Introduction

I mentioned on the Myanmar page that if you had to choose what to keep and what to cut from your Myanmar trip, to keep Inle Lake. It is an incredible place and there are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, it looks like it’s one of the world’s largest (natural) hydroponic gardens. There are many vegetables growing in the lake, and you can see them as you go on the water taxis. Secondly, there are a number of villages (stilted homes) on the 35-km lake. Each village has a set of specialty trades and each of these villages do businesses almost exclusively with each other. It’s quite the micro-economy.

The second reason that I recommend going to Inle Lake is because the water level is going down drastically. Ironically, this is in part because of some of the things that make Inle Lake pretty cool. There are way too many plants in the lake, one of which is a non-native plant that is sucking up way too much water. The other reason is the unsustainable practices from the villages (such as building up too many homes).

Just how fast is the lake drying up? The manager of the hotel where I stayed visited Inle Lake 20 years ago, and a grown person could be completely submerged. Now, the water would be waist-level on these same adults.

General Tips

The best place to stay when you visit Inle Lake is at one of the hotels on the lake. There are hotels near the jetty, but it takes about an hour or more to get to the villages. I stayed at the Ann Lodge Heritage (read review here).
If you’re using flights to get from place to place, the airport that you’ll fly to in order to go to Inle Lake is Heho (HEH). From Heho, you’ll need land transportation to the jetty, and from the jetty, you can take a water taxi to a particular destination in Inle Lake.

Please note that there is an Inle Lake Zone Entrance fee applicable to all non-Inle Lake area residents. The fee is approximately 12,5000 Kyats or USD 10. This fee is collected in Nyaung Shwe between the Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery and where the jetty is located. However, there are additional fees for the sites too.

As mentioned in the Myanmar Overview page, the flights run in a loop, and are usually late coming into Heho. Consequently, they’re late returning back. If you’re returning to Yangon, to go back home, make sure you reserve your flight to be one of the first few flights out, and reserve your flight home to be as late in the evening as possible, just to be safe. They tend to be no more than 3 hours late, so plan accordingly.
Since the villages and the sites are on the lake, the only way to get around is using water taxis. You’ll need to hire a water taxi for the entire day since you can’t simply hail a water taxi at the sites. The hotels or tour guides/agencies can assist you with that.
There are literally a couple of ATMs that are semi-easily accessible, so it’s advisable to take enough cash with you from the ATM in front of the jetty, before getting on the water taxi to Inle Lake. For us, 30,000 Kyats was sufficient. Keep in mind that the hotels take credit cards, and for amounts greater than approximately $200 of Kyats was more than sufficient for shopping and lunches.
Inle Lake has its own cuisine, but most restaurants also offer Burmese, Shan, Chinese and Indochinese cuisines.

Most food on the lake is not locally grown. Rather, it is shipped (via train) from Yangon and Mandalay. Additionally, I would not recommend eating poultry, unless you want to be in for a night of misery.

As for other diets, you can either get vegetarian and maybe even vegan, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for gluten-free (unless you just want to eat vegetables). If you have any allergies and intolerances though, let the chef know. Also, a note about vegetarian dishes, some of them have eggs, and the eggs may or may not be fertilized, so it’s best to specify that you DON’T want eggs.

If you do end up with food poisoning, ask the hotel for electrolytes (and medicine, if you don’t have anything). They should have electrolytes available in powder form that you can mix in water.

Dinner options are limited to what’s available at the hotel restaurant since water taxis won’t operate after the sun sets. It’s not that bad in terms of selection or prices.
The region of Shan state in which Inle Lake is located has much milder climate. This is more pronounced on the lake. It’s a good idea to take a jacket or sweatshirt if you’re going to Inle Lake, particularly when you’re on a water taxi. Water taxis have blankets for additional warmth.
Since Inle Lake is in a remote area, it’s extremely important that you have all your emergency, lifesaving, and “can’t miss a dose” medications, like Epipen and asthma inhalers, with you. Even though there are one or two pharmacies in the area, they’re not on the lake. If you think you may run out, get the medicines in Mandalay or Yangon, because you won’t be able to get it there.

