Inle Lake is a shallow lake in the middle of Myanmar, south-east of Mandalay. The lake is 22km long, and is densely inhabited by many different tribes.
The easiest way to get into Inle Lake (and the most comfortable) is by domestic flight. The closest airport is in Heho, which is a taxi-ride (about 1 hour) away from the lake itself (walking down the road from the airport, towards the highway, should see quoted fares drop, if not, try your luck hailing a taxi or passing pickup on the highway itself). Taking a taxi from the airport can be quite expensive, from 25 000 - 40 000 Kyats. If you baulk at the high fare, the taxi drivers will attempt to gather other travelers to share the taxi and split the fare, so there is a good chance you will end up paying alot less by sharing your taxi. By comparison a taxi from Yangon airport to the city centre (45 min.) is just 6000 Kyats or 7 USD. A good way to save money is to book a taxi in advance with your guesthouse, they usually charge about 15 000 Kyats. Prices for flights are around US$110 from Yangon and US$75 from Mandalay, but unlike bus companies the government is heavily involved in the domestic air market, a good chunk of your money will be going into their hands.
A cheaper, but less comfortable, option is that which most Myanmar people take - the bus. Buses depart daily, and cost around US$20 from Yangon (13 hours) or time from Mandalay. A very slow and uncomfortable bus is available for $9 from Bagan. These buses will get you there, but they are not really designed for larger westerners, and are quite cramped (passengers picked up along the way often end up sitting in the aisle). Overnight buses do run and with the new road between Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw the time taken for the trip has been shortened. Large Westerners can squeeze in OK and if they have booked ahead will have a seat; wealthy locals will book two seats to ensure greater comfort. Do not expect much sleep on over night trips as loud music and or video will be played over a screen at the front of the bus.
Pick-Up / Line-ka
A very cheap option from Taunggyi is a pick-up (1 hour and around US$0.40).
You can walk around town easily. Many bike rentals available for 1000-1500 Kyats per day, great for also touring the surroundings.
There is a $5 entry fee per person to the lake, charged by the government. This fee typically gets collected on the bus or at the airport when you arrive.
The Lake - a boat trip on the lake is a must do. Unfortunately, it is also one of the biggest tourist traps in Myanmar, because you will visit at least 6 workshops (i.e. shops), on a half-day tour (only increasing when your tour is longer). Most of the workshops are only set up for tourists.
Day tours are available for only the top half of the lake (~10000 kyat for half day tour, ~12000kyat for half day tour + floating market) or including the south of the lake (recommended!) (~15000 kyat). Note that in comparison to other boat trips, this is very cheap, because the boat drivers get good commissions for anything you buy at the many shops you visit. Typical shops are clothing (about twice as expensive for the same item than elsewhere in the country), silverware and jewellery, lacquerware & tobacco. If you want to spend more time on the lake and less time shopping, be sure to tell the boat driver clearly. - Prices for Apr 2013: We couldn't find a boat under 16,000 kyat for a full day tour. If you get 4 to 5 people on the boat they will get the price to 4,000kyat per person - remember to ask for an Umbrella/parasol, it gets HOT!
- Inle Boy, Nyaungshwe (near Shwe Hin Thar Guest House on the canal), ☎ 09-428331679. Will take you on an all-day extended cruise to the south of the lake, skipping the shopping extravaganza you'll be subjected to by other tour operators. Get some temples, lots of boat time around villages, sunset. Better yet, it's 40,000 kyat for the boat, so with 4-5 people, it's a better deal than the glorified mall circuit everyone else sells. Just tell Inle Boy "the south route - no shops, NO SHOPS" and he has an itinerary ready. Make sure your driver takes you to the bridge (sort of a junior Ubein Bridge) and be aware that despite their assurances, he will most likely speak almost no English. Don't buy bus tix from Inle Boy, as his price is way above market. But the boat tour was great. 40,000.
- Mr A Tun (Mu Kyi), Nyaungshwe (on the big road if you come from the market/jetty area, just half a block past the pizzeria restaurant (golden kite) on the left hand side). great little tour company, run only by Mu Kyi, that tries to differentiate itself a little from the many other tour companies in Nyaungshwe. Her husband passed away a few years ago and she is raising her two adorable young children by herself. She is friendly, helpful and also speaks fluent English and doesn't rip off tourists like some dodgier places in town. The bus ticket to Yangon is also 1,000 kyat cheaper than elsewhere (14,000).
Bird Migration - Another worthwhile experience that most tourists miss is to see some of the thousands of waterbirds that use Inle Lake either as a breeding site or on migration. Some are rare species difficult to see anywhere else. December and January are the best times, although some birds, like the spectacular Pheasant-tailed Jacana, are best seen in their breeding plumage during the rainy season. The Lake is a wildlife sanctuary and the local warden can arrange a knowledgeable guide who knows the English names and can show you where the birds are for a reasonable fee (about 12000kyat at this writing, not including boat and boatman.) This fee goes to support the staff of the cash-strapped sanctuary. Bring your own binoculars and get out early when the birds are most active. Ask at your lodging to make arrangements.
