Despite its turbulent past, Myanmar remains beautiful. At Inle Lake, you can experience a unique culture, pristine landscapes, and explore the lifestyle of the locals, who live off the lake and are basically self-sufficient.
Myanmar’s second largest lake is located in the hilly region of Shan State, an expanse of freshwater lakes that are home to snails and fish that are unique in the world. Probably best known for the fishermen who glide across the lake in rickety wooden boats, manoeuvred by one paw, a visit to Inle Lake is considered a rite of passage for all who visit Myanmar.
The Inta people are the indigenous people of the Inle Lake area. They lived in log cabins on the lake and perched in small villages on the lake’s edge and shore. Most people are self-sufficient farmers and fishermen whose daily lives are intertwined with the lake. Their gardens where they grow their crops often float on the water, sitting on a pedestal of weeds and bamboo rows near the lake, feeding on the mineral-rich lake water. They traveled through the lake in small wooden boats. Because of the way these gardens are built, they rise and fall with the water table, so they can withstand flooding during the rainy season.
Inle Lake is considered one of the most sacred places in Shan State. If you travel here at certain times of the year, this becomes more apparent with the big festivals held there. Inle Lake hosts some famous festivals and important events throughout the year, the biggest of which is the Phaung Dawo Oao Pagoda Festival, a festival that takes place during three weeks in October and November. Five gold-covered statues of the Buddha were taken from the pagoda, transported in fine barges (each with a golden bird on the bow) to the opposite shore of the lake, and spent the night in each village.
January is the annual Dharma festival, followed shortly by the full and dark moons. The full moon and the dark moon are two particularly important days on which people traditionally do their best to do good and worship at the local pagoda.
Every April, the Songkran Water Festival in Thailand is celebrated all over Myanmar. Understandably, with a large area of holy water right on our doorstep, this is the most enjoyable and anticipated time of year for those living in the Inle Lake area.
On the Buddha’s birthday in May, there is a watering ceremony for the sacred Gyaltsen Bayan Tree, preceded by a celebration known as the Yadanar Mann Aung Kason, where women carry offerings in the street and men play traditional music.
With all that in mind, it’s no surprise that the lake itself is attractive to visitors, but there’s even more to this small area. Against a backdrop of beautiful green hills, you can take a local bike tour, take an authentic cooking class, visit a Burmese monastery, or taste wine in a vineyard.
Tourist accommodation in Myanmar is still somewhat scarce compared to many other places in Southeast Asia. While there are certainly hotels and a handful of hostels here, there is still plenty of choice to satisfy the budget traveler.
For a comfortable mid-range stay, Shwe Inn Tha Floating Resort (Thar Lay Village, Nyaungshwe 11411) is the perfect choice if you don’t want to sacrifice family comfort. Many of the rooms are located on the water in local style chalets with covered beds, and the decor throughout is in keeping with the surroundings.
Among the few hotels is the Italian chain Ostello Bello (No. 1, Win Ward, Nyaungshwe 11221), which has several hotels in various locations throughout Myanmar. Their restaurant serves Western and local cuisine and offers a variety of dormitory options and private rooms, all with comfortable beds.
There are also more luxurious/high-end accommodations such as Villa Inle Boutique Resort (Maing Thauk Village, Nyaungshwe 11181) with stunning views of the lake and surrounding countryside.
Located in an enclave on the east side of Inle Lake, Inle Princess Resort, Inc. offers the most spacious suites and the most peaceful setting. The laid-back beauty and spa treatment room has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the lake and mountains in the distance.
Food and drink
One of the most famous delicacies in the In-ri area is San Ramen, and the best place to eat San Ramen is at Phaung Daw Side Rd, Nyaungshwe, near In-ri. This dish is not unlike the ramen of udon noodles, thick and chewy noodles served with a delicious broth (though you can also choose not to serve it with broth, but with a salad).
Then there’s the infamous Lahpet Thoke or “tea salad” which is as distracting as marmalade. You can decide for yourself what you like or dislike about this dish at Bamboo Hut (War Daw Village, Nyaung Shwe).
Golden Moon (located on stilts in the middle of the lake, take a boat taxi to Golden Moon) restaurant serves delicious Burmese tomato salad and traditional whole fish, covered with fragrant fresh herbs and spices, then steamed or deep fried. You can enjoy the spicy Ngapi fish sauce, or you can add a plate of fermented yellow beans to your meal, depending on your adventurous spirit.
Other local delicacies not to be missed are traditional Burmese curries, Shan rice and Mohinga noodle soup. All of this can be found at the traditional style Ancestor Restaurant (Phaung Daw Pyan Rd, Nyaungshwe).
Drinking is not a big part of life in Myanmar, so you won’t find as many bars as you would in Western countries or those used to catering to tourists. Still, there are a few places to go, especially the Inle Palace Cocktail Bar (Main Tauk Inn Village, Inle Lake), which has a distinctive design and offers an unparalleled setting on the lake.
Cafes and teahouses
There are several cafes near Inle Lake where you can get a decent cup of coffee and even find some freshly baked pastries like The French Touch (Myt Lae Quarter, Nyaungshwe) freshly baked croissants and pain au chocolat every morning.
There’s also the Pleasant Garden Cafe (Kansas Village Road, lwal Tan Dam, Inle, Nyaungshwe), where you can grab a coffee and see the sights. Walk through the floral arches outside and sip your coffee on the terrace with a view of the lake and surrounding farmland.
Tea houses, on the other hand, are much richer, as they are an important part of social activities and an integral part of daily life in Myanmar. If you want to experience more local and authentic tea houses (since Myanmar is not known for coffee production), then head to The Inle Tea Saloon (Nandawoon Quarter, Nyaung Shwe), or simply keep an eye out where the locals stop by low benches and sip green tea.
Another Burmese tea offering is the traditional, rustic-style Thukha Café (Lan Ma Taw Street Nyaungungshwe).Thukha is the best place to experience authentic Burmese tea and is popular with locals at breakfast time. They also serve delicious sweet pastries that are the perfect companion for your tea.