Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake is a freshwater lake located in the Nyaungshwe Township of Taunggyi District of Shan State, part of Shan Hills in Myanmar (Burma). It is the second largest lake in Myanmar with an estimated surface area of 44.9 square miles, and one of the highest at an elevation of 2,900 feet . During the dry season, the average water depth is 7 feet, with the deepest point being 12 feet, but during the rainy season this can increase by 5 feet. The watershed area for the lake lies to a large extent to the north and west of the lake. The lake drains through the Nam Pilu or Balu Chaung on its southern end. There is a hot spring on its northwestern shore. Although the lake is not large, it contains a number of endemic species. Over twenty species of snails and nine species of fish are found nowhere else in the world. Some of these, like the silver-blue scaleless Sawbwa barb, the crossbanded dwarf danio, and the Lake Inle danio, are of minor commercial importance for the aquarium trade. It
Inle Lake Overview
Inle Lake is the second largest natural lake in Myanmar. It is situated in the middle of the Nyaungshwe Valley, nestled between two mountain ranges that extend north to south. The lake has a length of 22km and a width of 11km and is 875 metres above sea level. Inle Lake is 35 kilometres away from the nearest airport at Heho, and there are flights to there from both Yangon and Mandalay.
The shore and islands of Inle Lake accommodate 17 villages, all of which are on stilts. The lake does not actually have a shoreline; an individual cannot walk around it directly. The water of Inle Lake gets shallow as hyacinths and marsh paddies become dense; the path becomes impassable, and suddenly there is solid land.
The inhabitants of the island are called the Intha, and they are devout Buddhists. This is the reason there are about a hundred Buddhist pagodas and about a thousand stupas in this area. The most remarkable feature of the lake is the leg-rowing Intha fishermen: they drive their flat-bottom boats by standing on the stern with one leg and using the other leg with the oar to row in order to obtain better vision over the reeds.
Inle Lake History
Along with fishing, traditional handicrafts are an important part of the local economy, and you will get to see silk weavers and silversmiths plying their trade on the lake. And as with all of Myanmar, religion plays a massive part in local life, and numerous pagodas and monasteries can be found on the lake and its shores. There also are many restaurants dotted around, where you can indulge in their delicious catches of the day.
Inle is one of Myanmar’s most popular destinations for travellers, so when you travel around the lake, part of what you see will inevitably be geared towards tourists. You may be taken to one too many handicraft workshops, as most guides get commission on sales, and negative examples of tourism development can be seen in everything from environmental degradation to the Kayan women found selling items in some village shops, wearing the traditional rings which elongate their necks; taking photos of them is encouraged, but the tribe is not in fact indigenous to this area - their own home is in the hills south west of Loikaw.
However, in many places the authentic life on the lake shines through, and it is so large – and the sites sufficiently spread out – that, outside of the villages and markets, it is always possible to find quiet, untouristy corners. Furthermore, steps are being taken to protect the area from man-made damage, including UNESCO designating Inle as a biosphere reserve.
Inle Lake climate and best time to visit
Located in Shan State, the stunning Inle Lake is one of the most popular tourist destinations to visit in Myanmar. The second largest lake is great for those who love a relaxing holiday, by escape from the hectic life to be close the nature, experience the exotic countryside views and the rustic life of floating communities. Owing to its location, Inle Lake belongs to the monsoonal climate with an annual average temperature of 26°C. The climate is strongly high in May, reaching 30°C on average; and slightly falls in January. The average annual rainfall is about 1,370 mm, and the wettest period falls between May and September.
September and October are considered as the most pleasant months to take a trip to Inle Lake because of dry weather, less rain and the time of festivals. The weather in these months can facilitate tourists to visit many places of their interests.
Inle Lake Transportation
Flights (Domestic)
The easiest way to get into Inle Lake (and the most comfortable) is by domestic flight. 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. 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 is expensive, as of Sep 2015 there is a fixed, non-bargainable price of 25.000 Kyats to go to Nyuang Shwe. When returning, you can often save by booking a shared taxi through your hotel or one of the many travel agents around. Check with them the day before you fly out.
A less expensive but more uncomfortable and time consuming option is that which most Myanmar people take - the bus. Buses depart daily, and cost around US$14-20 (12 hours) from Yangon  or US$12 (7-8 hours) from Mandalay. The journey from Bagan has improved a lot; 2 buses at 7:30 and 19:30; it takes 7 hours to Kalaw and ~8,5 to Nyang Shwe, and costs 11,000 kyats (US$ 8.44). Bus arrives directly to Nyaung Shwe, walking distance to many guest houses. Overnight buses do run and with the new road between Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw the time taken for the trip has been shortened.
There is also a direct bus from Hsipaw (14 hours) which leaves Hsipaw at 4.30pm and costs 15,000 kyats (US$11.51). Supposed to take 12-14 hours but expect some delays. From southern destinations like Hpa An or Kyaiktiyo you can change buses in Bago instead of going through Yangon.
A train coming from Kalaw, Thazi or even from Yangon (direct), can bring you to Shwe Nyaung, which town is situated only 13 km away from Nyaung Shwe, the main touristy town where you'll find most accomodations, restaurants, souvenirs shops as well as travel agencies and tour guides.
The train from Kalaw is about 3.5 hours through mountains and fields, lots of scenic views on the way.
The train from Yangon is about 30 hours, direct, including a 5 hours-stop in Thazi where passengers can have a rest and sleep (in the train). Definitly the cheapest way to get there. To get from the train station (Shwe Nyaung) to your accomodation in Nyaung Shwe, you can either catch a pick-up truck or take a taxi.

