Inle Lake is a large, shallow lake in central Myanmar, southeast of Mandalay. 70,000 Intha people call the area home, living in villages along the lake shore, on the hillsides surrounding the lake and on the actual lake itself. Visitors to the lake can go for leisurely bike rides along the lake’s shoreline, visit Myanmar’s only vineyards or hire a boat and tour the floating gardens and several villages entirely on the lake, with the houses built on stilts. Inle Lake was my favorite stop during my month-long trip to Myanmar.
Note: Due to a huge increase in visitors to Myanmar, prices have been skyrocketing. Locations and modes of transport I’ve listed as offering the lowest prices will still offer the lowest prices, but those prices will likely be considerably higher than they were when I visited in 2011 (last edited on Apr 5, 2013).
Best Time to Go
September to October is the best time to visit the Inle Lake area, because the two biggest festivals take place at the end of September and the beginning of October. November to February is the cooler season and March to May is the hot season, but temperatures stay much more comfortable here than in lower lying areas. The rest of the year is the rainy season, which can cause trouble with the roads.
Getting to Inle Lake
All visitors must pay a $10 fee (updated March 2014) to enter the Inle Lake area.
If you fly to Inle Lake, you can expect a very expensive hour-long taxi ride (30,000 to 40,000 Kyat). If you walk to the highway, you can probably get a ride on a jeep or a taxi for quite a bit less.
Most people arrive by bus or shared taxi from either Bagan, Mandalay or Yangon. If you have a group of people, shared taxis are only slightly more expensive, but much more comfortable, especially from Bagan (the bus is horrible). If you take a bus, there is no need to go all the way to Taunggyi; you can save a lot of time by getting off at Shwenyaung and going straight to Nyaungshwe from there (rather than backtracking to Shwenyaung from Taunggyi). Pick-ups will charge 500 Kyat and taxis will want 4000; you may be able to get the taxi prices down a bit.
You can easily walk around Nyaungshwe or rent a bike for 1000 to 1500 Kyat per day.
All the hotels on the actual lake are extremely expensive and probably somewhat boring, since you’re stuck there and can only leave with a boat.
The budget options are all located in Nyaungshwe just north of the lake. Walk around a bit and find a place you like. Taxis will drop you off at guest houses that pay them commission and your room price will increase accordingly. Let them drop you off then go elsewhere. Just make sure the taxi leaves first or the driver will follow you and try to collect a commission wherever you end up going.
Accommodation in Myanmar is scarcer these days (Feb 2014), so it might not be a bad idea to book one or two nights in advance. You won’t get the same deals you’d get in person, but you can still find some reasonably priced rooms online. Here are three places I remember checking out during my stay in Nyaungshwe:
Aquarius Inn: 2, Phaung Daw Pyan Road; this was the most popular place when I was there (2011) and it looked really nice, but was booked solid so I had to stay elsewhere; standard rooms go for $30 online; I would definitely recommend the Aquarius if they have rooms available
Inle Inn: Yone Gyi Street; standard rooms are $25 online
Bright Hotel: 53, Phaung Daw Side Road; $35 for standard rooms online
If you prefer to book ahead, you can try Agoda’s Inle Lake page, although only a few of the budget options are on there as of March 2013. I expect that to change as they seem to constantly add more listings to their Myanmar pages. Even if you don’t want to book anything, Agoda always has excellent maps that you can use to get yourself oriented.
Eating & Drinking
You can’t go anywhere in Nyaungshwe without running into a restaurant. You’ll find many places serving western food, which will cost a bit more, naturally. The cheapest options are found by the market.
Things to Do
- Boat Tour: 15,000-20,000 Kyat for a basic tour, depending on the options. The cheapest tours are available directly at the jetty, since you don’t have to pay anyone’s commission, but you will probably just get the standard tour which involves a lot of shops that pay the driver if you buy something. In this case, cheaper may not be better, as the shops take up a lot of time and can get tiring. If you pay the boat driver a little more, he will agree to skip the shops and you can see some less touristy sights, but you need to make all of this clear from the beginning.
- Biking: Hiring a bicycle and riding along the lake shore and through the surrounding villages is a great way to spend a day. Cost: 1000 to 1500 Kyat per day.
- Wine Tasting: Red Mountain Estate (their website has directions) is a vineyard and winery located on a hill along the northeastern shore of the lake. It is easily reached by bicycle. For just a few dollars, you can try wines that are not available outside of Myanmar or China. Read about my visit to the winery.
- Hiking: You can go on day hikes in the surrounding hills or a three-day hike all the way to Kalaw. A great way to get a real glimpse into life in the area (the boat trips are very touristy), but can also be quite exhausting. Guides cost around 10,000 Kyat per day.
Money Saving Tips
- take the pick-up between Shwenyaung and Nyaungshwe, instead of a taxi
- walk or hire a bicycle to get around
- eat local food at street stalls or small restaurants; avoid western food if possible
- don’t buy clothes or souvenirs on the lake—the prices are quite inflated; that said, giving a little more money to the local people is not necessarily a bad thing
- never accept the first price on anything—bargaining is expected