Hire a longtail boat for a tour of Myanmar’s most famous lake for 36,000 kyat – with villages & temples, find out the best places to visit in our ultimate Inle Lake boat tour itinerary.

Inle is a freshwater lake, situated in the highlands of the Shan plateau, approximately 800m above sea level.

As a vital waterway of the tourism industry, Inle Lake is deservedly one of the top 4 places to visit in Myanmar.

If not exactly the Jewel of the Nile, it is indeed a gem of the nation.

Coming off from the end of the Kalaw to Inle Lake trek, an entry fee of 10,000 kyat / $10.00 in 2014 is required to enter the region.

Boat entering Inle Lake

It costs foreigners 10,000 kyat to enter Inle Lake

The gateway to Inle Lake is Nyaung Shwe, a backpacker haven with backwaters that were reminiscent of  a Venice of the East.

A full-day Inle Lake boat tour can be easily arranged in one of the town’s many travel agencies.

A trip from 7:30am-4pm costs 20,000 kyat / $20.00 in 2014 for up to 5 people, lower rates possible.

Longboats in Ywama Village

Longboats waiting in Ywama Village

Inle Lake Boat Tour: On the Water

Setting off from the pier, the longtail slowly squeezes its way through the crushed inner canals of village suburbia.

In the early morning, the water traffic is heavy as boats ply the route in and out of the town, carry people and products to begin the day – along with tourists & travellers like us here at DIY Travel HQ.

Nyaung Shwe boats

The narrow lake in Nyaung Shwe is crammed with boats in the morning

Leaving reality behind, the vessel picks up speed and soon enters a vast aquatic plateau of glistening, silver-blue ripples.

At 22km long by 10km wide, the lake is not large, but drifting along the surface, the impression is expansive and other-worldly.

The day is perfect: blue skies and white puffy clouds, reflecting onto the calm, shimmery water, flanked by an unbroken chain of rolling hills.

Reflection on Inle Lake

A perfect day to be on Inle Lake

Along the shore resides the Intha people, some 70,000 ethnic Tibetan-Burman’s who live and work in the four villages surrounding the lake.

Most are self-sufficient farmers and fishermen, tending to floating gardens and catching fish to sustain their livelihoods.

Inle Lake fish farming

A fisherman in the distance on Inle Lake

The traditional fishermen practice a local technique, casting out their nets while standing at the stern on one leg and draping the other leg around the oar.

From the seat of the longtail travelling down the middle of the lake, the view is distant and diminuitive, their style is distinctive and distinguishing – it is a fleeting yet utterly fascinating sight.

Intha traditional fisherman

Traditional Intha fisherman stand on 1 leg & wrap the other around the oar as they fish

Inle Lake Boat Tour: Stop #1 Ywama Village

Ywama Village is the first stop on the day’s itinerary.

It is picturesque – and touristic.

Tasteful teak hotels, shops and restaurants sit alongside the more traditional buildings of woven bamboo and wood on stilts.

Ywama Village Stilt Buildings

Traditional buildings on stilts in Ywama Village

Its streets are a network of narrow channels and bridges.

Commerce has not been confined to land with enterprising merchants approaching also by boat.

Inle Lake is a manufacturer of handicrafts and goods such as jewellery, textiles, carvings and tobacco.

A visit to a silversmith workshop is the first of several obligatory stops:

Silversmith workshop on Inle Lake

Silversmith workshop on Inle Lake

Inle Lake Boat Tour: Stop #2 Indein Village 

On the western bank of the lake lies the interesting Indein Village.

On Inle’s 5 day rotating market circuit, Indein’s is the largest and most popular of the cycle.

Tourists wares are hawked along the route from the jetty to the marketplace central, however the site itself is largely uncommercialised and catered to local commerce.

Indein Village market

Indein Village market on Inle Lake

Apart from the Intha people, the ethnic groups that also live off the lake include the Shan, Pa-O, Intha, Lahu, Lisu, Taungyo, Danu, Ta’ang, Ahka and Jinghpaw.

The Pa-O people are one of the most distinctive tribes at the market, with their black outfits and black and red chequered turban head wraps. The women carry a bamboo sling bag.

Pa-O tribe at village market

A member of the Pa-O tribe with their distinctive black robes & colourful head wraps

Indein is also home to a hidden treasure.

Lined with souvenir stalls, a long, pillared stairway eventually leads to the Shwe Indein Pagoda.

Stairway to The long stairway path to Shwe Indein

The long stairway path to Shwe Indein Pagoda

The Pagoda itself is not unlike the standard found elsewhere in the country or as dazzling as the incomparable Shwedagon Pagoda.

What sets the site apart is the surrounding cluster of ancient stupas (12th-18th C), lying in various states of ruin and restoration among overgrown bushes and vines.

Gold and white, sandstone and bare brick, it is an incredible – and refreshing – collection.

Ancient stupas in Ancient stupas lying in ruins at Shwe Indein Pagoda

Ancient stupas lying in ruins at Shwe Indein Pagoda

In a land of temple perfection and impeccability, these monuments possess originality and character that is rare to find elsewhere.

Weather-beaten amongst rubble and wilderness, an intriguing and wild antiquated assemblage wears its age and story, in glory.

Shwe Indein temple

The temple at Shwe Indein Pagoda

Inle Lake Boat Tour: Stop #3. Paper & Umbrella-Making Workshop

On display at the front of the paper & umbrella-making workshop are women from the Kayan tribe.