Other than the health and safety warnings related to food and climate, be mindful when walking on boardwalks or steps on the lake. Even though the water isn’t that deep, there’s a lot of tangling vegetation and the water isn’t exactly sanitary.

You don’t need to worry much about mosquitoes at Inle Lake, since the fish keep them in check.
As previously mentioned, the villages specialize in trades, including boat making, silk clothing, jewelry and other items made from silver, and other handmade goods.

Sites

Cost: Included in Inle Lake Zone fee.

Hours: During daytime, every day (exact hours unknown)

Time to spend: 30 – 45 min

Description:

This wooden monastery isn’t in Inle Lake, but rather outside of it, in Nyaung Shwe (before the Inle Lake entrance fee). The monastery is made of teak, and has glass murals on the halls depicting stories. The glass used in these murals is local to the region, which used to have a glass factory, and got donations from there.

Verdict: Good to see, but skippable if short on time.
Cost: Included in Inle Lake Zone fee.

Hours: 8 AM – 6PM.

Time to spend: 30 min – 1 hour.

Description:

Located in Ywama village, this pagoda has 5 ancient golden “statues” of the Buddha, probably originating from the 12th century. I put the quotes around statues because these statues that have had so much gold leaf applied to them that they look like golden rocks or eggs. Even now, people (well, men) can apply gold leaf to the statues. And, yes, only men are allowed to apply the gold leafing because women aren’t allowed to approach the statues.

Additionally, there is a boat barge housing a gigantic boat, known as the Karaweik. The Karaweik is used in a procession during an annual festival where four of the five statues are carried in the boat across the lake. The boat itself is towed by long boats with up to 100 rowers in costume.

The story about why only four of the statues are carried is that in the 1960s, when all five of the statues were used, one of the statues got lost after the boat capsized. The locals searched thoroughly in the lake for the statue, but they didn’t find it. When they returned to the pagoda, the fifth statue was inside, though no one knows how. Since then, the tradition has been to only carry four of the statues.

Verdict: Worth it – Don’t miss.
Cost: Free.

Hours: 8AM – 6PM.

Time to spend: 30 min.

Description:

This is a monastery on stilts in Inle Lake. The monastery was known as the Jumping Cat Monastery because the monks had trained the cats to literally jump through hoops. Sometime ago (not sure when), the monks stopped training the cats. I think someone else (a non-monk) was doing the demonstrations, but that practice has recently stopped because visitors got upset when the cats didn’t jump through the hoops. The monastery still has cats, but they roam freely wherever they can.

Verdict: Skippable.
Cost: Included in cost of Inle Lake Zone fee. 300 Kyat fee each for camera and video.

Hours: 8 AM – 6PM.

Time to spend: 2 – 3 hours.

Description:

The Indein Village was an ancient village (dating as far back as the Indian King Ashoka’s reign), though now the pavilion is used as a market. It’s also surrounded by groups of ancient (and some not so ancient) pagodas. The pagodas are various sizes, but compared to most of the pagodas that I saw in Yangon, Pagan, and Mandalay, these were small. Even though the pagodas are clustered together, it’s remarkable to see the different styles and depictions, especially when comparing the old pagodas to the newer ones.

Verdict: Worth it – Don’t miss.
Cost: Included in cost of Inle Lake Zone fee, but transportation arranged by guide

Time to spend: Collectively, 4 hours

Description:

Most of the sightseeing for these villages and the floating gardens comprised of the water taxi going through the waterways in the villages and between them, and the guide explaining life in the villages as well as other related details. Much of what we focused on was the differences amongst the villages, as well as understanding their ways of life.

Some of the sightseeing was in the form of going to the factory shops where different items are made. I went to a textile workshop, in Inn Pow Khon, where cloth is weaved from silk and lotus plant fiber, a carpentry workshop, in Kongli, where local boats and other items are made, and a silversmith workshop.

Seeing the weaving process in Kongli and the silversmith’s shop are especially worthwhile since industrialization is threatening these cottage industries.

Verdict: Worth it.

 

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