Inle lake: travel guide

Inle lake is a must-visit destination in Myanmar. I didn't fully understand why Inle lake is so popular among tourists, but now, after being there I could say this was one of the best experience in Myanmar....

One-legged fishermen on the Inle lake


How to get there

You will probably live in the nearby village of Nyangshwe where the major part of travelers settle down. There are many of the hotels and restaurants, both cheap and expensive - whatever you like. Below are several options how to get to Nyang Shwe.

The easiest way is to get there by buses that are available from Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan. One of the best bus company JJExpress offers comfortable buses for the 19$ per person.

Our experience:
We went from Inle lake to Yangon by JJExpress bus. It was very comfortable, but the part of the road went through mountains so it was very curly and there were some people vomiting in the bus. I have made reservation with JJExpress online through their FB page and both times it was ok. 

Another option is to go there by train. This option is very slow but it is a wonderful way to explore the country by train as you will ride in the mountains, sitting in the couch with local people, enjoying nice views and feeling true Myanmar. If you are in hurry, better to avoid this option, but if you are slow traveller it is worth to try it.

There are two daily trains from Thazi to Shwenyaung (at 5am and 7am, but it is better to check time schedule here seat61). Be ready to spend 10 hours in the very slow train   (however chairs are quite comfortable if you will go in the upper class coach). From Shwenyaung  there is 12 km ride to Nyang Shwe  by tuk tuk (be ready to pay at least 2000 kyat per person or 5000 per tuk tuk).

To go to Thazi you should take the Mandalay-Yangon train and probably stay overnight in Thazi. There are two guesthouses near train station, both have the same price and very simple rooms (room with shared shower 15$, with private shower 25$).

Train from Thazi to Shwenyaung (Inle lake)

Our experience:
We have tried this option on our way from Mandalay to Inle lake, with overnight stay in Thazi guesthouse “Wonderful”.

Next morning we took the train from Thazi to Kalaw and have one night in Kalaw (this small town is quite nice, but there is nothing to do unless you want to go trekking to Inle lake). In Kalaw we have lived in Golden Kalaw Inn, situated right near the centre of the town. Occasionally, we got one of the best room in this hotel that has two windows and entrance to public balcony with nice views over the town, but overall the hotel is gloomy. The rest of the rooms are dark and lack of sunlight. But it is ok for the one night stay. Breakfast is good. And the hostess is very helpful if you need some information or advices.

Next day we took the train to Shwenyaung, from where went to Nyangshwe.

How much does it cost

Entrance fee
You will pay 10$ per person entrance fee to enter Inle lake zone. This ticket is valid for 7 days.

Boat trip
Boat trip is a must-do thing to do here, it usually costs from 15000 kyats (12$): it depends on how far you want to go. for example, if you want to go to Indein (and you should do this as this place is incredible!) the driver will probably ask for additional 5000 kyats, but it is really worth to pay!

Bike for rent
You may rent a bike to travel around Inle lake on your own, bike usually cost 2$ for the whole day, but they are quite old. So choose attentively and better make a quick test ride. If you want modern mountain bike be ready to pay at least 10$ instead.

Things to do

1. Boat trip
As you may guess the main attraction here is boat trip and of course it is a must-do. I have read a lot about Inle lake and I didn’t expect much of it as it seems to be too touristic and overcrowded. But now I should say that boat trip was one of the best in my life.

Houses on stilts on Inle lake

I was so impressed by the life on the lake, by the villages that look like ordinary ones - with school, post office, cafes, except of water canals instead of roads and all houses on stilts. I liked all workshops that we have visited (drivers of the boats usually will bring you to one of the numerous workshops around the lake). It was interesting to know about lotus weaving, look how women make cheroot cigarettes by hand and witness silver crafts.

Women working on the small cheroot factory. Smell on this factory was fantastic!

It is very simple to organise the boat trip in Nyangshwe. First you could ask about boat trip in the hotel or in any travel agency around the town, but the price may be slightly higher. The cheapest and the easiest way is to go directly to the boat jetty (GPS: 20.660438, 96.925205) and be sure - driver will find you! There are several boat jetties located nearby, so just walk along the river (start from the bridge and then go left) and you will understand where to catch the boat.

Boat jetty. View from Inle Star Hotel.

Just ask him about the route he will go you through (or you can prepare your own route if you want). Usually the trip takes around 6 hours and he drives you to several workshops, along the villages, to the cat monastery and float gardens.

We arranged the boat trip the evening before. While we were walking around the town, driver of the boat came to us and ask if we want to go to the boat trip tomorrow. He explained the route he will do and so we agreed to meet him at 8 o`clock next morning near our hotel.

I really advise you to pay 5$ more and go to the Indein where you will find old ruined pagodas. It is a little bit farther from the common route. Indein is a nice village (by the way if you want you can get there overland but it is 30 km away from Nyangshwe) with old 13th centuries pagodas. We were impressed by how incredibly beautiful they are even in so bad condition.

