Last update: Aug 30, 2019
Inle Lake off the beaten track
Inle Lake is a mountain lake located in the famous Burmese Shan Highland or Shan Hills. The lake lies in the middle of the wide Balu Valley at about 900 meters above sea level; and just north of the lake is the village of Nyaung Shwe, the trade hub and focal point of Inle. On the lake there are about twenty villages of the Intha tribe who live on the water in stilt houses and along the lake shore. The villagers practice aquaculture in a way that is unique; they grow mostly tomatoes but also other vegetables on floating plant beds made from Elephant grass.
Apart from the boat trip the best activity around Inle may well be a long bicycle tour around the lake shore, passing through the villages that dot the countryside between the parallel mountain ranges. After you have done the boat tour why not take a trip off the beaten path? All you need is a bicycle, a sun hat, some water and to be reasonably fit. You can just bike through Nyaung Shwe or go to the Red Mountain Vineyard. A quick trip up north to the Shwe Yan Pyay monastery is also fun and takes only 15 minutes.
Also interesting is the Htet Eain cave 4 km from east of Nyaung Shwe, it takes around 20 minutes over a large hill to the monastery. The Htet Eain cave is not far away from there, ask directions. One very small cave has a temple in it; not far is another larger cave with many Buddha statues; a bit like the Pindaya cave.
Inle Lake Map
Inle See Fahrradkarte / Plan du Lac Inle a velo / Fietskaart.
It is best to start biking in the morning and take some water along, the cool morning will last until noon. In the hot afternoon the big smiles on most bikers' faces will change to more determined looks. Later, after 3 PM things cool down pretty fast to pleasant temperatures. The nights in Inle are quite cold in winter.
Red bicycle route: From Nyaung Shwe 11 km to Maing Thauk - about 1 hour, one way.
From the market go east for 1,5 km; and turn sharp right at the first crossing with traffic lights. There is only one road going south so you can't miss it.
This is a good, smooth asphalt road winding its way down between the suger cane and sunflower fields towards Maing Thauk.
Blue bicycle route: From Nyaung Shwe 12 km to Khaung Daing - about 1 hour, one way.
The bike ride to Khaung Daing and the hot springs is scenic with some slight hills. Start by crossing the canal bridge, then take the tree-lined road westward which is awfully narrow and wobbly. When you reach the hillside turn south onto the narrow but smooth asphalt road.
Inle Lake Loop - First cycle to Maing Thauk and have a lunch in one of the many eateries near the walking bridge. From there take a longboat to Khaung Daing. The 30 minute ferry trip costs about 6000 Kyat per boat and it is always easy to find a boatman. Nowadays there is a tout (fixer) on the walking jetty that arranges a boat for you at the "tourist price" of 10.000 Kyat. This trip takes a minimum of 3 hours; unless you are a trained bicyclist it's better to plan on four hours and have a break or lunch somewhere during the hottest part of the day.
As a side note: The bicycle route between the lake and mountainside has surprisingly few views of the lake. Even though there is a nice view from the steep hill of the Red Mountain vineyard, the lake is quite far away in the distance. To see the lake you can go down some of the side paths to the resorts (if they admit you), or into the villages of Maing Thauk or Khaung Daing. Or best of all: go to the long walking bridge at Maing Thauk and perhaps take a boat to the other side.
Which bike and route to choose?
The roads are mostly on level terrain so most people take a simple bike from their hotel. I usually rent a mountain bike because it's faster and you can explore some of the smaller dirt roads towards the lake or to the mountainside. A simple bicyle with gears (about 1500 kyat/day) is good enough, renting a mountain bike can cost from 7000 to 15000 Kyat ($5 to $10). If you get a flat tire there's usually someone not too far away that can fix it for you. Another tip: There is also a mountain biking option for the Kalaw - Inle trek: look for Naing Naing (Biking & Trekking) - Day Tours in Kalaw.
The Blue bicycle route is a small one-lane road with more traffic than the red route - sometimes large trucks and busses. The road to Maing Thauk on the Red bicycle route is wider and better; and Maing Thauk with its long jetty and many eateries is more charming than Khaung Daing.
