Just a short distance from Yangon in the cool green highlands of the Shan State, and yet seemingly worlds apart from the capital, lies Inle Lake, an area of outstanding natural beauty. Famous for its leg rowers, vibrant markets and prolific bird life, the prosperity of the country’s natural resources is most apparent in this region. In this unique environment, whole villages sit on floating islands and colorful hill tribes inhabit surrounding fertile valleys and forested mountaintops, still wearing their individual ethnic dress.
Religious monuments in white or gold leaf dot villages and riverbanks; there are more than 200 monasteries here. The holiest of the temples is Phaung Daw U, home to five 12th Century statues, so revered that the gold leaf rubbed on them as offerings has obscured their shape. During the annual fall festival, the statues are carried on lake on ceremonial barges. It is said that some years ago, when one of the barges capsized, only four of the statues were recovered. Yet when the monks returned with them to the monastery, the fifth was already in its proper place.
Inle Lake supports a thriving community of people with varied ethnic background—Intha, Shan, Taungthu, Taungyo, Pa-O, Danu, Kayah, Danaw, and Burmese. The 125,000 or so residents support themselves by fishing for nga-pein (perch), farming, silk weaving (they buy raw silk from China), metalworking, and noodle-making. We explore by long-tail boat and cruise along a channel to watch farmers as they cultivate rice, vegetables, fruit, and flowers. Much of it is grown on floating islands formed by accumulated marsh, soil, water, and hyacinth roots that combine to form incredibly fertile masses that are staked to the lake bottom with bamboo poles.
In a place like this, you can almost believe such magic is real…
Where to go in Inle Lake?
Within Inle Lake
Explore Ming Tauk, a bustling market with an authentic local atmosphere with variety of indigenous products from Inle Lake. The Nga Phe Chaung Monastery, supported by 654 teak pillars, is also known as the “Jumping Cat Monastery” because the resident monks have trained their cats to leap through hoops. Housing five sacred Buddha Images, Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda is also famous for the 19-days festival which is usually held at the lake every October at the end of Buddhist Lent. Ascend the covered stairways to the hilltop Shew Indein Pagoda dotted with hundreds of ancient stupas. To gain insight into local cultures and livelihoods, visit some of the silverware or silk weaving craft shops. Enjoy a sunset canoe ride and take in the beautiful sights of Inle Lake.
Around Inle region
Head to Taunggyi(literally meaning “the great mountain”) to experience its scenic charm and pleasantly cool climate. Another attraction of Taunggyi is Hot Air Balloon Festival held in November every year. Pindaya is a picturesque town with stalactite and stalagmite caves located on the mountain ridges towering the town. The pagoda festival in March is a colorful carnival attended by the different hill tribes of Taungyo (Pa O), Danu, Shan and Palaung. In Kalaw and the surrounding areas, there are trekking opportunities to several interesting villages belonging to the Palaung and Pa O tribes. Kakku is a hidden treasure with a unique temple complex of more than 2000 stupas lying hidden in the Pa O heartland.
The Inle region boasts of ample biking and trekking opportunities. Head to Nyaung Shew and begin a biking adventure to Shwe Yan Pyay village and monastery nearby. Spend relaxing day fishing in the Keng Tung fishing ponds and savor a local meal with the catches.
Where to stay in Inle?
The InlePrincess Resort has always been Global Travel & Tours top choice in Inle for its traditional décor and lovely surroundings. It is located on the lake shore and its rooms are stilted bungalows overlooking the water- true bliss! The Lake View Resort is a deluxe boutique offering that overlooks the Inle Lake. Distinguished by its signature dome, the Inle Resort is one of the finest and designed in native style architecture.
Where to dine in Inle?
For Burmese or local Inthar specialties, we suggest Anne’s Restaurant and Nam Pan Restaurant, which lies on the northern and southern part of Inle Lake respectively. For dining choices near the famous Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, Inthar Lay Restaurant (a 2-storey wooden house) and Mr. Toe Restaurant receive the thumbs-up.
Inle Lake – Attractions
The airport for Southern Shan State, Taunggyi and Inle Lake is situated in Heho. Heho also has a very colorful 5 Day Market in which the cattle market is especially interesting. Visitors can easily visit in the morning when arriving at the airport on market days.
Was a favorite hill station during the British colonial era. It is a picturesque village surrounded by pine forests and has some of Myanmar’s most beautiful gardens. From Kalaw there are good trekking and hiking possibilities to the neighboring hill tribe villages, which still function the same as they did centuries ago. Fans of natural beauty and peaceful sites will surely get their money’s worth. The roads leading to Kalaw and Pindaya offer breathtaking sights of the landscape and are somehow reminiscent of the beautiful Alps region in Europe.
Located high in the Shan Hills at the center of the Golden Triangle, it is one of the country’s most remote outposts and probably the most scenic town in Shan State. At one time Kyaing Tong was the Shan capital and this ancient city is the gateway to rugged journeys and exotic sights. More than a dozen different tribal groups live around Kyaing Tong. The hills and the vast vally floor are dotted with small villages, home to at least ten different tribal groups. Living almost side by side in small communities are groups of Ang, Lahu Ahka, Akhu, Padaung, Kala, Shan, Chin, Lishu, Pao, the headhunting Wa, Khun and Laui. All are living in different stages of development, some still following very traditional ways. Days of change will soon be coming to this remote area.
A unique temple complex of more than 2000 stupas has lied hidden in the Pa-O heartland of Southern Shan State for centuries. Unknown to the outside world and to most of Myanmar until recently, these exquisite monuments can now be visited. A day trip from Inle Lake is sufficient.
Capital of Shan State, Taunggyi is a pine clad hill station about 1500 metres high. The weather is cool all year round and the winter months can be quite cold at night. Taunggyi can be easily reached by road from Inle Lake. The local market is well known throughout Myanmar and the road south will lead you to the unique Kakku sight of 2000 stupas in Pa-O country. The Fire Balloon Festival held annually at the full moon of Tazaungmon in November is not to be missed.
Lies at an altitude of 1,200 meters surrounded by hill tribe villages. Its main attraction is the natural limestone cave that branches out widely, displaying more than 8,000 Buddha images made of wood, marble, lacquer, brick, stone and bronze. Many devoted Buddhist pilgrims have placed them there over the centuries. The collection of these images in such a setting is unique and well worth seeing. Pindaya also features the picturesque Boutaloke Lake, beautifully set amongst huge old trees. A major handicraft industry in Pindaya is umbrella manufacturing. The making of these pretty hand-made paper umbrellas can be seen in several workshops in town.