In the region around the Inle lake in Shan state you find beautiful lake landscapes, green hills and unique ways of life and culture around the water. The mountain and lake panorama with floating villages, one legged fishermen and golden pagodas make Inle lake a very unique and scenic area.
Stay: There are countless resorts and hotels around the lake and several budget options in Nyaungshwe. We stayed at Aureum Palace Resort & Spa in Maing Thauk on the eastern side of the lake which has large pretty villas directly at the water. It’s also very well situated to explore the area. But most of the big chains have hotels around here and there is not a big difference between them.
Do: Nyaungshwe is the biggest town near Inle lake with a layed-back backpacker flair. You find supermarkets, shops and eateries here, mostly around the main road Yone Gyi Lan. The Yadana Man Aung-Pagoda in the middle of town is worth a visit as well as the Mingalar market. Near the main road on Lan Ma Taw road you find the Trinity Family shop which sells beautiful paper lamps and stationeries handmade by families from Pindaya.
A highlight two kilometers north of the town is Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung a lovely old teak monastery. The oval windows and especially the adjacent pagoda with hundreds of small Buddhas sitting in the walls make this a wonderful place.
Another highlight is the Shwe Inn Dein Paya in the southern Indein village. It’s actually a huge complex with thousands of old and new, small and large, stone and gold pagodas. A roofed path starts right at the waterfront and leads up to the temple and the incredible pagoda jungle.
Around the lake you find many small villages, many with stilt houses right on the lake. Maung Thauk on the eastern side is a very pretty village. Many locals offer to take you on a small tour through the village’s small water streets, which is especially lovely in the afternoon light. You should always try to negotiate the price for a tour. You’ll also be offered day tours to all the sights around the lake.
A lovely way to explore the region mostly by your own is by doing a day tour with bike and boat. Many accommodations rent out bicycles and the main road around the lake is well paved. You can start at Maing Thauk and drive south to Nampan. Every fifth day the rotating market takes place in this village and you can buy everything from fruits to spices and clothes. Here you can negotiate a price for a drive across the lake to the Inle Heritage House. It’s a lovely traditional building complex where you can learn about the Shan and Intha culture. There is also a very good and popular restaurant, a nice shop, a burmese cat sanctuary as well as hotel rooms. From there the boat driver will take you to the western part of the lake. On your way you pass the Phaung Daw U-Pagoda, which you could visit as well. At the west side you can mount your bike again and drive north through scenic bamboo forests, small villages and rice fields. In Khaung Daing you will find someone who takes you across the lake one more time back to Maing Thauk.
Kalaw is a former British colonial hill station in the Shan mountains. It’s a nice day trip from Inle lake. The market is bright and lovely as well as the Aung Chang Tha temple with it’s mirror-covered stupa. Close by on Kone-The road the Poe Poe bakery bakes delicious banana cake and other sweets. There is also another nice, small traditional paper shop on the street. Kalaw is famous for the hiking and trekking possibilities in the green hinterland. For proper tours you need a guide otherwise you get lost quickly and just won’t find the nice hiking trails. On your own you can do the Viewpoint hike, it takes two hours and starts at the Hnee pagoda. From there it leads along the, depending on the season, very dusty or very muddy road up into the hills. You will come to a nice little restaurant called View Point Nepalese restaurant in an orange plantation from where you have a great view overlooking the countryside with green hills and small villages. However, even this hike is much better with a guide, who will lead you through the fields and not along the road.
Eat: In Nyaungshwe you find many simple, good restaurants and eateries. One Owl Grill is a nice place to hang out, eat a soup or have a cocktail. Also great is the restaurant in the ViewPoint Eco Lodge & Fine Cuisine. They cook the most delicious burmese dishes with local, fresh ingredients like Taro and Banana leafs and have a lovely terrace facing the canal. All across the villages you find small shops and mini markets where you can buy groceries and drinks.
Getting around: From the small Heho airport it’s about an hour drive to Nyaungshwe, the main town near the lake. From there it takes about twenty minutes to Maing Thauk or to Khaung Daing on the western side. We rented bikes in the hotel and also arranged a driver via the hotel who took us to and around Kalaw. The drive takes about two hours.
Notes: Around the lake you find many locals who offer to take you on tours across the lake which can be a bit annoying. When taking a boat trip you should negotiate the good price. They might stop at some souvenir shops and want you to buy something but just make clear you don’t want to. Think about the weather conditions and extreme heat when taking a bike or boat tour. Start early and pack a hat. Also, it’s best to always have your entrance ticket to the Inle area with you, that you have to buy at arrival, as you might need to show it at some rare checkpoints.