Inle Lake can’t be missed on your Myanmar itinerary. The several villages on the lake with wooden and bamboo homes will take you back in time. The local people called Intha, have developed their own fascinating culture and lifestyle that revolves around the water. Nowadays, around 100,000 Intha still work and live in the stilt houses on the lake. They do different kind of crafts such as lotus and silk weaving, traditional fishermen who row their canoes with one leg, cigar making, silversmith and more. It’s really interesting to see how the local people live their lives on Inle Lake. Read in this blog post everything you need to know about Inle Lake. The best things to do in Inle Lake, how many days to spend at Inle Lake, best places to eat, the best time time to visit Inle Lake and even what to buy during your Inle Lake boat tour!
How to get to Inle Lake
Inle Lake is located in the Shan state in central east Myanmar. Just as all the other destinations in Myanmar, Inle Lake is also best reachable with the bus. Whether you come from Mandalay, Bagan or Hpa An, day buses and night buses go regularly from each of the destinations. There is an airport (Heho Airport) close to Inle Lake. But flying domestic in Myanmar is much more expensive (about 6 to 10 times the price) than by bus.
Ask at the reception of your hotel or hostel if you want to arrange a bus ticket, or book yourself a ticket online. We used Oway to book all our bus tickets through Myanmar and it worked perfect for us!
Best time to visit Inle Lake
Before planning your journey through Myanmar, it’s important to know what the best time or season is to visit Inle Lake. This must be in the dry season of course, but be aware that during the hot season (from March until May – June), Inle Lake is mostly too shallow for boats. Rainy season is from May to October, so basically the best period to visit Inle Lake is from October to March with January and February as very best months with average temperatures of around 22 – 33°C.
Entrance fee Inle Lake
Since January 2019 there is a 15,000 kyat entrance fee per person to visit Inle Lake. It is charged by the government, and the fee is often collected at the bus or at the airport when you arrive.
How to get around at Inle Lake
The only way to get around on Inle Lake is with a boat of course. It is the best way to experience this authentic part of Myanmar. To secure your boat you can best book here your full day boat trip on Inle Lake from Nyaung Shwe. If you stay in Nyaungshwe, some hotels offer free bicycles. It’s easy to get around in this small town, so no need to rent a moped, car or TukTuk.
How many days to spend in Inle Lake
It depends on how many Inle Lake activities you want to do, but usually you have enough time to explore Inle Lake in 2 to 3 days. Depending on the time you arrive and depart.
Where to stay at Inle Lake
If you have the financial opportunities and you want to have a special experience, the more luxury hotels and resorts are located ON Inle Lake. They usually have their own boats and can offer you a complete package.
BUT, Nyaungshwe is the first little town located north of Inle Lake. Many hotels and restaurants are located here, and it’s easy to arrange a boattour to Inle Lake as well.
We stayed at Silverlake Hotel which was the best hotel we’ve stayed at during our Myanmar trip!
Things to do at Inle Lake
One of our highlights of Myanmar was definitely the Inle Lake boat tour. The combination of culture and nature is very special. It is such an authentic experience to connect with the locals, see how they live, work and grow their food. Visiting Inle Lake is absolutely one of the things you must do on your first Myanmar trip.
The best thing you can do is to book a full day tour with a boat from sunrise to sunset.
If you made your own Inle Lake itinerary, your boat driver will bring you wherever you want. But you can also ask him about the best places to visit in Inle Lake. The skippers are happy to advice you on which Inle Lake attractions are worth to visit, or not.
Below our recommendations for the best places to visit in Inle Lake.
Inle Lake floating gardens
If you enter the Inle Lake villages from Nyaungshwe side, you will first pass the Inle Lake floating gardens. There you can see how the communities around the shores of Taunggyi’s Inle Lake use a different technique to cultivate their crops. Instead of limiting themselves to land, they’ve crafted a series of floating gardens that bob atop the water.
Tomatoes make up around 90 percent of these unconventional gardens. Depending on the season, farmers also harvest beans, cucumbers, flowers, and gourds. Root vegetables don’t fare so well in such shallow terrain. There are also a lot of different birds to see here. In combination with the soft morning light and mountains in the background an absolute magical view!
Floating villages of wood and bamboo
The Intha people live on the lake in stilt houses while growing food in the floating gardens. Their traditional bamboo houses are built on stilts and the walls are made by weaving together strips of bamboo. It’s really fascinating to see how they live. We even got invited by our skipper to his home on the lake. We met his wife, children and saw how they live. It’s literally going back in time and was a very authentic experience.