Things to do and see in Inle Lake
Take a boat trip on the lake
Well, this is a pretty obvious one. You simply can’t visit Inle Lake and not take a boat tour to explore the lake; it’s the area’s main attraction! Most boat tours begin from the town of Nyaung Shwe to the north of the lake, but if you are staying in a hotel around the lake, they can organise a boat to pick you up directly.

Visit the Floating Gardens
Twenty-Five percent of Inle Lake is covered in floating gardens, where locals mainly grow tomatoes, cucumbers, and a few other vegetables, in large gardens that rest on the surface of the lake. These garden beds are built up from the mud and weeds that the locals gather from the deeper parts of the lake. During your boat trip, you may see them piling up those weeds onto their boats.

Visit the stilt villages
Most of Inle’s villages are built on top of stilts out over the water. It is a paradise to spend boating around these villages to visit the lake. 

Watch the sunrise and sunset
Watching the sun rise over the lake is amazing. Perhaps getting up early is not your thing (me neither), but it’s worth it to watch the sun rise over the mountains behind the lake. The scene in front of you is nothing short of spectacular. Plus it’s so peaceful out on the water at that time. Apart from a few local fishermen beginning their day, everyone else is still asleep.

Take a hot air balloon ride over the lake
If you think that hot air ballooning is just found in Bagan, you’re wrong. Oriental Ballooning runs morning balloon flights in Inle Lake from October to April. These balloons are smaller than the ones in Bagan, and it’s a fair bit less popular, but the scenery during the flight is nonetheless breathtaking. There certainly weren’t as many temples in Bagan, but the views over the lake, the floating gardens, and surrounding villages were spectacular.

Watch the traditional fishermen do their tricks
Intha fishermen have a unique leg-rowing technique. They wrap one of their legs around their oar to guide their boat through the water, leaving both of their hands free to handle their nets. This has become a big tourist attraction in Inle Lake, and some of them will patiently wait on the lake for the next tourist boat to come along, before performing a little fishing show. They balance on one leg, perched at the stern of their boat, holding their big conical nets. It’s a pretty incredible balancing act.

Visit the local temples and monasteries
Just because you’re in Inle Lake, that doesn’t mean you won’t come across lots of temples. After all, the locals are predominantly Buddhist, and you’ll find temples all over the country, including Inle Lake. But unlike most places in Myanmar, in Inle Lake, you’ll also find temples on stilts!

Inle Lake Travel Tips
To reach Inle, you can take the daily flight or bus from Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan. 
Many travelers choose the trek from Kalaw to Inle as it is a very nice experience, combining local experience with relaxation by the lake. 
Hotels are limited and often fully booked in tourism season, book your hotel in advance.
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