This serenely picturesque, freshwater lake is famous for its floating islands and gardens made from the naturally tangled roots of water hyacinth plants and reeds, and for the unique way of life of the local people. Complimented by its fantastic range of luxury and boutique accommodation, right on the lake.
There’s a lot to see on Inle Lake and in the surrounding villages, so unless you plan to stay in the area for a few days, you’ll need to be selective about what you want to do. To help you, here are our top 5 Inle Lake highlights:
1. Inn Thein Pagoda Complex
We recommend that you spend a full day exploring the floating villages, gardens and markets by longboat, and we suggest that you start with a visit to Inn Thein (also known as Indein) which is on the west side of Inle Lake some distance from the main circuit.
Inn Thein (which means ‘shallow lake’) is most famous for the Inn Thein Pagoda Complex with its crumbling ancient pagodas which were constructed over 1000 years ago. There are two sets of pagodas around Inn Thein — Nyaung Ohak and Shwe Inn Thein Paya.
The first group of ruined stupas is immediately behind the village. Known as Nyaung Ohak the stupas are covered in greenery, but you can still detect some ornate carvings of mythical creatures.
From Nyaung Ohak, a covered stairway climbs the hill, leading to Shwe Inn Thein Paya, a complex of 1054 weather-beaten stupas, most of which were constructed in the 17th and 18th centuries. From the pagoda, there are great views across the lake and valley, or for even better views, there are two more ruined stupas on hills just north of the village, reached via a dirt path behind Nyaung Ohak.
There’s also a vibrant market at Inn Thein.
2. Phaungdaw Oo Pagoda
From Inn Thein village your boat/guide can take you to the Phaungdaw Oo Pagoda (also known as Phaung Daw U Pagoda). Named after a sacred mythological bird, the pagoda dates from the 18th century and it’s the most highly revered monastery in the Inle Lake area.
The huge shrine features five ancient golden Buddhas images which have been completely covered in gold leaf by Buddhist devotees who visit the monastery every day. In fact so much gold leaf has been applied to the statues that they have become unrecognisable as Buddha images and they now look like a solid mass of gold.
3. Inpawkhon Weaving Village
There are dozens of handicraft workshops around Inle Lake, however we recommend a visit to the fascinating Inpawkhon Weaving Village where you can learn how local silks, linens and lotus fabrics are handmade and you can observe the various methods of weaving, dyeing, and extracting thread from lotus stems. You can support this indigenous craft by purchasing a beautiful feather-light lotus and silk blend scarf, or a colourful woven shawl.
4. Nampan Village
Nampan offers an incredible insight into traditional Inle Lake village life. You’ll see wooden houses built on stilts and just north of the village there are floating gardens where Intha farmers grow tomatoes, squash and other fruit and vegetables, both for their own consumption and to export around the country.
In the village you can visit ‘cheroot’ (Burmese cigars) factories where local craftsmen show tourists how cheroots are traditionally packed and rolled. We also recommend a visit to Nampan’s main temple, Alodaw Pauk Pagoda, which is one of the oldest shrines on Inle Lake and enshrines a spectacular gem-encrusted, Shan-style Buddha.
5. Sunset Canoe Ride
For many travellers one of the highlights of their visit to Inle Lake is a sunset excursion on a traditional canoe. Your rower will gracefully navigate through the canals and backwaters of Inle Lake, passing the villages built on stilts and the incredible floating gardens.
This is a fantastic opportunity to see the local fishermen and observe their iconic leg-rowing technique which involves standing at the stern of the boat and wrapping one leg round an oar whilst gripping the hull with the other foot.