Indawgyi Lake is Myanmar's largest lake and forms the basis of the Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary. It was nominated for UNESCO protection in March 2014.
Flora and fauna
From Myitkyina, Indawgyi Lake can be reached by south-bound train to Hopin (4-5 hours; US$6 upper class). The first train of the day departs at 7:40am. From Hopin, you can reach Lonton Village at Indawgyi Lake by shared pick-up truck (4,000-5,000 kyat; 2-3 hours), by private taxi (from 80,000 kyat; 1.5-2 hours), or by motorbike (approx. 15,000 kyat; 1.5-2 hours).
Coming from the south, you can take the train to Hopin from Mandalay (19-22 hours; US$21 upper class/ 17,900 kyats sleeper) or from Naba - the nearest station to Katha - (5 hours; $5 upper class).
There is currently no entrance fee for Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary.
Indawgyi Lake can be explored by motor-powered boat, kayak or bicycle. It is also possible to take a motorbike, but generally you won't be allowed to drive yourself.
Shwe Myitzu Pagoda is the most famous cultural site at Indawgyi Lake. This 'floating' pagoda attracts around one hundred thousand people during the pagoda festival held at Indawgyi Lake in March.
Shwe Taung (Golden Mountain) at the north of Indawgyi Lake has a monastery and pagoda on top and offers great, sweeping views of the lake.
A range of adventure activities are available at Indawgyi Lake. Inn Chit Thu Tourism Group is a community based organisation that provides a number of tourism services and uses their profits for environmental conservation and livelihood projects.
Note that, due to security concerns, no overnight camping is currently possible. Foreigners need to return to Lonton Village at night.
Kayaking: Kayaks are available for hire from Inn Chit Thu for 15,000 kyat per day. The lake is too big to cover by kayak in a single day, but the southern half and the western shore (including Shwe Myitzu Pagoda) can comfortably be visited by kayak. Given the size of the lake and the relative lack of boat traffic, you'll find yourself completely alone on the lake at various times without any sound of motors.
Cycling: Bicycle hire is 7,000 kyat per day and allows you to explore the villages along the western shore and southern shores of the lake.
Trekking: Inn Chit Thu offers several day treks. Unfortunately, due to security concerns, it is not possible to trek in the mountains on the west side of the lake (closest to Lonton). Treks cost 10,000 kyat for the guide fee plus transport fee to the starting point.
Recreational fishing: Basic recreational fishing trips can also be done at Indawgyi Lake.
Boat tour: You can hire a local boatman to take you around. Expect to pay around 5000 per hour for the whole boat (including waiting time for sightseeing) maybe more, if you go to many places, but agree in advance.
Bird-watching: Indawgyi Lake has a reputation as one of Myanmar's premier bird-watching sites, especially during the winter months (December - March) when the lake attracts thousands of migratory birds on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.
Festival: Every year during the ten days before the full moon in March, the lakeshore close to the pagoda becomes super busy during the annual festival. People come from all over Kachin state to sell things, eat, drink and have fun. There are boat races, concerts etc. The peak is in the last couple of days (when the moon is full). During this time, the water level is low and you can walk over dry land to the pagoda, which is gorgeous at sunset.
There is a checkpoint at Lonton village and normally they would not allow foreigners past there (i.e. foreigners need to sleep at Lonton but can explore the rest of the lake during the day). If you are with a local and you have a place to stay (no camping!) at the villages past the checkpoint, the local could talk the military guards to let you pass and stay further on. As of March 2014 the military seem to try not to get too involved, if you are with a local person.
IndawMaHar Guesthouse in Lonton Village is currently the only guesthouse where foreigners are allowed to stay overnight. All rooms have shared bathroom (western toilet, cold shower). The guesthouse is right on the lake and has a nice, wide balcony. Price is 10, 000 kyat per person per night (January 2016)
The military-run Indawa 2 Guesthouse, also in Lonton Village, will likely also accept guests if IndawMaHar Guesthouse is full.
You need to go back to Hopin from here. Foreigners are not allowed to continue on the road past the lake that leads to a jade mine.