, Nyaung Shwe Township.
Smiling Moon Restaurant
This establishment can be found just down the street from the Golden Kite Restaurant. In fact, Smiling Moon also has a similar menu. It is smaller than the Golden Kite, and it has fewer tables, however, the place is clean and the restaurant staff members are friendly. The dishes served are also inexpensive, which is a fact welcomed by travellers on a budget.
Location: Yone Gyi Road, Nampan Village, Inle Lake.