A complete guide on what to do in Inle Lake, Myanmar. After staying at Inle Lake for a week, I came up with these suggestions for the best things to do in Inle Lake.
What To Do In Inle Lake Myanmar
In December 2018, we spent a week in Inle Lake Myanmar. Though most people choose to spend 2-3 days in Inle Lake, we decided to stay longer, as we really enjoyed it there. Based on our experiences, here’s what to do in Inle Lake Myanmar.
Where Is Inle Lake Myanmar
A place that features in most “where to go in Myanmar” lists, Inle Lake is a freshwater lake in the Shan State of Myanmar. It is a natural stopping point on the popular Mandalay – Bagan – Inle – Yangon itinerary in Myanmar, and it’s about 600 kms north-west of Chiang Mai in Thailand.
Although we had read that Inle Lake is becoming very popular, we didn’t really see too many tourists, and all in all the area seemed relatively unspoilt, with a lot of beautiful nature and friendly people. It actually felt like we were back in the 70s or 80s, only with Internet!
At this point I should mention that there is the lake itself, and a nearby settlement called Nyaung Shwe. This is where we stayed during our time by Inle lake.
Why Should I Go To Inle Myanmar
Along with the surrounding area, Inle Lake is a really picturesque landmark, due to the amazing nature and the local floating villages that are built on stilts. The area is also popular for the hiking trails around Inle Lake.
The lake itself is quite shallow, ranging from about 2-4 metres in dry season (November to February), while the surface rises by 1.5 metre during the wet season (May to October), hence the houses on stilts. It is home to various endemic species, and also a temporary home to migratory birds passing by.
Inle Lake belongs to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, and is also a protected Ramsar site – a specific UNESCO convention for wetlands around the world.
Inle Lake Myanmar Things To Do
There are several outdoorsy things to do in Inle Lake. Hiking, cycling, and an Inle Lake boat tour are among the most popular activities. Most people spend 2-3 days, but the area is definitely worth more time if you want to relax and take it easy.
Apart from the beautiful nature, there are plenty of temples and monasteries in the wider area. If you have just been to Bagan, you might not be too interested in exploring all of them, but some are quite unique.
One of the most special things about Inle Lake is its friendly people. Although it’s becoming a relatively popular destination, it seems to be largely unaffected by tourism, with a few exceptions. Even activities intended for tourists didn’t seem very touristy somehow.
Hiking Inle Lake
This was one of the activities that we were really interested in. There are several hiking trails in the wider area of Inle Lake – you can either hike for a couple of days, or just take day hikes around the village where you are staying.
We had planned to take the popular hike from Kalaw to Nyaung Shwe, commonly referred to as the Kalaw hike or the Kalaw to Inle Lake trek. This is a three-day, two-night hike, including homestays, similar to the Ghorepani Poon Hill Trek I had done in Nepal.
Why we didn't hike
Unfortunately, the hike never happened for us as we were both taken down by some sort of flu / stomach bug that left us drained, dehydrated and, to put it mildly, quite empty. As a result, we didn’t feel we had the energy for a three-day hike around Inle Lake, but we took some other day activities instead.
Although it’s possible to do these hikes on your own, it’s best to go with one of the local companies, which will organize everything, including the homestays and backpack transfers. If you are going on your own, make sure you stay at a licensed homestay, as it’s forbidden by law to stay at non-licensed houses.
Cycling around Inle Lake
Inle Lake was ideal for cycling. There are different routes going around the lake, where you can see some lovely nature and a lot of very picturesque houses on stilts.
You can rent bikes anywhere in the town. We rented some pretty bad quality ones, for under a euro a day each, and we really enjoyed ourselves! We also saw mountain bikes for ten times the price.
On our way cycling around Inle Lake, we spotted a really colourful bike café, where we stopped to get a drink and totally recommend it! You can find it on Google Maps as Mot café, to the east of the lake.
Popular stopping points include the Maing Thauk Monastery, the Thalaeoo Monastery and the very picturesque wooden bridge where you can put your bike on a boat to cross to the other side of the lake. You can see houses on stilts everywhere, and locals will wave to you as you are pedaling.
