One of the more touristy places in Myanmar is Inle Lake. It is a large and very beautiful natural lake, famous for the Inle Lake fishermen and their unique style of fishing. We had visited once before on a previous trip but that was during monsoon season when the views were not as good and the weather was very much against us. So, we decided to return and do it justice.
Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake
Rather than just arrive there by bus, like last time, we decided to make the journey part of the trip, so set ourselves up to do a three day, two night trek from Kalaw to Inle. After lots of research, emails and bartering on Lynette’s side, we went with a company called Ever Smile. They seemed like the best value for money and had plenty of good reviews.
We were, however, a little apprehensive as previous multi-day treks hadn’t gone so well. That and the fact that we had to leave our main bags in the hands of strangers. We were told that the bags would be transported separately and would be waiting for us at our chosen accommodation.
The route is well known, therefore rather touristy, but sometimes it can be a good thing if things are well established. Several groups were setting off at the same time. We had a group of ten people, two couples from Germany, four people from France and us. With our guide, Momo, we began the trek.
We walked in open countryside, across fields and along railway tracks. The scenery was very beautiful and although the days were long at 6-7 hours on the trail per day, it didn’t feel too strenuous. Each day we had adequate rest stops and three meals, with warm and comfortable accommodation in villages along the way, all included in the set price. The food was the best that we had had in Myanmar and it came in good portions with plenty of fruit and as much Chinese tea as we could handle. All these things made the whole experience very enjoyable and worth the money.
We also had a good group of people with us, which made it even better. We all got on well and our guide was very friendly and professional. He was also knowledgeable about the route and surroundings.
A highlight for us was on the second evening after dinner. We all sat around a camp fire with a glass of Myanmar rum and coke as Momo strummed on a guitar, he and three friends giving us renditions of songs by well known artists, such as Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me” in Burmese. It truly was a memory made.
Despite having had an enjoyable time, we were all a bit relived when we reached the final stop on the third day of the trek. We ended with lunch at a tea-house next to Inle lake. After that it was a one hour trip by boat across the water, where our journey would end.
Bidding everyone goodbye, we made our way to our guesthouse. Thankfully, upon arrival, all of our bags were waiting for us with everything as it was when we’d left them. We were very glad of a hot shower and fresh clothes after three days on the trail! We spent a few days in the village of Nyaungshwe, near Inle Lake, at a very nice guesthouse with a delicious included breakfast. It was nice to be there in a better season!
For more on trekking in Myanmar check out All you Need to Know about Hsipaw!
Inle Lake Boat Trip
One thing that is a must when visiting the area is a boat trip on Inle Lake. We arranged a tour and went on a day when the weather was beautiful. The water was clear and the journey much more pleasant than last time, when we were huddled under an umbrella in the rain!
We saw fishermen, some using the traditional method and some using more modern nets. Along the way we also saw people who had made their homes on the lake; wooden and bamboo houses on stilts in small clusters made up small communities of people, all of whom were just getting on and doing daily tasks. Not a bad place to live!
As part of the tour we visited boat and weaving workshops, a handicraft shop and a cigar making showroom. Although they were interesting, it felt very set-up for tourists with everything that was available to buy at marked-up prices. As we weren’t interested in buying anything, the sales people lost interest in us very quickly!
We also visited Indein Pagoda Complex, the famous Floating Gardens and a monastery known as the “Jumping Cat Monastery” so called because it is full of cats… although none of them were jumping at the time of our visit.
Sadly, it didn’t look to us like the cats were all that well cared for as they appeared rather skinny and malnourished. We didn’t stay for long due to the number of tourists, which, in our opinion, is not so good for the cats either. Cruising around the lake was beautiful and it was a worthwhile trip.
Below Left: Pagodas at Indein
Below Right: Houses in a Floating Village
Interesting Places around Nyaungshwe
As well as a boat trip, there are other things to do around Nyaungshwe. We visited the local market and treated ourselves to a bowl of delicious Shan noodles; at 500 kyats (25p) a bowl they made a great lunch!
We also hired bicycles for the day and cycled through the countryside, visiting a hilltop pagoda as well as some local villages. There wasn’t so much to see in terms of sights – it was more about the journey and the chance to get out of town. Around Nyaungshwe, it is also possible to visit the Red Mountain Estate Winery and some hot springs.
Pindaya Cave Temple
There is also a place nearby called Pindaya, which is an easy day trip from Nyaungshwe or Kalaw. Pindaya is a small town with an interesting Buddhist cave complex, filled with thousands of Buddha images and pagodas.
Also in Pindaya, you can visit a small umbrella workshop where the craftsmen and women will happily show you the process of making parasols by hand, using impressive old-fashioned techniques.
Having visited Inle Lake and Nyaungshwe before, we definitely noticed a few changes. A new supermarket, selling everything you could need, had sprung up on the main road. A number of new restaurants and hotels, some looking rather posh and expensive, had also made their mark on the town. There was even a new hotel being built a few doors down from where we were staying!
As our time in Nyaungshwe drew to a close, we left feeling that we had seen everything that the area had to offer and we had had a much better experience the second time round. But we also left feeling that we wouldn’t return. Not just because we had been there, done it and got the t-shirt as it were but because Nyaungshwe is increasingly becoming much more of a tourist town than a local one.
But don’t let that put you off! Inle Lake and its surrounding area is still well worth a visit and should remain an essential item on your Myanmar itinerary.