Long neck Kayan tribe
Coming to Inle Lake, you should experience the local ethnic life of the Kayan long neck tribes, the oldest tribe in Myanmar. This long neck tribe has about 7000 people nowadays. They not only live in harmony with nature but also keep many unique customs until today like wearing many necklaces to have a longer neck. They say that they do this to make themselves uglier than others to avoid being used for human trafficking. But another legend tells that a tribe leader once had a dream. He foresaw that on a Wednesday when his daughter was given birth, a tiger came to attack the villages and break all their necks. Since then, he decided that all children born on Wednesday have to wear a necklace to protect their necks. The tiger didn’t come anymore and they believed that the necklaces brought magic. That’s why they still live up to this tradition.
Producing gold and silver ware is an old tradition of Myanmar. Most silver or gold smiths are for many generations on Inlay. Ywama village, one of the few craft villages, is famous for its goldsmith and silversmith. During a guided tour through the workshop, you will learn about the process of making silver. From the silver stone until the final product, it’s another very interesting process!
Umbrella making is one of the many local industries that has been adapted for tourism. The hand-making umbrella process has many steps and is fairly intricate in process. It takes a long time to produce each piece. The first step is to make the paper using the bark from a Mulberry tree which is soaked boiled and sorted for the right lengths of fiber. The sorted fibres are then pounded into a pulp and mixed with water in a small pot. Then the pulp is poured out evenly across a screen where decorative flower petals and leaves are laid across the surface of the water. Once the paper is dry it can be peeled off from the frame carefully. Then the frame of the umbrella is carved in several pieces made of bamboo. The paper is then cut and glued to the bamboo frame, and can be further painted or lacquered to proof it against the rain.
Lotus and silk weaving
Visiting a Lotus and silk weaving is one of the Inle Lake must sees. The process from beginning to end is amazing and very interesting. We didn’t know there were so many steps involved to create a lotus silk scarf. The whole process is very labor intensive and takes a lot of time. No wonder why the finest lotus products are among the most expensive textile products in the world.
More than 100 years ago, local women began weaving textiles using fabric made from the lotus flowers that grow on Inle Lake. When you visit a lotus and silk weaving, an employee will guide you through the process from beginning to end. Below a summary of all the steps that must be taken until the end product is finished.
Picking the lotus plants from the lake and cutting the stem from the lotus flower.
An old woman seated at a small wooden table extracts the lotus fibers by hand using a knife. She demonstrates how to slice the stalks on both sides without cutting all the way through, and then pull the two pieces apart.
Then, the fibers are moistened and rolled together to form threads. The process is repeated again and again to produce the long, fine threads used in lotus weaving.
These first 3 steps includes the first stage and is the most important part of the lotus silk-making process. It’s about preparing the lotus threads for the next stages. Workers need to be very patient, therefore is most of the staff older because young people are too restless, an employee at the centre said. The next stages in the process are about spinning, colouring and weaving.
A woman is spinning and weaving the raw, pure lotus silk into spools by using a hand-turned wheel.
The next step is coloring. Lotus threads are naturally a creamy color which is often used, so not all threads need to have color. But they can get a color using natural materials. The weavers dye them in a huge pot with natural pigments such as jackfruit, bark, seeds, lotus leaves and other natural materials to get colored fabric. Because the combination of colored powders varies from pot to pot, no two batches of silk are exactly the same color.
The final step is weaving the cloth. After coloring, or directly after spinning, the lotus threads are turned into products using the old hand looms. Women here work with a range of natural fibres such as lotus thread, cotton, raw silk, and washed silk.
Using lotus stems produces incredibly high quality clothing and is an environmentally friendly process all done by hand. We were mesmerised and impressed by the whole process and have so much respect for the skilled artisans who can weave this kind of magic!
Because of their delicacy and uniqueness and the time it takes to make them, lotus fabrics are expensive. It takes 8,000 stems and 20 days to make a single square meter! A pure lotus silk scarf sells for hundreds of dollars. I couldn’t resist buying a product from their shop, still impressed by the craftsmanship and traditional way of producing lotus silk. Nowhere else in the world you’ll find lotus silk fabric, so if you want to buy something special and support a traditional craftsmanship, buy a lotus scarf, or lotus with silk (which is less expensive than a 100% lotus scarf).