Inle Lake Boat Trip
In retrospect, this was probably our favourite day in Inle Lake. Yes, it’s quite a touristy thing to do, but it was a super pleasant day overall.
We arranged our longboat through our hotel, but you can easily find one yourself if you go to the Inle Boat Station, in front of Inle Star hotel in Nyaung Shwe. This will be your starting point for the full-day Inle Lake boat tour.
The itinerary is pretty standard, although it can sometimes be affected by the rotating market in Inle Lake . We visited a silk and lotus weaving factory, a pearl and silversmith workshop, a tobacco house, and a few other traditional family businesses in Inle Lake. It was very interesting to see how these arts are still alive, though arguably they seem to be tourist attractions these days.
We were really intrigued by the weaving workshop, and the amount of work that goes into making a single garment. The manager explained to us the different patterns used for textiles, and the quality of materials that are used.
Houses on Stilts
The landscapes we saw during our Inle Lake boat tour were incredible, and what we found most fascinating is the way the villagers live in stilt houses.
These houses are built on stilts because the surface of the lake rises during the wet season. When we were there it was the dry season, so we could see long parts of the stilts, with the houses perched on top.
The only mode of transport for people who live there are the longtail boats. The people’s skills of balancing on the boat while rowing at the same time are really remarkable. Judging from the number of small kids we saw in the boats, they are probably learnt from a very young age.
You can still see the traditional one-legged fishermen in the lake, though our impression was that they are more a tourist sight these days. Nevertheless, their balance is superb!
On that day, we also visited a few monasteries and pagodas. One of our favourite areas was the village of Indein, where we were dropped off the boat to explore on our own. Around there, we spotted our first water buffalo – a pretty massive animal!
Monasteries and Temples around Inle Lake
There are many monasteries and temples everywhere around Inle Lake. The Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery, the Maing Thauk Monastery, the Phaung Daw Oo pagoda and the Shwe Inn Dein pagoda are some of the most impressive ones. There are also numerous Buddhist temples in Nyaung Shwe Village, which you can easily visit on foot.
If, like us, you have just been to Bagan, you might appreciate the green landscapes and the quietness more than the temples. However, some of the monuments we saw were pretty impressive, especially those in the jungle, close to Indein village.
The Rotating Market in Inle Lake
Apart from the daily local markets in the villages, there is also a bigger market visiting some of the villages on a rotating basis, every five days. It goes to Nyaung Shwe, Heho, Taunggyi, Shwe Nyaung and Maing Thouk.
This market is very colourful, and you can see many types of products sold by people of different Burmese tribes, wearing distinct clothes and headdresses. It looked like a place where locals socialize, just like at the Ancient Agora in Athens!
Where to stay in Inle Lake
According to our research before we went there, the best place to stay in Inle Lake is Nyaung Shwe village, to the north of the lake. There were many affordable hotels to choose from, and we stayed at a hotel called Remember Inn.
Other people prefer to stay in Kalaw or Pindaya, which are starting / ending points for some of the treks around Inle Lake. In fact, our plan was to also stay in one of those two villages before or after hiking Inle Lake, but the stomach bug had a different opinion.
Nyaung Shwe Village Inle Lake
As we stayed here for a week, we had the chance to explore this small town where time seems to have stopped. There were a few asphalt roads, but the majority of the streets were dirt roads, so it was quite dusty overall.
There wasn’t too much to do in the town, but there were more than enough restaurants and hotels to cater for locals and travelers. We also visited some of the temples in the town, although we had just spent three days in Bagan.
Like everywhere in SE Asia, there is a daily local market where you can buy fresh fruit, veg, meat and other produce, clothes, jewelry, soap and general knick knacks. This is the best place to get snacks, though there are a couple of mini markets in town as well.
Paw Paw Restaurant in Inle Lake
In terms of food, we really liked a small restaurant called Paw Paw. Zizi, the owner, has established a place where young, marginalized Burmese women can learn new skills.
Her English is great and her meals fantastic! Even if you are not hungry, stop by for a drink and a long chat. Tip – she makes her own yoghurt.
