INLE LAKE travel guide
Inle Lake has become an iconic location to visit simply because of the juxtaposition of the floating gardens of reeds, silt, and bamboo in the backdrop of the Shan State’s breathtaking mountains. Famous for their one-legged boat rowers, Inle Lake is also perfect for relaxing boat rides, ambling walks, or long trekking trips into the surrounding Shan villages of the Pa-O, Intha, and Danu ethnic minority groups.
The main body of the lake is accessed by a narrow waterway north of the lake, which leads to the town of Nyaungshwe. The boat ride from the town to Inle Lake will take visitors past waterside temples and villages as well as the patient, quiet herons in the quiet, less populated areas. On the lake itself, there are several ‘floating’ villages to visit as well.
A major attraction for the lake is the leg rowers, fishermen who artfully steer their boat around the lake while standing. They keep one leg wrapped around an oar, which pivots on their hip, and uses their other leg to balance atop of their boat while simultaneously ready to submerge a fish trap into the waters below. Beyond their fishing prowess, the Intha people are also talented gardeners, cultivating flowers and vegetables over a floating tangle of water hyacinth, anchored to the lakebed by bamboo.
Going further down the waterways branching off the lake, are also opportunities to see and visit the friendly locals. South of the lake is another long and narrow waterway which leads to the 17th century ruins of Sankar where Shan and Pao-O villagers live harmoniously. Also in that area is the ancient Tharkong Pagoda, where legend states that an early Burmese king founded it.
The mountainous area around the lake offers many opportunities for trekking and walks that the more adventurous travelers will enjoy. From Nyaungshwe at the lake’s northern end going into the Shan hills to the east will take you to Pa-O villages and breathtaking views of the lake along the journey. Walks through rice paddies around the lake will also bring you to the numerous Shan stupa ruins that are dotted around the countryside.
Inn Thein Pagoda Complex
Inn Thein is a temple complex of over 1,000 structures on the shores of one of the villages near Inle Lake, accessed by a boat journey through the gentle currents of a river tributary. Crumbling in places and slightly derelict, the temples give visitors a sense of stepping back into time, having endured hundreds of years of weathering. Many temples boast intricate stone reliefs of religious motifs, and the overgrown moss on top only adds to the allure.
Kakku is a temple complex of nearly 2,500 stupas on roughly a square kilometer of land in the heart of the Pa-O territories. When counting the surrounding area, the number doubles to over 5,000 stupas. The reason for the dense proliferation remains a mystery, but the sight of the stupas, which date as far back as the 11th century, rising above the plains is quietly wondrous.
Kakku is 26 miles south of Taunggyi. The drive there weaves through numerous Pa-O villages and beautiful landscapes as the town is bordered by the Khe Le mountains to the west and Naungmon to the east.
For the Kakku Paya Pwe, or Harvest Festival in mid-March, thousands of Pa-O pilgrims come near and far to attend. Not many visitors detour this far in explorations of Myanmar, but the intrepid few are rewarded.
PHAUNG DAW U PAGODA FESTIVAL
In October Inle Lake hosts the famous Phaung Daw U festival, when rowing races are held throughout the eighteen day festival. Around hundred leg rowers balance on one foot and synchronize their movements paddle and to showcase skills against competing teams.
Main activities of the festival revolve around processions held for four revered Buddha images which are transported from Phaung Daw U pagoda on festive royal barge to villages where ceremonies take place.
According to local legend centuries ago all Buddha statues were lost in the lake with sunken boat. Only 4 out of 5 could be found. The fifth Buddha had miraculously returned to its place at the Phaung Daw Oo pagoda.
TAUNGGYI BALLOON FESTIVAL
Tauggyi Balloon Festival is one of the biggest festivals in Myanmar. Tens of thousands of people gather to celebrate during the full moon late October or early November each year. The festival’s origins come from the practice of floating one’s sins and bad deeds away via lanterns during this time of the year.
All the balloons are made of bamboo and Shan paper. During the day you can see animal shaped balloons being launched and in the evening larger regular hot air balloons with small lanterns attached to them flying high above the crowds before starting to release fireworks.
From Yangon, Inle Lake is best reached by domestic flight to the regional Heho Airport, an hour’s drive (40km) from the Lake. Flights depart daily from Yangon airport. Most departures are in the morning and early afternoon and are operated by several domestic airlines including Myanmar National Airways, Golden Myanmar Airlines and Air KBZ. The flight time is approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. From Heho Airport, private transportation, taxi or a pickup service can be arranged to the hotels surrounding the lake.
Another option is to take an overnight bus. Overnight buses depart from Aung Mingalar Bus Station, located on the northern outskirts of Yangon. Buses depart frequently and most bus companies offer VIP class buses with comfortable and spacious seats arranged in rows of three. Reputable bus companies include Elite Express, JJ Express, and Boss Express. Most buses will depart between 6-7pm and the journey time is approximately twelve hours. You will arrive at town of Nyaung Shwe, on the north shore of Inle Lake, at around 6-7am. From here you’ll need only a short transfer to the hotels in the town or surrounding the lake.
From Mandalay, the options include a domestic flight or overland journey either by private transfer or bus service. Flights from Mandalay airport to Heho airport depart daily and are operated by several domestic airlines including Myanmar National Airlines, Air KBZ and Golden Myanmar Airlines. The flight time is only 30 minutes. Buses depart daily both in the morning and in the evening; the journey time is approximately nine hours. Reputable bus companies again include Elite Express, JJ Express, and Boss Express.
Inle Lake is best explored by boat. Long tail boat trips can be arranged in Nyaung Shwe or at any of hotels situated on the shores of the lake.
Bicycles and Mountain Bikes can also be rented out in Nyaung Shwe and many of the hotels around the lake. A bike tour along the edge of the lake and the surrounding villages makes for an active yet relaxing day trip
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