Cigar making workshop
Another interesting craftsmanship on Inle Lake is cigar making. During a visit at a cigar workshop, you can see how the women make cigars. They put tabacco, some herbs and banana leaves together and wrap everything in a tabacco leaf. Then they put a used newspaper as a filter and stick everything with some glue.
Watch the traditional fishermen, THE icons of Inle Lake, during sunrise or sunset for the most magical experience (and best photo opportunities). The fishermen row their canoes with one leg and catch fish from the lake in their large cone-shaped baskets. It is impressive to see how they easily balance on the tip of the boat trying to get fish into their netted cages.
Balloon flight over Inle Lake
Not an activity ON the lake, but ABOVE the lake, flying in an hot air balloon right after sunrise to see Inle Lake and its typical villages from another perspective. If you can afford to pay $350 for a balloon flight, it’ really worth the experience. But you can also book a balloon flight above the pagodas of Bagan! That’s what we did, and it was an unforgettable magical experience.
What to buy at Inle Lake
There is a lot to see and eventually to buy during the Inle Lake boat tour. But what is most special or unique to buy? Of course it depends on your own taste. But one thing I would really recommend you to buy during your Inle Lake boat trip, is a lotus silk product. Lotus silk is among the most expensive textiles in the world and is unique and exclusive in every way. I personally fell in love with a scarf made of lotus silk and normal silk in cream / beige color.
Another special thing to buy at Inle Lake is silverware. Of course, you can buy silver jewellery everywhere. But at most silversmiths you can either buy raw silver (which is more greyish) and thus more exclusive, or polished silver as we know it from jewellery.
Things to do around Inle Lake
Besides exploring Inle Lake itself, the floating villages and several workshops, you can also do other things around Inle Lake. Below some ideas.
Shwe In Dein pagoda
An hour drive away from Nyaungshwe is the Shwe Inn Dein Pagoda located in the village of Indein. This ancient temple complex consists of 1054 (!) pagodas. You can also visit the Shwe In Dein pagoda with the boat, but the scenic 8 kilometer boat ride can only be made in the rainy season and winter. In the summer season is the water level too low.
Explore Nyaungshwe by bike
Nyaungshwe is maybe nothing more than a base to explore Inle Lake from. But, this little village does have a really relaxed and laid back vibe. The view on the surrounding mountains is beautiful. There is only one main road with small, unpaved roads leading through the neighbourhoods. You can easily ride around on a bicycle, and depending on your condition, explore the area around Nyaungshwe. Riding around on the bicycle during sunset, in search for the next restaurant to eat is also a great way of exploring Nyaungshwe.
Visit Red mountain estate Vineyards & Winery
This one is for the wine lovers! You can go on a wine tasting tour at the Red Mountain Winery. It’s the perfect afternoon bike ride from Nyaungshwe, and is also an amazing place to watch the sunset. Even if you’re not the biggest wine fan it’s still worth visiting to see the beautiful vineyard grounds.
Where to eat at Inle Lake
The region where Inle Lake is located is the Shan State which is famous for its Shan food. So if you want to taste the local flavours, definitely try one of the restaurants serving Shan food! Our other recommendations for the best places to eat in Inle Lake, or more in Nyaungshwe are these:
- Paw Paw; a small restaurant with seating upstairs serving incredible and varied food! They even have smoothie bowls on the menu for breakfast The lady who owns the restaurant uses her income to support local kids to go to school.
- Local food market; in the centre of Nyaungshwe you’ll find a local night food market which was every evening open when we were in Nyaungshwe.
- Cafe CCM; for the most delicious sweet treats and coffee in Nyaungshwe you have to go to this cafe! They don’t serve ‘real’ breakfast or lunch.
- Innlay Hut Indian Food; if you want to meet the biggest Eminem fan in the world… go to this place! The owner, a Nepalese twenty something guy, is a very eccentric and warm hearted guy. Together with his Mum he runs this restaurant and they serve the best Indian food in Myanmar! Eating here is an experience in itself.
- Chillax; located along a quiet street and with comfortable outdoor seating a very nice place to have lunch or dinner. Their menu is mainly Western orientated food.
More Myanmar travel guides
We hope you enjoyed this very comprehensive guide about Inle Lake and all the things you can do and see during a boat tour. Inle has a special place in our memories because it’s such a beautiful, authentic and unique experience. For more Myanmar travel inspiration, head over to these blog posts.