If you want to see one of the Myanmar’s top natural attractions and still get a heavy dose of local culture, make your way to Inle Lake. Situated in the middle of Shan Plateau, this gorgeous highland lake stretches 22 kilometers long and 10 kilometers across. The rich culture enjoyed by the Inle Lake locals and visitors is thanks to the various ethnic groups that inhabit the lake area.
One of these groups, the Intha, is featured frequently in magazines and travel shows because of their unique way of rowing boats – that is using their leg. If you want to see the leg rowed traditional boats up close and even ride one, Inle Lake is packed with them! Other tribes that call Inle Lake home includes the Kayah, Danaw and Taung Yo people.
This famous Burmese lake is known for its stilt-house villages, floating gardens and Buddhist temples. The best way to navigate from one community to another is by a boat tour of course. But be warned that such a tour can easily turn into a tourist trap as some boatmen will attempt to bring you to numerous shops in hopes that you will buy something from the stores. If you wish to skip going to these shops, make this clear to your boatman at the beginning of the tour. During the trip, you can request to dine in one of the lakeside restaurants, which is usually a pleasant experience.
You can book the boat tour from hotels, guesthouses and tour agents. One boat can usually accommodate up to 5 people. If you are traveling by yourself, you can also request to join in with other tourists. Visitors can also hire the boat once you get to the pier of the main tourist town called Nyaung Shwe. The lake is also officially recognized as a bird sanctuary, with the protected area formally called Inle Wetland Bird Sanctuary. It is not really surprising that the lake also attracts avid bird watchers. Some of the common bird species you will encounter in the lake area include cormorants, egrets, warblers and herons.
On dry land, the Inle Lake region offers plenty of activities and attractions to keep visitors fascinated. Aung’s Marionette Puppet Show has become popular because it provides a distinct cultural experience. The performer Aung uses traditional Burmese music and marionettes to dazzle tourists in a 30-minute show, which usually takes place in the evening.
Among the pagodas and temples in Inle Lake, the Phaung Daw U Pagoda easily stands out due to its design and religious significance. The Pagoda provides sanctuary to five Buddhist images, which are the centerpieces of a highly revered annual festival in the area. A local market at Inle Lake sells a variety of souvenir and gift items. One of the more unique ones is the handmade cigar called cheroot. This cigar is composed of not only tobacco but also rice flour, honey, tamarind, banana and anise. You can buy a nice box that comes with the handmade cigar or you can also buy a simple pack from most convenience stores.
The most convenient and easiest way to reach Inle Lake is to fly domestically to the closest airport – Heho. From here, you can hire a taxi for the hour drive to Inle. You can also ask the driver to take other travelers to share the relatively expensive fare. A cheaper option to reach Inle Lake is by taking a bus from Yangon, Mandalay or Bagan.