Inle Lake is one of the most beautiful and relaxing places in Myanmar. Most likely you will be finishing up a 2 or 3 day trek from Kalaw, so take your time here to relax and regroup. Use this guide to help make the most of your time in this quaint town!
There are resorts and hotels all around the lake (which is quite large!), but the main place to stay is the town of Nyuang Shwe. There are so many ranges of accommodations in this town from dirt cheap hostels, to mid-range B&B's, all the way to luxury resorts. I chose to stay in Ostello Bello (which is a chain hostel with locations in Bagan, Mandalay, and several in Italy as well). I highly recommend this hostel because of the perfect location, friendly staff, available amenities, free breakfast, and cleanliness. Also, if you stay in one Ostello Bello location and you book a different location through the front desk, you get a discount!
What to do
1. Inle Lake Boat Tour
Duh! You can't come to Inle Lake and not go on the lake. Nearly every hostel and travel agency is trying to sell you on this tour, since it's the most popular thing to do in this town. It's typically around 15,000 MMK (can be cheaper if you have more people in your group) and you typically see the following: artisanal shops, floating gardens, and the infamous Inle Lake local fishermen. The artisanal shops usually include a cigar-making shop, a silversmith shop, and fabric weaver shop where the workers weave silk into lotus fabric. The Inle Lake fishermen are famous for standing on the edge of their boats with one foot, rowing their ore with their other foot, and using both hands to throw the fishing line out into the lake. It really is amazing how they can balance and multi-task!
(Tip: most treks from Kalaw end with a boat journey that drops you off in Nyuang Shwe, which is included in your trek price. If you talk to your guide and fellow trek members before hand, you can typically each pay an extra 1,000-2,000 MMK to have this boat journey turned into this boat tour with all the stops!)
2. The 5 day markets
Inle Lake locals get their groceries from a local market that circles around the lake, changing locations every day. You will see calendars like the one shown below in nearly every establishment you go into. The 5 day cycle is as followed:
A - Heho (approximately 2 miles from Heho Airport) - Taung To, Than Taung (on the shore of Inle Lake) - Kyone (on the way of Aungban-Pindaya Rd.) - Losikaw (Kayah State) B - Taunggyi , Aungban, Pinlaung (gate way to highway Rd.) - Inle Floating Market C - Pwe Hla (gate way Pindaya), Phaung Daw Oo & Mine Taut (on the shore of Inle Lake) D - Shwe Nyaung, Kalaw, Khaung Daing, Inndein (South west of Ywa Ma) E - Nyaung Shwe (gateway to Inle Lake) - Pindaya (vicinity to Pindaya Caves) - Nam Pam, Sakar (on the store of Inle Lake)
If you ask any local or someone at your hostel, they can easily help you with the location of the market for that day if this seems too confusing! The real meaning of this special 5 day market is based on the former history of Myanmar. Shan state had many Shan princes, so instead of having 1 large market in an area that only 1 prince ruled, the 5 day market would allow all Shan princes to collect taxes depending on which area the market took place in on that day.
3. Red Mountain Estate Winery
Again, Inle Lake is all about relaxation- so why not relax over a glass (or two!) of wine. The Red Mountain Estate produces the best wine in Myanmar. All of the 400,000 plants have been imported from France and Spain, then grown and cultivated right here on Inle Lake soil. You can easily visit this winery from Nyuang Shwe by motorbike or even bicycle, it's only about a 10 minute drive (maybe 30 on a bicycle!). I recommend going at sunset, so you can admire the beautiful lake views while drinking your favorite wine!
4. Pagoda/Temple Sightseeing
Rent a motorbike or bicycle and just drive around to all the various temples and pagodas in the area! You can use Maps.me to locate temples around you, or honestly just start going and you're bound to find lots! Some of the main ones you'll want to see are: Temple Fusion, Kyuak Phyu Gyi, Nigyon Taungyon Paya, and Yadana Man Aung. You can easily reach all of these temples by bicycle within about 15 minutes in each direction.
When in search for temples and pagodas, you'll see plenty of beautiful scenery along the way. Take any dirt path you see off of the main road, they might lead you to a gorgeous view like the one below:
5. Htet Eain
This was actually my favorite part about Inle Lake, aside from the actual lake itself. I saw this location on Maps.me and just decided to ride my bicycle there and check it out. It's about 20 minutes by bicycle, and uphill! (Not gonna lie, I wish I had the motorbike). In this area there is a monastery, school, restaurant, and a cave filled with hundreds of buddha statues. Down by the monastery it is quite vibrant and filled with life- lots of children running around and laughing, while adults sit on their porches eating and talking.
As you go up towards the cave, you will walk through people's "yards" or right by their windows, looking into their homes (which is a bit odd), but then you'll get to the caves in about 2 minutes. The caves are empty and silent. Filled with hundreds of buddha statues and great views of the countryside below. It was an amazing place to just be by myself and enjoy the day in meditation.
In a Nutshell
There isn't too much to do in Inle Lake. Again, it's more of a relaxing and recuperating place from the intense trek you just completed. But enjoy it. Sleep in. Do some yoga. Walk or bike around the quaint town along the lake. Soak in the beautiful views. And then, get ready for your next destination!
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