A complete guide to visiting Inle Lake. Everything you need to know and what to expect when booking a boat tour at Inle Lake.
About Inle Lake
Located in the western Shan State, is the picturesque Inle Lake. At 10km wide and 22km long, the lake is positioned in a valley between two mountain ranges. Famous for its stilted villages, floating gardens, 3 legged fishermen and the local Intha communities living on the water, a visit to Inle Lake is on most tourists itinerary.
Inle Lake entrance ticket
There is an entrance fee of MMK15,000 to visit the Inle Lake area. If you are arriving by bus, the driver will stop at a checkpoint where a steward will come onboard and collect your entrance fee. Try to have the exact money to avoid any hold ups. If you’re arriving by plane, you will usually need to pay the fee at the airport.
Inle Lake boat tour
The main thing to do at Inle Lake is a boat tour and if you only have one day in the area, it makes the perfect day trip. It’s worth departing early in the morning, as it gets hot during the day and most boats don’t have a roof or cover (think motorised canoe). A boat tour on Inle Lake generally lasts around 8 hours.
Where to book a Inle Lake boat tour
The easiest way to book a Inle lake boat tour is through your hotel. Most people stay in the small town of Nyaungshwe, located north of the lake. This is where we stayed and at the time we visited (Feb 2019), there were no tour agencies in town. We arranged our Inle Lake boat tour in advance through our guesthouse via email, as we only had 1 day at the lake. This worked out perfectly for us as we arrived by overnight bus at 4am, checked in early, had a few hours sleep, breakfast and then started our Inle Lake boat tour at 8am. Pre-booking ensured a boat was ready for us, wasting no time.
Alternatively, you can head down to the water and arrange a tour directly with a boat driver. However bear in mind, they may not speak good English.
How much does a Inle Lake boat trip cost?
A Inle Lake boat tour should cost between MMK15,000-MMK25,000 per boat. Prices vary depending on how much your hotel charges, whether you have a guide and how long your boat tour lasts. Considering the boat is private and you won’t be sharing it with any other tourists, the prices are quite reasonable. Of course, if you’re happy with your boat driver/guide, tips are always appreciated.
Inle Lake boat trip itinerary
Most Inle Lake boat tours visit the attractions listed below. However, there may be some variations in some of the locations visited. What’s great about the boat tours, is that you can have a lot of input in the itinerary. Just tell the the hotel staff or driver/guide when you book your Inle Lake boat tour if there’s something that you do or don’t want to visit. That way, you won’t miss out on anything or waste time seeing things that don’t interest you.
1. 3 legged fisherman
Probably the main attraction and one of the first things you’ll see on a Inle Lake boat tour are the fishermen. The best time to see them in action is early in the morning. Famous for their balancing skills, these guys literally balance on one leg at the front of their boat, whilst paddling a wooden ore with the other leg, all whilst holding their fishing nets or cages in their hands. Hence their nickname – the 3 legged fishermen. Traditionally, the fishermen used netted cages, submerging them in the water and spearing fish through a hole at top. But these days, most fishermen you see with these cages are ‘fake’, purely dressing up to pose for tourists photos. Trust us, you won’t miss them!
These days, most fisherman use modern day nets, but still balance and paddle using the ‘3 legged’ technique. Both are picturesque, however if you stop to snap a pic of a ‘fake’ fisherman, you will need to give them a tip. Our boat driver sped past the ‘fakes’ and slowed down in an area full of real fishermen, which was really nice to see and far more authentic.
2. Stilted villages
Inle Lakes 17 villages are build both around and on the lake. Cruising through the stilted villages is inevitable during an Inle Lake boat tour. Although we’ve visited villages like this in Cambodia, it’s always fascinating to witness such a different way of life. Many workshops, homes and restaurants that you’ll visit are perched high above the water, creating a sense of quiet and calm. We had lunch at an open air stilted restaurant which was really lovely.
3. The floating gardens
Whilst mainland Burmese plant vegetables in the ground, the people living on Inle Lake have created floating gardens. Man made ‘islands’ have been built using layers of water hyacinth, seagrass and silt, all held in place with bamboo stakes. You’ll most likely see locals harvesting water hyacinth nearby the gardens.
The farmers then plant their vegetables, mainly tomatoes and then cruise between the plots when they’re ready to harvest. The floating gardens take up around 1/4 of the lakes surface area and are quite impressive to see. But despite the unconventional farming method contributing to a boost in the regions economy, there’s concerns that pesticides and chemical fertilisers are oozing into the lake, damaging the fragile ecosystem.
4. Local markets
A visit to a local market is usually part of an Inle Lake boat tour. We stopped at one which was quite small with locals selling vegetables and souvenirs. The market wasn’t really a ‘must see’ for us, but we had a look anyway. We didn’t stay long, but enjoy wandering around the surrounding area.
5. Local handicraft workshops
Inle Lake has many small workshops, factories and shops, which you’ll visit as part of a day trip in the lake. Some are more interesting than others and a typical workshop visit consists of step by step demonstrations of manufacturing processes, followed by the opportunity to take photos and of course, make a purchase. Amongst the workshops that are regularly visited are silversmiths, silk/cotton/lotus weaving factories and cigar workshops.
Everything is basically made the old fashioned way – by hand. If there’s a workshop that you’re not really interested in, then you can ask to skip it. Likewise, if there’s something that you really want to see, you can ensure it’s on your itinerary. We particularly enjoyed seeing the lotus weaving (who knew lotus was used to manufacture garments?) and the cigar workshop.
