Inle lake – surreal life on water
Inle Lake is my favourite place in Myanmar. Yes Bagan is magical and unique, but there is something about this place that really draws me to it. I love water in any shape or size: be it a river flowing through a city and completely changing the landscape, a lake in the middle of the mountains, a waterfall, not to mention a sea or an ocean! So inherently I got immediately entangled by Inle.
Inle is the second largest lake in Burma and definitely one of the most interesting lakes of Asia, if not the world. The mirror like surface of the water and the way it reflects and mingles with the sky give a surreal feel to the place. Further in, the lake is home to floating villages, markets and gardens which make this place truly enchanting.
And of course there are the famous Intha rowers with their unique “stand-on-one-leg-row-with-the-other” technique. They can be seen at the early hours of the morning with nobody else in sight or even at sunset when the heat cools down.
The main gateway to the lake is Nyaungshwe, a town situated about an hour taxi ride from Heho airport. The town is very much tourists oriented with plenty of hotels, guesthouses and restaurants catering to all tastes and yet, somehow, it still manages to give a local feel…maybe due to the dusty roads…
See and do
The easiest way to get around is by foot or by bike. The main (if touristic) activity is a tour of the lake and it is a must do. Many types of tours are available, including half day tours, but the idea is the same: start with a boat cruise around the lake (my favourite part), visit a floating market (or just a day market if there is no floating market that day- ask your hotel or guesthouse upfront), pass through floating villages making often stops at various local or not so local handicrafts workshops, visit some of the pagodas and monasteries on the way (like the ‘Jumping cat monastery”- the jumping cats are no longer there though) and let’s not forget lunch at a floating restaurant. To me, the most bothering part was the visit to the so called local workshops some of which are displaying even “made in China” goods (e.g. silversmith, blacksmith, lotus weaving, cheroots. However you can find some interesting ones and you can cut down the number of shops you are visiting by asking your guide to skip some of them, meaning that the tour is customisable to some extent.
Boat ride through floating villages
Another very interesting and unexpected “activity” in the area is wine tasting at the Red Mountain Winery. Not knowing beforehand that Myanmar even had vineyards, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of some of the wines. Food menu is also available at the winery. It is a lovely way to spend a late afternoon watching the sunset feeling almost teleported in the French countryside at “aperitif” time 😉 .
Some of other popular things to do include: trekking and hiking starting from half a day to 3 days tours, passing through many local minorities villages, bike rides through the surrounding villages, a visit to the nearby hot springs, taking a cooking class (I still regret not doing it) or just simply walking through the town visiting pagodas and monasteries and witnessing bits and pieces of the day to day lives of the the people, including the many monks and nuns who live there.
Novice monks at a small monastery that I visited during a day hike
I spent almost 4 days at Inle Lake which I found just about right. Inle is also the place where I tried the most local dishes from all the places I have been to in Myanmar, and which made me fall in love with the Burmese food in fact. A few examples of typical Burmese food (that I tried and can remember) avocado salad, tea leaves salad, pennyworth salad, shan noodles as well as countless varieties of curries.
Viewpoint – It is a more upscale restaurant, part of Viewpoint Resort hotel (the top hotel in town). With a lovely view over the river and one of the pagodas, the restaurant serves mainly Burmese cuisine but with a classy and sometimes fusion touch. Although pricier than most restaurants there, it is definitely worth a try. The food was delicious.
Lin Htet – a local restaurant full with tourists (due to its review in LP guide I would guess) and for a good reason. I found the food delicious and I would definitely recommend the Pennyworth salad and Shan noodles. I found the service very personal as well but this can also be due to the fact that there were hardly any people at the time I went (too early for dinner and too late for lunch…).
Green Chilli – another upscale restaurant with delicious fresh fish and a very charming verandah. It offers mostly Burmese and Thai cuisine
Eden Bar and snacks- a small restaurant/bar hidden on a side street and with excellent fresh food and good service (one of the simplest and best avocado salad)
Mingala market – the local market in Nyaungshwe with plenty of local food options, fresh fruit and many other “market delicacies”.
Golden Kite – seemed to be very popular…for pizza. I found it a good choice for a pre/post dinner drink instead
Inle was the place where I decided to try out a more “backpacking style” accommodation but unfortunately it was not my best choice: May guesthouse. I have never stayed in a place with thinner walls which, even with a private room and bathroom, did not feel private at all. In addition to this, the chilly nights and lack of proper bed covers combined with a very poor shower system resulted in catching quite a heavy cold (and I was not the only one!). The accommodation at Inle is definitely not the best you can find in Myanmar but there is quite a wide choice to choose from.
The nights and mornings are much cooler in Inle so be prepared with a jacket if you are taking an early morning boat ride. All boats provide also blankets and they are also useful ON TOP of the jacket!
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