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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Indein is also home to a hidden treasure.
Lined with souvenir stalls, a long, pillared stairway eventually leads to the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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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*** 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?
Not recommended DIY travel; take a tour instead
Visited in June 2014