Can everyone do it? The full Inle lake loop is an intermediate bike ride with mostly flat roads. If you ride a bicycle regularly and are in good shape it should be no problem but it's no walk in the park! It is not easy for everyone, a two hour bike ride will be quite tiring in the tropical sunshine. It is also not for young children. If you think a one hour ride in your home country is difficult then I would not recommend trying it here - start with doing some biking around town and see how that goes.
So I would advise going to Maing Thauk first, have a lunch there, and if you are up for it cross by boat to Khaung Daing. I have done many one-way trips; when I got tired I used to hitch a boat ride back to Nyaung Shwe (10000 Kyat). Or you can just return the same way and visit the winery on the way back. Do have a quick look at the market of Maing Thauk just south of the long walkway/jetty; and the new large resorts just beyond it - it's an amazing contrast to the simple village houses with bamboo walls and tin roofs.
A ferry ride to Shwe Yee Win restaurant, Maing Thauk.
Khaung Daing hot springs
The hot springs in Khaung Daing are a bit disappointing because there are no springs as such visible, but the open-air public bath is simple but relaxing. Unfortunately there is no view of Inle Lake...
The open-air spa used to be 3 US$ entry but it with the start of the tourism boom in 2011 they created a new private "foreigners" spa (3 small ponds) and charge 10 dollars per person! The posh new spa is mixed (men and women together). You can still choose the large original spa for 5 dollars and sit in the same water, men and women have a separate pool here. The locals pay 1000 Kyat ....
About 15 minutes biking beyond the hot springs is the village of Khaung Daing; there is not much to see except perhaps the famous "Shan tofu" made from split yellow peas.
Khaung Daing village sign: "Boat trip to Maing Thauk".
Eateries in Maing Thauk (Mine Thouk) village.
Maing Thauk is actually not one but two villages connected by a 600 meter long walkway: Maing Thauk village on the shore, and Maing Thauk Inn on the lake. The walkway is shorter than the famous U-Bein bridge in Mandalay but it is a great place to hang out, admire the view or have a tea or lunch.
Walkway in Maing Thauk, on the hill the Forest Monastery (2010).
Wooden bridge / Jetty in Maing Thauk, 2017.
Maing Thauk has a few small restaurants (a better fitting name is eateries) which are quite popular with people who want something a wee bit more exciting than their lake resort's menu. Bamboo Hut and Inle Heart View are two restaurants on the way to Maing Thauk/Mine Thouk (2 km past the Red Winery). The Red Winery is situated on a hill on the east side of the lake; it offers wine tasting for 5000 kyat until 6pm. There is also a restaurant with a view of the lake in the distance, and a good sunset view.
The restaurants mentioned above are really just eateries; however some simple eateries around Inle sometimes score better than the proper restaurants in Nyaung Shwe. Isn't it ironic: many people rate a cheap meal in a local place higher than a posh dinner in an upmarket resort; price is not always a reflection of quality as far as restaurants go. The food in resorts is often priced in dollars but in restaurants and eateries it is priced in Kyats. The service of most eateries however is sometimes much slower than that of "proper" restaurants.
I am not a great fan of the oily "Burmese curry" or "Indian curry" served by Burmese restaurants; but I can recommend the Innlay Hut Indian Food house in Nyaung Shwe for original Indian curries - yes it's just a simple eatery but they make great curries. The owner Stan is actually from Nepal; "Stan the man" will keep you entertained while his mother cooks dinner.
Also highly recommended as a good cocktail place and western-style restaurant is the Pub Asiatico on Museum road. Nyaung Shwe is just a tribal mountain village in the Shan Hills, but Pub Asiatico is a surprisingly large upmarket place that one would expect in the old capital city of Yangon. It's not very pub-like (perhaps should be called Club Asiatico?) but a modern restaurant/bar with two floors and a great roof top terrace. It is certainly not an authentic Burmese restaurant; they serve pizza, burgers and fish & chips. Who said there is no nightlife in Myanmars' towns? If you are in Nyaung Shwe around new year then this is the place to be.
Wooden walkway to Maing Thauk Inn.
A resort, a hotel or a guesthouse?
On can stay in a resort on Inle lake or in a hotel or guesthouse in Nyaung Shwe; the hub of Inle. The resort on the lake are expensive (50 to 200 USD); a guesthouse or hotel in Nyaung Shwe is a lot cheaper (about 10 to 100 USD). There are no guesthouses in any of the small villages around Inle Lake; only hotels and resorts. Nyaung Shwe is the lively central town with daily markets and lots of restaurants; the resorts have peace and quiet and nice sunsets.
