Inle Lake in Myanmar is one of the highlights of most people’s trip! So here’s our guide, plus the top things to do in Inle Lake.
Inle Lake is located in the Shan Hills of Myanmar, roughly 260 kilometres South of Mandalay.
A crucial part of most backpackers travel plans, it’s a must on your Myanmar itinerary.
The easiest way to get to Inle Lake (and the most comfortable) is by domestic flight. The closest airport is in Heho, which is a 1 hour taxi-ride away from the lake itself.
However, the most common option is to take the bus. Buses depart daily from Yangon (12 hours) and Mandalay (8 hours) and cost anywhere from $14 – $20 USD depending on how luxuriously you like to travel.
One thing to add is that the main town and hub where tourists stay is called Nyaung Shwe.
For those short on time, or that prefer everything to be organised for them, there are some awesome tours on Get Your Guide available to book in advance.
Before we start, we want to make you aware that a 15,000 Kyat (or 10 USD) zone fee applies to visit Nyaung Shwe and the area around Inle Lake.
The zone fee is collected at a toll post while driving or hiking into town. So expect to be woken up (if you take a night bus) by several Burmese men asking for money, a few minutes before you reach your destination.
Once you are in Nyaung Shwe there are plenty of accommodations, markets, restaurants and travel agents around town.
Tours range from around 20,000 – 40,000 Kyat, depending on the level of tour you opt for.
Inle Lake: Full-Day Private Tour (£27 per person)
Inle Lake: Private 2-Hour Sunset Boat Ride (£12 per person)
All tours include a boat and driver for the day. Most include hotel pick up, water, government taxes and donations for leaving slippers at temples.
1. Photograph The Traditional Fisherman
Depending on which Inle Lake tour you book, some will have a set route. However, if they don’t, you can simply tell your guide where you’d like to go and what you’d like to see.
However, these guys are impossible to miss.
Gathered around the entrance/exit to the lake are the dancing fishermen.
The fishermen have mastered the art of hunting carp from above the water.
Balancing on one leg and showcasing the way in which they use their feet to control the oars, they leave their hands free to fish using big conical nets.
Certainly an interesting watch, these fishermen will pose for photos, in exchange for a tip, and you get to witness first-hand how the professionals catch their dinner.
If you get a chance, this is definitely one of the best things to do in Myanmar.
2. Browse The Inle Lake Markets
There are a few different markets dotted around Inle Lake.
The local markets serve most Burmese shopping needs and are held daily.
Depending on which day you visit, your guide can take you for a bit of morning retail therapy, or alternatively a bit of afternoon food shopping.
We found some interesting little accessories and ornaments during our Inle Lake tour.
Be sure to haggle the prices, or ask your guide for assistance in buying things, as they will certainly double the costs for foreigners.
3. Gold Smith & Silver Workshops
Producing gold and silver from its rawest form, the locals will guide you through a step by step process of how they make a living creating the beautiful jewellery you see on the Burmese markets.
You can see the gold and silver jewellery up close and watch as it is made by the hands of local craftsmen.
There are also showrooms where you can buy gold or silver to bring home and they will explain to you the meaning behind the intricate details of each pattern.
4. Burmese Cigar Making (Cheroots)
Take everything you know about your usual cigars and replace the ingredients with natural plant based substances.
Cheroots are made from a combination of lake grown tobacco and corn husk filters, all tightly rolled into a palm leaf and fixed together with sticky honey glue.
One end is open for lighting, the other rolled shut around a filter of dry corn husks. The locals in these workshops will have you mesmerised by how they utilise their local resources.
Also be prepared, the workers are a bunch of crazy characters!
They say no trip to Myanmar is complete without a taste of this all-important part of life, cheroot!
5. Visit The Floating Gardens
This is not a place to stop, but you will certainly float through the gardens and be able to witness the allotments up close at some point on your Inle Lake tour.
Built and grown on bamboo structures, a series of tiny artificial islands (rich with produce) bob on top of the surface of the lake.