Smiling Karen Long-neck woman

Smiling Karen Long-neck tribe woman

Technically, the Kayan are a subgroup of the Red Karen (Karenni) people, a Tibeto-Burman ethnic minority of Myanmar, who are in turn a sub-group of the more known Karen tribe.

Karen Tribe Woman Inle Lake

A woman from the Karen Long-neck tribe at the workshop

The Padaung are a further subgroup of the Kayan.

From the age of 5, Padaung females commit to wearing brass neck coils for the lengthening of their necks, for the length of their lives.

The most popular ideas regarding the practice are associated with aesthetics and cultural identity.

Paper & umbrella-making workshop

The Kayan women work at this paper & umbrella-making workshop

Inle Lake Boat Tour: Stop #3. Lotus Weaving Centre

One century ago, a woman named Daw Sa U plucked a lotus flower from Inle Lake for an offering at a Buddhist Temple.

She noticed thin filaments coming out from the lotus stem, which could be turned into thread.

Lotus roots for weaving

Lotus roots used for weaving

Collecting enough of these stems, Daw Sa U weaved the first lotus robe and presented it to a monk at her temple.

From this, the lotus weaving industry of Inle Lake was spun…

Lotus weaver between the threads

Lotus weaver between the threads

Khit Sunn Yinn is one of the largest hand weaving centres on the lake, specialising in silk and cotton, as well as lotus. One of the rarest fabrics in the world, lotus is undeniably the star.

A demonstration of the weaving process showed lotus stems being cut and pulled apart in halves, revealing fine threads in a neutral tone (natural dyes can be used for colour).

These are then twisted into thicker and thicker threads, building up into a full spool, ready to weave.

Khit Sunn Yinn lotus weaving centre

Inside Khit Sunn Yinn lotus weaving centre

During the monsoon season, the rains bring a surge of freshwater to the lake, from which the lotus plant grows in abundance.

The centre itself is made up of several large wooden buildings on stilts, the surrounding fields and environment is stunningly picturesque.

Stilt building on Inle Lake

One of several wooden buildings on stilts around the workshop

An extremely labour-intensive and time-consuming weaving process makes lotus one of the most expensive textiles in the world.

Estimations are highly variable, however a scarf requires around 4,000-40,000 lotus stems, depending on the size, 20 days work and can easily cost $100 or more.

Watching the weavers at work is bewitching – true artisan skill.

Woman lotus weaving on Inle Lake

Lotus weaving is hard work

Inle Lake Boat Tour: Stop #4. Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda 

The Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda is one of the most revered shrines in Myanmar, for the five ancient pieces housed atop a central pedestal in the main hall.

The Golden Rock is another holy site that is popular with tourists & locals.

Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda on Inle Lake

The Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda on Inle Lake

They are believed to represent the Buddha and his disciples, and men have been coming to cover them with gold leaf for the past 800 years, that they now, rather, resemble solid masses of gold.

Gold balls in Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda

5 gold balls on display at the temple

Inle Lake Boat Tour: Stop #5. Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery 

In the past, the Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery was better known as the “Jumping Cat Monastery” for its famous feline dwellers.

Monks use to train the cats to jump through hoops, however this practice was stopped several years ago.

Cats still roam around, but now the main attraction is the architecture and beauty of the teak wood structure, and the ornate cases and pedestals housing its collection of Buddha images.

Nga Phe Kyaung monastery

Nga Phe Kyaung aka the Jumping Cat monastery

Inle Lake Boat Tour: Stop #6 Cheroot Workshop 

A cheroot is a type of Burmese cigar – it’s made with a mix of tobacco & fragrant wood chips, then hand rolled on a leaf.

A filter made of dry corn husks is added for a stronger smoke.

Inle Lake is famous for its flavoured cheroots – cigars rolled with flavours such as pineapple, dried banana, tamarind, honey & rice wine.

On the Inle Lake boat tour, we visited a cheroot workshop similar to the one in Bago.

Inle Lake Cheroot Factory

Women hand rolling cheroots for sale

Inle Lake Boat Tour: Unfortgettable

After a long day of sights and activity, the ride back to Nyaung Shwe on the longtail is a perfect time to reflect, amongst the panoramic reflection of nature, with 4 of the 5 elements of Buddhism in view: Earth, Water, Wind and Sky.

Contemplation of the day’s engagement with the local way of life – through people, economy and culture – brings upon thoughts on the increasingly consequences of globalisation, tourism and climate change.

Local transport on Inle Lake

Local transport on Inle Lake

But at the end of the day, simply being on the lake, away from the attractions and distractions, contentment wins over concern.

The only contention is the incessant noise of the boat’s motor. Amidst all this meditation, in a moment of serendipity, the engine comes to a sudden spurt – it has run out of fuel.

The magic of Inle Lake – simply invincible.

Inle Lake in Myanmar

The end of a perfect day on Inle Lake

Accommodation in Nyaung Shwe (Inle Lake)

  • Good Will Hotel

On arrival in Nyaung Shwe, as I had not pre-booked accommodation, the trekking company from Kalaw (Golden Lily Guesthouse) had arranged for the transportation of my bigger backpack to be left at Good Will Hotel.

It was perfectly adequate, a single room was around 11,000 kyat / $11.00 and a double room was around 12,000 kyat / $12.00.

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A Perfect Longtail Boat Tour of Inle Lake

 

*** The Final Word – An Inle Lake boat tour is one of the most unforgettable experiences in Myanmar ***

What’s your favourite lake in the world?

2 Shovels

Not recommended DIY travel; take a tour instead

Visited in June 2014