The resorts on the lake are not always quiet though; because there are noisy boats on the lake in the daytime. And if you stay on the lake you can have some mosquitos after sunset, in Nyaung Shwe not so much. In winter season there are few to no mosquitos in Nyaung Shwe town.
Some of the resorts which are located on the banks of Inle lake can reached by taxi; but most travel around the lake is done by longboat. However you may feel a bit stuck in a lake resort because there are no boats at night, so a dinner in Nyaung Shwe is a bit complicated. When choosing a resort it is smart to look very carefully at its restaurant review ... in most resorts you are a "captive guest". In my opinion a lake resort or a posh fenced hotel can isolate you from the charming local village life. If you want to get a feel for a small Shan town then by all means stay in Nyaung Shwe.
The hotels at the NyaungShwe canal side are mostly low budget guesthouses because there is noise from the many boats in the daytime. These will stop after sunset.
The map above is from Open Street Map (OSM) which is much better than Google maps for hiking. The Maps.me app is based on the Openstreet Map software. With tablet or smartphone with GPS you can see all the walking paths and do some independant trekking. Maps.me does not need an internet connection, it works offline with only a GPS signal.
Look at a larger map (zoom in to see the hotels)
The Yawnghwe Haw in Nyaung Shwe.
The old Shan name for "Nyaung Shwe" is Yawnghwe. The "Yawnghwe Haw" (Yawnghwe palace) is an interesting historic Shan palace in Nyaung Shwe, displaying a large number of Buddha statues. It used to be called "Museum of Shan Chiefs" but it has been renamed to the "Shan Cultural museum" in 2015. The museum seems to be run by the government ... however the entry is only 2 dollars so most of the fee must be going to salaries and maintenance. And if the museum doesn't earn its keep it might be a reason to destroy the authentic old palace and put a tourist resort in its place. There is also a small Shan State Museum in Taunggyi, a small mountain town even higher and cooler than Nyaung Shwe.
The "Yawnghwe Haw" (Yawnghwe palace) in Nyaung Shwe.
The ceremonial east fašade is flanked by two cannons.
Yawnghwe used to be ruled ruled by Saopas or Sawbwas, the Lords or kings of the small feudal kingdoms of the Shan State. The "Yawnghwe Haw" was the palace of the Saopa of Yawnghwe. In 1908 a fire destroyed the old haw located in the western quarter of the town. The ground of the old haw is now a public open space with an independence monument called Old Haw field or Independence Monument field. A new haw was constructed at the northwestern corner of the town in 1913. Under the reign of Sao Shwe Thaike, the haw was inaugurated, and it became the administrative center of the town. Sao Shwe Thaike bacame an influential figure in Burma's history as he became the first President of the Union of Burma in 1948.
Drawing of the front of the Yawnghwe Haw (Shan Cultural museum).
The exhibition inside the "Shan Cultural museum" gives very few clues about the history of the Haw so you'll have to read up on that for yourself; for example the book The Moon Princess - Memories of the Shan States, by Sao Sanda.
Most of the "Haws" or palaces in the Shan State have disappeared; destroyed during the war or demolished by the government of Burma which has always been in conflict with the Shan state. For example the grand Haw in Kengtung was demolished in 1991 by the government and a modern hotel now stands in it's place. The Hsipaw Haw is still being used as a private residence. Hsipaw's East Haw is well known due to Sao Kya Seng's tragic story told by his Mahadevi Inge Sargent in her book "Twilight over Burma: My life as a Shan princess."
The few Haws in the Shan state that survive are:
- Yawnghwe Haw, Nyaung Shwe - Museum; run by the Shan State Ministry of Culture.
- Hsipaw Haw, Hsipaw - A private residence, has daily guided tours by the Hsipaw family that owns it.
- Kandarawadi Haw, Loikaw - Now the Mingalar Haw monastic school.
- Sakhantha Haw, Kyaukme - Ruined, located on a hill near Kyaukme.
Kyaung or Burmese Monastery.
