Inle Lake Adventures
You can get to Inle Lake via a flight (Heho airport is about 30 minutes from the lake), by bus, by private taxi and by train. Bus and flight are the most common and I personally chose the bus route.
I started by taking a bus from Mandalay (arranged by my hotel for 12,000 kyat) down to the town of Kalaw – which is about an hour away from Nyuang Shwe – the main town in Inle Lake. On the way there, my bus was actually a mini van but on the way back to Mandalay I was in a larger VIP bus. The drive is filled with farmlands, trash, pony carts, small cities, and tons of bridge tolls. It is not a romantic drive in any sense, with the fog of pollution and trash littered highways but it is a fairly smooth one.
My plan in Kalaw was to do a 2 day trekking trip through the mountains. I had read about this amazing experience in the New York Times but ultimately when I got to Kalaw, decided not to do it as I still had a fever from a mild case of food poisoning. So after staying in Kalaw for 1 night, I sat at a bus stop for 4 hours waiting for a bus to take me to Nyuang Shwe. A taxi would have been about $35 US and I just didn’t feel like paying that 🙂
I met a lot of locals sitting at that bus stop who were very nice. Although one woman with leprecy kept sitting next to me and seemingly telling me jokes in Burmese and just laughing. It got kind of weird but those are the fun adventures of traveling! A bus finally swung by around 2pm and took me about an hour south and dropped me by the side of the road where a tuk tuk truck took me the final journey to my Nyuang Shwe hotel. There were 2 families in the tuk tuk with me and their kids were so cute and stared at me the whole time 🙂
Nyuang Shwe is a pretty small but busy commercial center of Inle Lake. There are a bunch of foreign visitors and this is where pretty much everyone goes to get a boat out to Inle Lake.
The first two nights, I stayed in Nyuang Shwe. It allowed me to get well for the rest of my trip and be around a lot of restaurants and shops that you would not be able to access easily if you were staying right on the lake. The first night I arrived in Nyuang Shwe, I realized the sun was about to set and so I jumped on a boat for a sunset ride around the lake. You can get your own boat for about 10,000 Kyat for a few hours or 20,000 Kyat for the whole day.
I ran into the classic Inle Lake fisherman who are not actually fishing but instead there to be photographed and collect tips. If you don’t want to tip, don’t photograph them! I was happy to give some money for such lovely pictures.
The lighting is so beautiful right before sunset and I’m happy I went on that impromptu trip.
The next day I went to Bamboo Delight Cooking School. Leslie met our group in the marketplace and took us around explaining everything. Leslie is super nice and knowledgeable but I was happy I had previously done a market tour in another city as the 5 day market is INCREDIBLY crowded in Nyuang Shwe and it was difficult to move around and hear everything he had to say.
After the market we went back to Leslie and Sue’s house and spent some time cooking a few different curry and salad dishes. My favorite was learning how to make Shan noodles which are so yummy.
My third night in Inle Lake, I decided to stay at Shwe Inn Tha Hotel. Which is actually on the lake. Most of the hotels on the lake are much pricier than in Nyuang Shwe but I thought it was worth it for spending one night out on the lake – and I’m happy I splurged.
I rented a boat for the day for 20,000 Kyat ($15). We took the 30 minute drive across the lake to drop my bags at the hotel and then made our way to Nampan.
We stopped at a bunch of traditional tourist traps where you see “local handicrafts” being made like silk and silver and they encourage you to buy all of it.
I didn’t really mind as I had no agenda on the lake. But the real fun for me on the lake was just boating through the middle and seeing the small villages scattered around the lake.
These small villages are built entirely on the water. Each house is built on stilts and sits high above the water. There are patches of land and water gardens that have been built all over the lake.
All of the villages that I saw had electrical lines running and some houses had satellite dishes for tv!
A lot of times you will see children waving from their house. People doing laundry or washing themselves right in the lake underneath their house.
From what I could tell, all the resorts on the lake were their own compound and separate from the villages. This means you basically have to take a boat to get into or leave the resort compound.
I really liked Shwe Inn Tha Hotel (although there were nicer options that I saw online for more $$). I had my own bungalow with a gorgeous view of sunset and the restaurant at the hotel and views of sunrise were great as well.
The next day I arranged for my same boat driver to pick me up as I had paid for another full day of sightseeing on the lake. We started by seeing 2 monasteries –Hpaung Daw U Pagoda (Home of 5 revered Buddha statues) and Nga Phe Kyaung (Jumping Cat Monastery).
It could have been that I was “templed out” out at this point of my trip, but I didn’t think any of these monasteries were particularly special or nice. My driver offered to take me to see the long neck ladies but I declined. I know this tourist attraction makes these women money, but I’m just not the biggest fan of the fact that they have to alter their bodies to entertain foreign travelers. I just didn’t want to personally support it but to each his own!
In the afternoon, I asked my driver to take me to Maing Tauk village.
It’s a cute little village that sits half on the water, half on land and has a 500 meter bridge that runs through the water part of town. This village was a little less crowded than other areas on the lake and I enjoyed taking pictures of the bridge and local farm life. My boat driver dropped me off so I could walk into the center of the village (which was on solid land) where I had lunch.
I didn’t do and see everything that I could have on the lake but again, I feel like the real site to see is the lake, the floating gardens, and the mountain views around it. So just enjoying that experience was a real highlight.
- Hot Spots – I stayed at the Golden Lotus Hotel while in Nyuang Shwe. It totally worked for what I needed which was a basic 2-3 star hotel close to city center. I had amazing Mohinga at the 5 day market when it was in Nyuang Shwe. I also loved this new western pizza restaurant/bar called Pub Asiatico which was in downtown Nyuang Shwe. I got a few spa services at Aqua Lillies and the staff there was totally lovely and I was really happy with my experience there.
- Cash – In Inle Lake they mostly seem to accept Kyat. No one asked me for American $$ but I was able to use it when I needed to at the end of the trip when I ran out of Kyat and didn’t want to take more out of the ATM.
- ATMs – There are ATMs easily found throughout Nyuang Shwe although not available once you get out on the lake.
- Getting Around – Transportation is a bit hard to find in Nyuang Shwe and is expensive by SE Asian standards. The town is so small though that you can really just walk everywhere. I would recommend staying within walking distance of town center so you don’t have to bother getting taxis and tuk tuks every time you want to eat out or do something in town.
- Shopping – There really aren’t any western brands or stores in Burma, but there was a small store in Nyuang Shwe that sold things like basic western brand conditioners and toiletries etc which was helpful to stock up on things needed. There are a few places to buy handicrafts on the lake but not many in Nyuang Shwe.
- Itinerary – If you are taking a boat out on the lake, I would recommend going with an agenda or be open to being taken to “made for tourist” spots. My driver was 17, had a teenage attitude problem that was very apparent even though he didn’t speak English. So he wasn’t the best guide and it would have been nice to have an English speaker or just a driver that was nice.
- Travel Agents – There are a TON of shops that you can book any travel arrangements at right in downtown Nyuang Shwe.