6. Monasteries and pagodas
During our Inle Lake boat tour, we visited several pagodas and monastery’s. To be perfectly honest, these were some of the low points of our tour, as the surrounding vendors and strategically placed ATM’s created an unauthentic vibe. If you like cats, the The Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery (aka Jumping cat monastery), may appeal to you. However, we didn’t particularly enjoy our visit there. Myanmar is is full of stunning pagodas and monasteries and if we were to do a Inle Lake boat tour again, we’d skip most of the lakes religious sites.
7. The long-necked women
For us unfortunately, this was another low point of our Inle Lake boat tour. We weren’t sure what to expect from our visit to see the long-necked women, so we didn’t have high expectations. After entering a stilted house, we were faced with 3 long-necked women. One was weaving and a mother and child were sitting behind her. A lady explained a little about the long-necked tradition, encouraged us to take photos before walking us to a gift shop.
To be honest, we were quite awkward and uncomfortable with the whole experience. We felt like we’d walk into a human zoo and this was one experience that felt like a tourist trap. The long neck tradition is slowly dying, with less and less women wearing the heavy neck rings in modern day society. And although the tradition is an interesting one, we didn’t feel like this was the best way to learn about it. We didn’t take any photos or make a purchase.
8. Shwe Inn Dein pagoda
Of all of the places we visited during our day on Inle lake, we enjoyed our cruise out to Inn Dein the most. The main attraction here is the Shwe Inn Dein pagoda. Made up of hundreds of small stupas of varying condition, this pagoda is like no other we’d seen in Myanmar. Many of the stupas have been well preserved, whilst some are in ruins. We loved the contrast between the two and during our visit, there were only a handful of other people around.
Located around 40 minutes away from the main tourist area of the lake, a stop at Inn Dein isn’t always part of a Inle Lake boat tour. So if you want to visit this picturesque pagoda, make sure it’s on your Inle Lake boat tour itinerary. It may cost a little more for this additional stop as it is well out of the way.
How much time do you need at Inle Lake
Depending on what you want to see and do, 1-3 days is a good amount of time to visit Inle Lake. Allow one day for a Inle Lake boat tour and an extra 1-2 days to see the surrounding area.
Where to stay at Inle Lake
Most people visiting Inle Lake base themselves in Nyaungshwe. This small town has a great range of accommodation options, cafes, restaurants and shops. There’s plenty of budget guesthouses/hostels to choose from, along with more expensive hotels.
There’s a selection of high end overwater bungalows and hotels on the lake itself, for those wanting to escape the town. Of course these come at a higher price.
We stayed at The Green Vally Inn, which was perfect for us. Our room cost US$11 p/nt and included breakfast, free water refills and wifi. Our room was basic, but clean and contained a small ensuite and A/C. It was a short walk from the bus stop and the owner happily allowed us to check in at 5am at no addition cost. They also pre-arranged our Inle Lake boat tour and taxi to the airport for our departure. For us, this was a solid budget option.
Best time to visit Inle Lake
Nov-Feb – In our opinion, this is the best time to visit Inle Lake. This is the dry season and during these months, it rains very little. Although it’s still hot and humid, daytime temperature are bearable, but nights can get chilly, so have a jacket handy. This is the peak tourist season with Dec-Jan holidays being the busiest months. Of course this also means that prices are at their highest.
Mar-May: This is still the dry season and the hottest time of the year. Temperature often reach over 40°C. This can make sight-seeing unbearably hot during the day.
Jun-Oct: This is the rainy season and heavy downpours can occur. For this reason, it’s the quietest time to visit with far less tourists around. This also means accommodation will be cheaper.
Where to eat at Inle Lake
If you’re staying in Nyaungshwe, you’ll find plenty of cheap cafes and restaurants to eat at. And if you’re craving something other than noodles and rice like we were, check out Dosa King Indian restaurant. The staff were so lovely and the food there was tasty and cheap! If you do a Inle Lake boat tour, your boatman/guide will take you to a restaurant for lunch. Most guesthouses include breakfast in the room rate.
Getting around Inle Lake
Of course, the best way to see Inle Lake is by boat tour. Nyaungshwe is a small town, which can be navigated easily by foot. Alternatively, you can rent a bicycle to explore the town and surrounding areas. If cycling seems like too much trouble, your accommodation should be able to help you arrange a taxi.
Getting to & from Inle Lake
The easiest way of getting to/from Inle Lake is by plane or bus:
The nearest airport is Heho which is about 1 hour drive from Nyaungshwe. Popular domestic flight routes include Yangon (1-2.5hrs), Nyaung U (Bagan 75mins), Mandalay (30mins) and Thandwe (Ngapali Beach 1hr). Expect to pay around MMK15,00 for a taxi from Nyaungshwe to the airport and MMK 25,000 for a taxi from the airport to Nyaungshwe.
Inle Lake is well connected by buses, which depart and terminate in Nyaungshwe. Popular routes include Yangon (12hrs – MMK12,000-MMK22,000), Nyaung U (Bagan 10hrs – MMK11,000-MMK20,000), Mandalay (10hrs – MMK11,000-MMK18,000). As always in Myanmar, bus prices will depend on which bus company you book with and whether you book VIP or standard bus.
We travelled with JJExpress via overnight bus from Mandalay. The journey was very comfortable and one we would recommend. Be mindful that most night buses will have you arriving at your destination very early in the morning. We arrived at 4.30am, but only had a short walk to our guesthouse! There were plenty of taxi drivers waiting at the bus stop, so if you need to take a taxi to reach your hotel, be sure to check in advance how much you should be paying.
If you have never experienced a community living on a lake, then you will probably really enjoy a Inle Lake boat tour. We found certain parts of our tour really interesting, but there were bits that we didn’t really enjoy. If you can keep an open mind and look past the gift stores and ATM’s, taking a boat tour of Inle Lake is a really nice way to spend a day.
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