Kyaung is Burmese for monastery, and they are the most interesting spiritual buildings after the temples and pagoda's all over Burma. The Kyaungs in Bagan and Mandalay are often stone buildings, but the typical monasteries around Inle are mostly teak or hardwood buildings, sometimes surprisingly large. There are many Kyaungs around Inle lake, but only a few are on the water, for example the Jumping Cat Monastery or Nga Phe Kyaung. If you want to make amazing photos of novice monks in monasteries then Inle is the place; besides Mandalay obviously. In Mandalay the Shwenandaw Kyaung is one of the last teakwood historic monasteries. Shwe In Bin Kyaung is an active teakwood monastery in another part of Mandalay. In Bagan they are difficult to find because there are fewer active monasteries and they are located away from the major temples.
Inle lake has a few fascinating Kyaungs if you get on a bicycle and take the effort of a short bike ride. The most popular one - and a bit touristy - is located on the main access road down to Nyaung Shwe, the small and very old Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung monastery which is next to the Shwe Yan Pyay pagoda. And yes, Pyay means pagoda, not monastery. On the road to Kaung Daing there are about six or seven monasteries, though you may not notice some of the ones that are hidden behind houses or on hilltops.
Many more kyaungs are south of Inle Lake: Trip to Sankar
Monasteries or Kyaungs around Inle lake.
Fort Stedman and Sir George Scott.
Also shown on the map is the old site of the British Fort Stedman in Maing Thauk village; which was the chief city for the administration of the Southern Shan states. In 1894 the famous Deputy Commissioner Sir George Scott (en.wikipedia.org/George_Scott) moved the administrative offices from Fort Stedman to the higher elevation of Taunggyi - and thus the hill town of Taunggyi was created. Sir George Scott was also the first to introduce soccer to the Burmese, with great success (The trouser people, Andrew Marshall).
Now there is nothing left of fort Stedman and only a few pagoda's mark the place (20░ 34' 55"N, 96░ 57' 10"E). Just below it is an old British cemetery with a few gravestones (and some missing) which is extremely difficult to find, the people in the local Maing Thauk orphanage can show you exactly where the cemetery is. Here are the graves of Major Edward Baynes Nixon, Commandant of the 3rd Burma Regiment and of Lieutenant Edmund Walter Jamieson, the Adjutant of the same regiment who were murdered in 1891 by a Pathan sepoy. The full dramatic story is here: www.victorianweb.org/history
Which boat tour?
The Inle Lake boat tour is a must-do on any Burma trip. Being on the lake, the Intha fishermen, the floating villages and the aquaculture is most of the fun - but there are also a few sites to visit, like the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda or Swhe Indein hill.
The Inle lake boat tour has become one of the very popular things to do in Inle; there are for example about ten silversmith shops around the lake which cannot be all authentic. It is probably better to avoid this; you can for example customize your boat ride.
It's usually easy to get 4 or 5 people together and negotiate on the canal side with the boat driver or with the english speaking woman who arranges the trips. You can create your own boat trip: you pay, so you decide. Plan a route ahead of time and tell the driver what you want before you leave. For example you might want to avoid the posing fishermen (who expect a tip) at the lake entrance. There are plenty of real Intha fishermen on the lake but they normally don't pose for tourists.
The cost of the boat tour is about 20.000 Kyat (incl. Indein village) for a complete boat, (4/5 people) depending on the options. Some hotels may overcharge you for the trip, at the canal side it can be less. Usually a deal is a straightforward deal here, but be clear about what you want before you get into the boat. Note that the boat drivers hardly speak any English ... and the engines are quite noisy.
+MORE options for boat tours.
A few boat tour initeraries.
There are a few itinerary variations; for example there is an extra fee for going up the canals to Indein village. If you pay a fair price, about fifteen dollars (23.000 Kyat), they will skip the shops and touristy sights, but if you bargain too low the driver might go for a commission at shops and restaurants. Fortunately, the tourism at Inle Lake is on a small-scale compared to the crowds at Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
Most boat tours follow a similar itinerary, the usual boat tour goes to a silver smith, the *Phaung-Daw-U pagoda, Cheroot (cigar) making, lunch at a lake restaurant, the *Lotus Weaving factory, the Floating Garden agriculture, a floating village, and the No Longer Jumping Cat Monastery.