Bike Ride - take a day to ride through surrounding villages. Just check your rental bike carefully before leaving.
Hike - day hikes in the surrounding hills, or 3 day hikes to Kalaw are available, and are highly recommended. Seek out Than The, a local guide who knows the area very well and comes highly recommended. Ask for him at Win's Massage business. Another excellent guide is Dante, which you can hire from the Agency called Thu-Thu, on the main street near the market. He and Mr. Cook will provide you the best information on the area and the best food you'll eat in Myanmar. A typical day hike usually costs about 10,000 Kyats per person and starts at 8 AM and ends at 4-6 PM. Be warned that the hikes can be very exhausting because it involves a lot of walking (typically 20 km, but you can ask the guide to shorten the trip if you are tired), walking up steep paths and the heat (especially in April) can make it quite tiring too. Bring plenty of water (2-3 litres per person) as it can be difficult to buy clean water since you won't pass any shops, and of course good hiking shoes or boots. On a typical trip one will walk through mountains, forests and many villages inhabited by hill tribes (but don't expect to see them dressed in fancy hill tribe costumes. This is real life and not set up for the tourists). Even if a hike is tiring, it gives the opportunity to get a glimpse of real life around Inle Lake and see some nice scenery too. It's usually not a tourist trap like the boat trip on the lake often is.
- Hiking guide: Sunny Day Tour Services, West of market, Nyang Shwe Township (Follow the road down from the bridge. You will be able to see this on your left on one of the crossing streets), ☎ [email protected]. From this place you can hire a hiking guide for a very reasonable price. The guide Ko Thwe speaks excellent English and is able to organise hikes flexibly, depending on where you want to go. He can also guide you to Kalaw. Approximately 10 000 khyats..
Hot Springs - Rent a bike and cycle the bumpy road for 45 minutes towards the mountains to visit the hot springs for a relaxing afternoon. $8 per person for access to the private pools and includes a towel. The Hot Springs are actually 3 swimming pools in a big concrete spa centre, so you do not go there for the natural surroundings. The bike ride to the spa however is a very scenic route. There is a full bar available.
Red Mountain Winery - Rent a bike and cycle about 3 km outside of town to visit the Red Mountain Winery. Great for sunset views. There is free WiFi available as well as a full restaurant menu of local and Western specialties. Wine tasting is 2,000 kyats to try 4 different types of wines, which aren't bad.
- Massage @ Phyu Phyu's Bamboo Hut, Yone Gyi Rd (near bridge). Visit Phyu Phyu's Bamboo Hut for traditional burmese massage by one of Phyu Phyu's family members. This wonderful young woman (with the nicest family) can also book boat trips (and guide you), canoes or trekking.
Stand Up Paddling (SUP) - Learn to Stand Up Paddle Inle-Style (Smiling Moon). Try your hand (or feet!) at learning to paddle a boat like the locals. When we were there, only the guide U-Paw-San at Smiling Moon was willing to teach us, but no doubt others will be joining in soon. They teach the stroke, balance and navigation required to paddle your own boat. The fisherman on the lake make stand up paddling by foot look simple. It's definitely not, but it sure is fun trying.
- Internet @ iNet, Ahletaung Kyaung Rd (First right past Smiling Moon restaurant). Cheapest internet in town (k400/hr) but still fast. Don't pay the rude people at Comet (more than double the price) for internet.
- Pancake Kingdom, by the bridge at the canal. This place has good Western pancakes (more like crepes here). Lots of options, both savory and sweet. WiFi available for 500kyats/hour. Pleasant quiet atmosphere with outdoor and indoor seating. Great service. There is an internet cafe with computers attached for 800 kyats/hour (Apr 2013 prices), Internet reliability was hit and miss.
- Golden Kite, Yone Gyi and Myawaddy Road, ☎ +9508129327. Some say it's one of the best restaurant's in Inle (Yaungshwe), and owner Mio personally makes the pasta and wood-oven pizza in Nyaungshwe. Others think the pizza and past is over-priced and over-rated, based on recent visits. Their chocolate cashew pancake is excellent and they also have cheap drinks (mojito for 1500). Open until 11pm.
- Unique Superb Food, 3 Myawady Road, Nyaung Shwe Township (Near Remember Guesthouse and Buddha Museum.). The name is rather cheesy and the restaurant is small and doesn't look very promising. They are slow at cooking too. However, they make superb food, and it is fairly cheap. Around 3000 Kyats for a main dish.
- Aurora Restaurant, No. 1 Yonegyi Road, Nandawunn Quar., Nyaung Shwe (opposite Hotel Amazing, east end of town, directions cave and wineries). Burmese run restaurant with traditional Burmese, Chinese and Pasta dishes. The portions are large. The handmade noodles are worth a try. 2000kyat.
- Green Chilli, Nyaung Shwe. Traditional and Western food in upscale setting. Average quality. You'll find lots of tour groups here.