Puppet Show in Nyaung Shwe
An interesting thing to do in Nyaung Shwe was to watch the Aung puppet show. Like many other countries in Asia and the Middle East, Myanmar has a tradition of puppet shows.
The show runs at 7pm and 8.30 pm daily, lasts 30 minutes and costs 5000 kyat (about 3 euro).
Mr Aung, who comes from several generations of puppeteers / puppet makers, will greet you with some green tea and answer any questions you may have.
Nyaung Shwe Museum
Finally, you can visit the Nyaung Shwe museum which was built in 1913 and was formerly the palace of Shan State rulers in Myanmar.
Nowadays, it’s a history museum displaying costumes and other personal belongings of the rulers, as well as furniture, manuscripts and religious objects.
It doesn’t rate highly among the museums in SE Asia that we visited, but it doesn’t hurt to go.
It is located on Museum Road, opposite Nandawun Street. It’s closed on Mondays, Tuesdays and public holidays, and despite its abandoned appearance it is open on all other days.
How To Get To Inle Lake
There are buses connecting the Inle Lake villages with other popular destinations in Myanmar. We arrived on a bus from Bagan, and then took another bus to Yangon.
Although the distances are not so big, it takes several hours to get around, because of the mountainous terrain. There are a few different options on buses, including night buses.
Bagan to Inle Lake by Bus
To get from Bagan to Inle Lake, we chose the VIP JJ Express bus, costing us about 13 euros each and including a free pickup from our hotel in Bagan.
This is very common in SE Asia and probably a great idea for European tour operators! We actually bought our ticket at the JJ Express head offices, but it’s also possible to book online. The bus ride was quite comfortable, and the route was very picturesque.
Inle Lake to Yangon by Bus
To get from Inle Lake to Yangon, we opted for the Famous bus. This cost us about 12 euros each, and it was a 13-hour ride, including a bus change at the outskirts of Yangon, stopping close to the Sule Pagoda.
The buses stop at designated points, but if you are desperate for a toilet break, they will be happy to oblige! Make sure you bring some warm clothes, as the air-condition can be over the top. It’s a good idea to also bring some snacks and water.
Alternatively, you can get to Inle Lake through a flight to the local Heho airport.
Best Time Of Year To Visit Inle Lake
Similarly to Chiang Mai, Inle Lake has roughly three seasons:
- Dry and cool season – October to February
- Dry and warm season – March to May
- Rainy season – June to September
The best time of year to go to Inle Lake is between November and February, when the temperatures are cool and there is little to no rain. In our experience, the temperature is pleasant and comfortable throughout the day, and it drops considerably during the night.
We were happy with light summer clothes during the day, and long trousers, fleece jackets and socks at night. This was the coldest place we visited in our 5 months in SE Asia, with temperatures ranging from about 23-25 degrees during the day to 10-12 degrees at night.
Unlike Chiang Mai where the heat is unbearable, the dry and warm season is still ok if you want to visit Inle Lake, as daily temperatures will rarely rise above 30-31 degrees.
Festivals In Inle Lake
April is a good time to be in Myanmar because of the Thingyan water festival, celebrating the Burmese New Year. This is when people splash water to each other, and several shows happen during the evening.
If you decide to go around the days of the festival, 13-17 April, make sure you book your hotel in Inle Lake well in advance, and make sure you buy anything you want in advance, as most markets will be closed.
The most important festival in Inle Lake is the Phaung Daw Oo pagoda festival, happening in late September – early October and lasting for 18 days.
This is a religious festival, where four small images of the Buddha are placed on a royal barge and transported between villages, followed by numerous longboats. During this time, there are also boat races, dance shows and other events.
The nearby village of Taunggyi hosts the hot-air balloon festival in November. Animals made out of paper are blown and then let into the sky. This is a fascinating sight, especially at night.
Things to Do in Inle Lake – Conclusion
All in all, Inle Lake is a great destination for outdoors activities, relaxation and cultural immersion. Have you been to Inle Lake? What would you suggest doing? Let us know in the comments.