Ruined pagodas in Indein


2. Make a circle by bicycle
Explore the suburban areas around the lake by bicycle, it may be not so exciting as your boat trip but it worth an extra day spending near the lake.

Circle route for bicycles around Inle lake

In total we have ridden 37 km from which about 7 km where done by boat crossing the lake. We have started at 8 o`clock in the morning and it was so nice to ride while it was cool. Road from Nyangshwe to the first left turn is bumpy and not as pleasant, but as soon as you turn left it becomes good enough to enjoy your journey.

First you will pass by hot spring that seems pricey (8$ per person) for us so we didn’t visit them. We have visited pagoda on the hill 1 km away from Kaung Daing village. Walking around the village was very interesting, too.

In Kaung Daing village

Finally, we were ready to find the boat jetty, but the boat driver found us again and even reduced the price, so we followed him to the boat. As I understand there is no main boat jetty as there are several canals that reached the village, so probably it is better to find the driver somewhere in village (or he will find you). We paid 5000 kyats (4$) for crossing the lake from Kaung Daing to Maing Thauk. Driver helped us to ship our bicycles to the boat and we started our journey across the lake, that takes around 10 minutes.

In Maing Thauk we approached to the long-long pier, on the left there are floating gardens, where locals worked from boats.

Pier in Maing Thauk

There is a forest monastery up on the hills but it was so hot and I was quite tired, so we decided to take a rest a little bit and go in the home direction.

On the way home we visited Red Mountains winery. It is located on the hill, we left our bicycles on the parking and went by foot there. 5 minutes walking and you are rewarded with nice views over vineyards and nice restaurant with terrace.

Terrace in Red Mountain Winery

We were right on time there, as there are free tours around winery at 12pm, 2pm and 4pm.  Tour was very short and vinery itself is small enough. We were shown the hall with metal containers from Italy, machine for sticking labels and that’s all.

Inside Red Mountain Winery

Winery history starts from 2002 when French winemaker decided to open the winery nearby Inle lake. He bought winery equipments and imported grape from France and Spain. Now they have 75 hectares of vineyards and they produce 120 000 bottles of wine per year. After excursion we ordered wine degustation (3$ per person) and pizza. Degustation includes 4 kinds of wine - sauvignon white, muscat white, shiraz red and late harvest white. Pizza was quite tasty as for the Myanmar. We enjoy drinking wine and nice views and spent a good hour there. 

3. Kakku pagodas
We want to go to Kakku with its old pagodas but it appears that the only way to get there is taxi that cost around 50USD from Nyangshwe. It seemed too expensive for us, but I consider it is an interesting place if you can afford it or you will find another travels to share taxi expenses.

4. Shwe Yan Bye Monastery
Several kilometres north from Nyangshwe there is a wooden monastery with oval windows. We came there by bicycles just before the sunset.

Novice monks were studying in the monastery. It is a good place nearby Nyangshwe if you want to go somewhere in the evening for a couple of hours.

Where to stay

You will probably live in the nearby village Nyangshwe, where most of the hotels situated.

As everywhere in Myanmar hotels are not as cheap as you may expect. Be ready to pay at least 15$ for the cheapest double room. It is better to live along the main street  Yone Gyi or near the boat jetty (GPS: 20.660438, 96.925205).

There are some high-level hotels just on the Inle lake coast, but be ready to pay much and live a little bit in estrangement.

Our experience: we have lived in two hotels.

First was Inle Star Hotel. We paid 25$ per night for the standard room. Hotel is very nice. We had light quiet spacious room with view over pagoda. Breakfast was very tasty with pancake and the egg any style you like. It is served on the roof with good views over boat jetty. The only disadvantage was very weak wifi signal and very slow internet. But this is quite common problem in Myanmar. Location is very nice, just near boat jetty and very close to the main street with a lot of shops and cafe.

The second was Nanda Wunn Hotel. We have moved there as we decided to spend two more times in Nyangshwe, but Inle Star was unfortunately full. We paid the same price there but it was like chalk and cheese. Room seems to be 100 years old with aged furniture. Breakfast was awful, we didn’t ate anything. It is located on the main road, but rather far from boat jetty.

Where to eat

Food in Nyangshwe village, the main stop for travellers, varies in prices depending on how fancy place you want to eat in. The cheapest food starts from 1$ per meal (fried noodle, noodle soup or fried rice) and can be found in the so called “Night market” (GPS: 20.660494, 96.931122). There are several “cafes” with sitting area and quite tasty food. Locals eat there. 

For more romantic and cosy atmosphere go to one of the numerous restaurants along the main road, prices there start at 3$ per meal.

Video about our trip to Inle Lake

Hope this travel guide was useful for you. If you have questions, don't hesitate to ask in the comments!

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