Try the freshly made Shan Tofu Salads in the Market You will see woman preparing these meals to go (or to eat from tiny plastic stools) in the market area. There are several other local restaurants across from the market that offer good Shan noodle soups, tea leaf salads, etc for around 1000 kyats per person.
- Smiling Moon Restaurant, Yone Gyi Rd. Great price on milkshakes and lassi. The food is another story, eat somewhere else. Owner also changes money.
- Shwun Lae Wai, No. 6 Museum Road, Thazi Qtr, Nyaung Shwe, ☎ 09428314005, 0949360868. Good quality and well priced Burmese and Chinese food and beer. Seems to be pretty much undiscovered by tourists as not mentioned in any guides -- and all the better for it -- but the staff are very friendly and speak enough english. Easily found diagonally opposite the Paradise Hotel, it stands out even more at night with pretty fairy lights over the outside area. Of perhaps the greatest note is that it seems to stay open later than most places in Nyaung Shwe (most shut up by 10 at the latest), so a good option to pop in for a late beer.
- Ever Green Restaurant, Museum Road, Thazi Quarter, Nyaung Shwe. A very small but exceptionally friendly restaurant on Museum road as you head away from the market and just past the Lotus Restaurant. Run by a young couple, we visited it on its first night open for some beers. They also boast a cocktail menu, although didn't try when we went. They serve both Burmese and Western food with a couple of tables on their small outside porch as well as a few inside.
- Yaung Chi Oo, Yone Gyi Rd (opposite of a monastery - see monks walking through the gate as you sip your drink), ☎ 09 4283 24193. Beautiful lassis and seasonal fruit juices from a lovely lady. Spotless toilet in the backyard (take off your shoes and use their flipflops).
NOTE: the phone numbers in Nyaungshwe have changed recently. For example: +958129352 will become +9581209352
- Gypsy Inn, No. 82, Kann Nar Road, Win Quarter, NyaungShwe (On the canal, to the West of town.), ☎ +9508129084. checkout: 12:00. A growing guesthouse, with a new building (with more expensive rooms, featuring TV & fridge) and an older building (with some rooms without bathroom - shared shower block outside, for cheaper). Room price includes breakfast. If you want to check-in early (7am or so after your bus arrives) you have to book an extra day. Other hotels and guesthouses do this for free. from US$20.
- May Guesthouse, No. 85, Myawaddy Road, NyaungShwe, ☎ +9581209417. Very friendly, clean and comfortable family run hotel. In the middle of many monasteries. Attention: called on 22nd of March 2013 and they are under renovation! US$12.
- Remember Inn, (In the north of town), ☎ +95081209257, . Fairly clean (for being Burma), but old rooms and a lovely rooftop relaxation area. Nice breakfast and they are happy to help with organising flights, boats and hikes. The owner is very nice and helpful. From US$18.
- Shwe Inn Tha, Thar Lay Village, ☎ +9595192952 ,+95949351315. Located on the lake itself, quite close to the floating gardens.
- Aquarius Inn, ☎ +9581209352, +9581209615. Near the lake, very friendly family owned Inn with a fantastic breakfast. US$5-20.
- Joy Hotel, Jetty Rd (on upper canal), ☎ 095-81-209083, . checkin: When room available (even at 5am!); checkout: Midday. Friendly staff, clean, with nice view of busy canal each morning. Less touristy end of town, but still pleasant (close to cheap local restaurants). The Rooms have Fans, no Air-con but the downstairs rooms stay relatively cool with just a fan - even in hot season. Helpful staff with OK English. Bike Rental from 1,500 kyat for full day. Free breakfast on the balcony is a highlight. The hotel does not have a website so please see information link above and call for reservations. Dbl $22, Twin $18 (Apr 2013).
- Min Ga Lar Inn, Phuang Daw Pyan Rd, Mingalar Quarter, Nyaungshwe (next to the main pagoda in town), ☎ +95-081.209198; Mobile,095 216278/ E-mail,[email protected]. Super friendly staff, excellent English and very helpful,if you need information or to arrange excursions. Rooms are large and clean with hot water showers. Huge breakfasts every morning and their daily welcome fresh lemon juice is also famous. Staff organise boat trips and travel arrangements. A recommendation to take the canoe trip arranged by the pleasant host around the local villages and attractions on the lake and canals. It's a different experience to the motorboat Inle Lake tour that the Guest House also arranged for you, sharing with another guest.(Wi-Fi is available ) $40-60 US.
- Princess Garden Hotel, Mine Li Street, Nyaungshwe 081,, ☎ 95-81-209214,+ 95-9-5148418, . This is one of the best guest houses in town and as of Sept. 2012 the only one with a lovely swimming pool in a lovely and quiet location. The owners Ko Aung and his wife, Min Min, are helpful hosts and so are the staff. The 8 bungalows are clean and has fridge--with additional 7 new rooms being built--and the breakfast and afternoon drinks are good. WIFI will be available in a few months. Excellent value (US$30+). http://Www.princessgardenhotel.com