Inle Lake in Myanmar
Inle Lake is, like Bagan, a major tourist destination in Myanmar. In fact, Inle Lake is a big lake located in the center of the country, at altitude and surrounded by mountains. The water is shallow there. On the lake, there are floating villages, which means houses on stilts are there. The people living there are called Intha, and they mostly live off fishing and tourism. Why should you go to lake Inle? It’s a good opportunity to admire a wonderful lake, to see beautiful landscapes and visit floating villages.
Yep, all the travelers going to this region spend a day visiting the Inle Lake on a boat. Or I’d rather say on a dugout canoe. All right then, off we go for a day on a dugout canoe, sailing the lake and see how it is. We started our trip early in the morning and our guide explained us we were about to visit a few villages, a pagoda, a monastery, stop by the market and of course we’ll have the chance to see the Inthas fishing and paddling. In case you didn’t know, Inthas paddle their own way, with their feet!
It’s quite nice to see those guys paddling but you feel like they’re just good actors. They could hear the dugout canoe arriving so they started to paddle. Our canoe slowed down as we were getting closer and then we completely stopped next to the fishermen in order to take pictures. After the pictures, we restarted to sail. Inthas are now behind us. Just out of curiosity, I turned around. As you might imagine, they weren’t paddling anymore!
Although there was a lot of fog that day, we had the chance to see nice landscapes, before arriving at our first stop, the market. They gave us at least one hour to visit the market and I understand why. Obviously it was a market targeting tourists only. The locals are making sure their guests won’t leave without buying something! And all the prices are inflated. If you buy something, don’t do it without bargaining! They’ll do anything, as long as you buy! I saw a French girl who was able to divide the initial price of a souvenir by 4!
We also quickly stopped in a workshop where they make jewelry, before getting on the canoe again. Sailing the lake was enjoyable and quiet. Other boats passed by, we spotted a little bit further other locals paddling with their feet, and we finally stopped in front of a big temple : Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda. It’s a big Buddhist temple only accessible by boat. Inside the temple, there are five images of Buddha, and the locals affixing gold leaves on them. Like the golden rock, men only can approach and touch the images of Buddha. Women cannot touch, nor approach them.
We hopped on the canoe and we stopped again a bit further, in a small shop of a village. It was a shop selling work of art, souvenirs, etc… We also saw Kayan women, you know, those women wearing enormous neck rings. Those neck rings are very heavy, Kayan women carry about 10 kilograms (22 pounds) on their necks! The origin of this tradition is hazy. When we were visiting the shop, we were told that originally, Kayan women were wearing those neck rings to protect themselves from tiger bites (they attack their preys biting their necks). But later that day, we were also told that men asked them to wear those neck rings, as a way to look less attractive, and prevent them from getting married with a man from another tribe.
We then sailed the lake again, and we ended up in another village where they showed us how they make longyi. I talked about it in my article about Yangon, longyis are those traditional Burmese skirts worn by men only. We also spent some time in a workshop where they make Burmese cigars and roll-up cigarettes. They were proposing various tastes : classic cigarette but also banana cigarettes, mint cigarettes, even cognac cigarettes…
And it’s already time to go home! We were told our trip on the canoe would take the whole day but we finished way earlier than planned, around 2:30pm. I consoled myself the same evening at the Nyaung Shwe market, where it’s possible to have dinner for a cheap price.
And the day after, I decided to visit the surroundings. For the wine lovers out there, I suggest you to go to the Red Mountain Estate Vineyards & Winery. You can have a walk as you like in the domain, ask for a guided tour of the vineyard and of course have a wine tasting. I went there early in the morning so I didn’t really want to drink but still, it reminded me of the wine tasting I did in Cricova, Moldova!
I also visited the Htet Eain Gu Cave and Monastery. It’s a Buddhist monastery where monks live, mostly children. All those who saw me greeted me, and then went back to doing whatever they were doing, not paying attention to me. So I was there, in the monastery, and I had the opportunity to watch the way they live in their community. Each monk has a specific task, but I think it changes everyday.
There’s also a cave with Buddhist relics. Interesting to see. I was there around noon and they were getting ready to have lunch. This is when I noticed some monks were wearing a red tunic (most of them actually), others were wearing a white one. “White” and “red” monks don’t mix during lunch. I thought the color of their tunic was a way to know their status, but I saw little kids wearing a white tunic, and others with a red one…
I also wanted to go to a thermal bath in the area, Khaung Daing Nature Hot Spring but I didn’t have enough time. My stay around Inle Lake was enjoyable. The weather was good, and this is a region were people are relaxed. I liked sailing the lake on the canoe, but I was expecting a longer visit, it was over early in the afternoon. That day on the boat, I didn’t like the fact that the locals were insisting so much “Buy this! And that! This souvenir is cheap! That one too!” and our guide was dragging us along to all those places. Not just to show us the local life, but of course to sell all kind of things (jewelry, then cigarettes, then longyi, souvenirs, market, etc…). The day on the boat is something you have to do, but be prepared!
Info to visit Inle Lake
- Wanna go to Myanmar? Check the visa policy here. Most Western countries need a visa. Easy, you can apply online here. You’ll have to pay 50 US dollars. If you decide to apply online, you must get in the country by plane (most likely anyway).
- Do not go to Myanmar without a travel insurance!
- As you might suspect, you won’t stay in the Inle Lake. Travelers stay at the neighboring village, Nyaung Shwe. You’ll find accommodation easily on Agoda or HotelsCombined. I went there from Bagan, and I paid 15000 kyats (a little bit more than 9 euros) the 8-hours ride by bus. Night buses are cheaper (11000 kyats, almost 7 euros), but you’ll get there at 3 in the morning…
- I went straight to Nyaung Shwe from Bagan, but a lot of travelers stop at Kalaw and then go trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake. It’s a very famous trek, and it lasts three days. I didn’t do it because I had to meet other travelers at Nyaung Shwe.
- Like Bagan, there’s a tourist fee to get in the Inle Lake area. The fee is 13500 kyats (8.50€) or 10 US dollars.
- I paid 6000 kyats (3.75€) for the day sailing the Inle Lake on the canoe. The price is per canoe, which means the more you are, the less you pay. We were five people (the maximum!) on the boat, hence 6000 per person. If you’re alone or just two on the canoe, you’ll pay a lot more…
- To get around in Nyaung Shwe, the best thing to do is to rent a bike. It’s 1500 kyats per day (less than one euro), and you’ll be able to visit freely the temples, the monasteries, the vineyard, etc… in the village!
- If needed, get a Myanmar travel guide.
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