In total, approximately a quarter of the freshwater lake is topped with these manmade gardens. Farmers glide between their plots on boats, plucking produce from the patches of ‘land’ that rise and fall with the currents.
Of course, everybody needs a vegetable patch, even if you live in the middle of a lake and these floating gardens will put your grandma’s allotment to shame!
6. Lotus & Silk Weaving Centres
From a lotus plant, to a silk shirt – would you believe it.
Another of the many talents you’ll witness on your Inle Lake tour, is the skill of Lotus weaving.
More than 100 years ago, local women began weaving textiles using fabric made from the lotus flowers that grow on the lake.
Nowadays, the centres display each stage of the lotus-weaving process and an employee guides you through the process from beginning to end. It’s really interesting to see.
As you can imagine, the end result and the items of clothing in the shops are pricey, due to the highly intensive labour and time consuming production.
However, these centres are still great place to visit as you get to experience another step-by-step guide through the family run factories of Inle Lake.
7. Jumping Cat Monastery
Here you will find the largest and oldest monastery in Inle Lake.
Among tourists it is known as the ‘Jumping Cat Monastery’. This is because of the large number of cats living there, trained by the monks to jump through little hoops.
For those looking to see the jumping cats in action however, this practice came to an end a couple of years ago.
The official story says that the monk who used to train the cats passed away. However, there are rumours that the practice came to an end after negative coverage by foreign journalists. They didn’t like the way the cats were being treated, saying “they are hit with sticks to make them jump”.
Nowadays, the monastery stands almost empty with its beautiful teak wood deeply carved and enhanced.
There is a little market at the back, which gave us a chance to grab afternoon snacks and also interact with some of the local children.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, yes there are still a lot of cats wondering around the monastery!
8. Visit The Long Neck Tribe
The Kayan Lahwi people, also known as Padaung women, are a minority ethnic group with populations in Burma and Thailand.
Sometimes known as the “long necked” tribe, the brass coils around their neck in fact compress the rib cage and displace the collarbone, creating the illusion of an extremely long neck.
No one is really sure how the custom evolved as the Kayan have no written language. Even elders don’t know.
Some believe the theory that it was a way to make the women less attractive to slave traders, or maybe to protect the throat from tigers. Others believe that a long neck is simply considered a mark of great beauty.
Either way, you must meet these women on your Inle Lake tour. They were extremely friendly and welcoming and were asking questions about our own families back home.
Featuring wooden Myanmar-style villas overlooking the lake, Villa Inle Resort & Spa is located in the eastern fringe of Inle Lake near the village of Maing Tauk.
It houses a restaurant and a bar and offers free Wi-Fi throughout the resort. On-site parking is provided.
Red Mountain Vine Yard is a 55-minute bike ride from Villa Inle Resort.
The individual villas at this eco-friedly resort feature floor-to-ceiling windows, high wooden ceilings and spacious living areas.
All rooms come with air conditioning, a flat-screen satellite TV and a refrigerator. En suite bathrooms come with free toiletries and a bathtub.
ViewPoint Lodge & Fine Cuisines is located 15 minutes away from Inle Lake by boat.
It offers rooms and cottages with a balcony and free Wi-Fi.
This pet-friendly property features a tour desk and massage service. Free public parking is possible on site.
The property is a 25-minute drive to a golf course. It is a 40-minute drive to Heho Airport and a 3-hr drive to Elephant Camp.
Each unit comes with a fan, minibar and safety deposit box. En suite rooms also include free toiletries and a hairdryer.
Featuring free WiFi, Ostello Bello Nyaung Shwe offers accommodation in Nyaung Shwe.
Guests can enjoy the on-site restaurant. Rooms come with a private bathroom fitted with a shower. There is a 24-hour front desk at the property.
The area is popular for cycling. Mingala Market is 350 yards from Ostello Bello Nyaung Shwe, while Red Mountain Estate Vineyards is 2.3 miles away.
The nearest airport is Heho Airport, located approximately a 45-minute drive away.
For more places to stay in Inle Lake, you can check the latest prices on Booking.com.