After a long and tiresome trek coming from the town of Kalaw we finally reached the shores of Inle Lake. It was beginning of March, the sun was scorching hot during this time of the year and we spent 3 days marching through the hills, forests and villages of the beautiful Shan state in northern Myanmar. It was a beautiful sight as we walked along the lush green plantations along the lake, so-called ‘floating gardens’ of local farmers who plant various types of vegetables. Around 30 percent of the entire lake is covered by these carefully tended gardens.
After a small rest with some food and beverages we proceeded to take a boat ride which would bring us to the next big town of Nyaung Shwe – the starting point and hub for every traveler and tourist who is planning to discover the lake. The motorized boats are the main form of transportation around the lake and you will see a large number of them crossing the lake with loads of goods or people on them. The ride took us across the entire lake until we finally reached the town. Nyaung Shwe is easily walk-able but has not too much to offer apart from hotels, guesthouses and lots of restaurants. As being one of the most touristic spots in the country you will find numerous places to stay and a wide variety of foods to choose from.
The best way to discover Inle Lake is to take a tour with a bike and one by boat. In this way you can enjoy it from two different sides and see lots of interesting places.
Inle Lake by Bike
Renting a bike is fairly easy and can be done in one of the many shops in Nyaung Shwe. It is relatively cheap and you can rent it for the entire day for around 5.000 Kyat. You will get to travel to smaller villages and discover hidden temples and pagodas on the way. Make sure to start early in the day so you won’t have to go cycling around in the dark. We decided for the ‘blue route’ leaving the western entrance of Nyaung Shwe and moving down past the hot springs and past the village of Kaung Daing. We made some small stops on the way and discovered some great pagodas and local village life.
The route around the entire lake is way too far and will take you forever. You will have to find a way to cross the lake. There are a few boats in the villages which will transport you and your bikes across for a small fee. This way you won’t have to ride back the same path and get to discover the other side of Inle Lake. The boat will bring you to Maing Thauk which is a smaller village on the other side and home to a forest monastery which you can also visit. Cycling past the wine estate you will then find your way back to Nyaung Shwe. In total, the ride will take you between 3 and 5 hours, depending on how long you stop in different places.
Inle Lake by Boat
Obviously, the best way to discover Inle Lake is by renting a boat. There are options of renting private boats or going with groups – depending on your preferences and budget. We actually tried to join locals but the boat ‘mafia’ is remarkably hard to pass. They simply would not allow us to join the local people on the boat but rather insisted us on taking one of the many tourist boats. Very frustrating, as we really wanted to join locals on their trips but it simply was not possible.
Instead, we decided to rent a boat with some others who joined in and went on a day tour taking us to several places in and around the lake.
Probably the most iconic and characteristic images of Inle Lake – fishermen with a very peculiar and unique rowing technique. You will see them across the lake and on every single boat trip. These fishermen balance with one leg on the boat and the other wrapped around the paddle. The reason for this is because the lake is filled with loads of water plants and dense seeds which they can better see when standing up. They can then lead the way easier and have their hands free for collecting their fishing nets while propelling the boat with one leg. With the oar locked under their armpits it makes a very unique position and something very specific to Inle Lake!
One of our main destination for the day-trip was the remote village of Sagar. This village is one of Inle Lake’s best kept secrets. Despite the high amount of tourists in the area only a few make their way across the lake to this place. One of the main reason is because Sagar is very far away. It takes a long, yet very scenic, 3-hour boat ride until you finally reach the place. But what you see is truly amazing! There are loads of beautifully decorated pagodas in a very scenic and peaceful surrounding. Funny enough, the actual village of Sagar was not as beautiful as the ancient pagodas of Takhaung Mwetaw, which are very close to it. It was one of our highlights of the entire trip and definitely worth the ride.
Pottery and Rice Wine Productions
On the way back we stopped by some local rice-wine and pottery productions. The methods they used have not changed for hundreds of years and give a nice insight into the local village life. Although a bit adjusted to fit the visiting tourists, it’s still interesting to see.
Inle Lake Sunset
Probably the greatest part of the trip is the way back as you can stop in the middle of the lake and enjoy the beautiful Inle Lake sunset. A truly memorable moment and one of the greatest sunsets we have experienced throughout our trips in Southeast Asia. The atmosphere is amazing and the silence of the lake and views of the surrounding mountains and nature is an absolute must when discovering Inle Lake.