Myanmar - Getting to know Inle Lake

The tranquil, other-worldly beauty of Inle Lake captivates even the most jaded traveller. Despite being densely populated by at least eight different tribes, and one of Myanmar’s most visited tourist destinations, this vast expanse of water (14 miles long & 7 miles wide) never feels too crowded and is a wonderfully tranquil place to stay.

Myanmar Inle Lake Travel Guide

Inle Lake is situated in Shan State, and its main access point is Nyaung Shwe, a relaxed town at the north end of the lake. You can choose to base yourself here, taking advantage of the plentiful good-priced eateries, and travel onto the lake for sightseeing, or you can stay in one of the many properties based on the edge of the lake itself.

Wherever you stay, a traditional long-tail motor boat is the best (arguably the only) way to explore Inle Lake and you’ll see these vessels buzzing across the lake from dawn to dusk: visit cottage industry workshops, pass by stilted villages, and wonder at the floating vegetable gardens, created by the Shan tribe to grow their marrows & tomatoes on the lake. Energetic types can hike into Inle’s surrounding hills and visit Pa’O villages, or trek through rural scenery to the hill station of Kalaw.

What to do around Inle Lake

  • In Dein pagoda is not to be missed. This vast collection of 1000+ ancient stupas, some of which have been (questionably) restored, but most of which are crumbling and overgrown, sits atop a small hill on the edge of the lake. Go early to avoid the crowds. 
  • Away from the water, there are some fantastic trekking opportunities to be enjoyed in the surrounding hills, ranging from full day to overnight walks, passing through picturesque rural countryside and farming villages.
  • Wine tasting may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Myanmar. But it is possible, and within cycling distance from Nyaung Shwe you’ll find the thriving Red Mountain Estate where you can sample the vineyard’s offerings. The Sauvignon Blanc is our favourite!

Off the trail around Inle Lake

  • Located at the far southern section of Inle Lake, linked by a tributary to the main body of water, Sagar is well away from Inle’s tourist hotspots and offers a quieter, more authentic local experience. The three hour boat journey to reach this region of the lake is particularly picturesque.
  • For a unique opportunity to take a glimpse into ‘behind the scenes’ rural life, enjoy a two day trek from Inle Lake to Kalaw (or vice versa). Passing through stunning scenery and traditional villages, staying overnight in a Buddhist monastery, you’ll witness first-hand the traditions and customs that make Myanmar such a remarkable place to visit.
  • The 2,000+ stupas of Kakku are quite remarkable and an important place of worship for the Pa-O people. Dating back to the 3rd century BC, the ancient stupas span a variety of styles: some are simple in design, others more elaborately decorated. The remoteness of the site has ensured the preservation of these treasures and means you will more often than not be exploring in near solitude.

October - Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda festival

Inle Lake comes alive for the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda festival, which sees four deeply revered and richly gilded Buddha images ferried around the lake from village to village on a barge, and some fiercely competitive leg-rowing races in which local boatmen - whose rowing style is unique to Inle - show off their expertise.

90,000kg

...the quantity of tomatoes produced each day in Shan State, which is Myanmar's largest tomato growing area.

You have probably heard about Inle’s iconic leg-rowing fishermen. Balancing on one leg at the front of their wooden boat, they wrap their second leg around the oar, rotating this oar-leg to propel them through the water. By standing, they are able to see reeds and water plants that could otherwise slow their progress across the lake, and it also leaves their hands free to use their large conical fishing nets.