The extended boat tour includes Indein and can be something like this: the *Paung-Daw-U pagoda, *Indein village and hill-temple, the Paper Umbrella factory, a lunch at a lake restaurant, the *Lotus Weaving factory, a silver smith, the Floating Garden agriculture, a floating village, and the No Longer Jumping Cat Monastery.
An Alternative full-day boat tour might be focused on Nampan village in the southern end of the lake: Start at *Indein village and hill-temple to avoid the crowd, the Alodaw Pauk Pagoda in Nampan (instead of the *Paung-Daw-U pagoda), the teakwood boat-building yard (Nampan), Cheroot (cigar) making, lunch at the Burmese Cat Village at Inle Heritage Foundation, a black smith, the Floating Garden agriculture, a floating village.
The Inle Heritage Foundation at Innpawkhon village is a non-profit organization which focuses on cultural and environmental sustainability. It is a hospitality training center which runs a small resort of stilt houses, the Inle Heritage Hospitality Vocational Training School and a restaurant. www.tripadvisor.com
Inle lake highlights
(*) The best spots - but also the busiest - are:
- The boattrip inland to *Indein/Shwe Inn Thein village (costs a bit more).
- The *Lotus Weaving factory in In Paw Khone is absolutely original and unique in Burma and everywhere. Hand woven textiles in asia are expensive; and the Lotus fabrics are very expensive, but there is no sales pressure whatsoever. jtdytravels.com/2012
- The *Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda.
- The Jumping Cat Monastery or Nga Phe Kyaung is charming, take a look at the ancient buddha statues. In 2012 the government has asked the monks to cease the cat show and concentrate on meditation.
- The really best part is boating through some of the many fascinating floating villages on stilts in the lake.
- You can also try to visit one of the five day rotating markets instead of the normal markets. Well worth it.
During the high season there will be many other tourists doing the Inle lake tour; if you want to visit a quiet and authentic place get up early and go to Sankar (see below). Or do a bicycle tour around and visit the places where boat tours never go. Tip: take a sweater with you, before 10am it can be cold on the lake.
A few Pa-O (Black Karen) tribal people in the Indein/InnThein hill walkway.
Sankar, the other lake.
Inle Lake is not the only lake in the Balu Valley. Inle Lake drains through the Balu Chaung Creek on its southern end towards a reservoir popularly called "Sankar Lake" or "Sagar lake". The place to visit there is the small village of Sankar and the partly submerged stupas. Sankar can be spelled as Sangar, Samkar, Samka and Sagar. The official Google Earth name for Sankar is Samka, Myanmar but most travelers call it Sankar.
More on the Sankar Lake boat tour: Trip to Sankar (Sankar Lake Boat trip)
Wiki and Wikitravel links.
scribd.com/Michalon - A thesis on tourism, aquaculture, pesticides, fishery, deforestation, environmental issues by Martin Michalon. And information on the history of hotels and resorts on the lake.
teacircleoxford.com - Martin Michalon explains the effects of tourism on the Inlay Lake Region.
Info on the Five Day markets : http://www.myanmartour.com. It is held daily but the location rotates through 5 different sites around the lake area, including Nyaung Shwe, Heho, Taunggyi, Mine Thauk, Khaung Daing. These markets are not only visited by the Intha, but also Taungyo, Pa-O, Danu and Danaw tribal people. The Intha tribe lives on and around Inle lake itself; but many of the market visitor are Pa-O tribal people, who live in villages in the eastern mountain range and on the southern side of the lake.
A market in Bagan, 1929.
Coordinates of Nyaung Shwe and Sankar.
(Copy and paste into Google Earth.)
- Nyaung Shwe Jetty : 20.659685, 96.924743
- Nyaung Shwe Market: 20.660494, 96.931122
- Yawnghwe Haw : 20░39'48.30"N, 96░56'6.59"E
- fort Stedman near Maing Thauk: 20░34'55"N, 96░57'10"E
- Samka / Sankar village : 20.15, 96.95
- Bird Observation platform: 20.616295, 96.910885
About the author: aboutme.htm
Bicycling around Inle lake has become really popular; and people from many countries have done it and blogged about it. My bicycle map has been copied many times and, though I am not very happy about that, I take it as a compliment.
I do update the Inle Lake map regularly; and that is why I would prefer it if you place only a LINK to my map on your website.
If you have any questions; please mail me at: bytelife AT gmail.com
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