As always in Myanmar, the easiest way to get to Inle Lake is by bus.
We chose to take a day bus because the night bus drops you off in Inle Lake at 3am which just sounded terrible.
For this trip we were actually in a minivan, usually about 12 people in this type of vehicle.
It was a little tight but still fairly comfortable and the driver made several bathroom and food stops.
We also stopped for snacks and at a small market (next to a rest stop) where you can buy some souvenirs if you are interested.
The trip took about 10 hours so be sure to have a good book with you or some way to pass the time. You will get some nice views out the window which helps pass the time a bit.
Inlay Palace Hotel:
We found the nicest hotel. It is technically in the village of Nyaung Shwe just north of Inle Lake. If you are looking for more budget accommodation and/or want to have a hotel in town within walking distance of shops and restaurants, this is where you should book your hotel.
We booked the Inlay Palace Hotel and were beyond satisfied.
Here is their website: http://www.inlaypalacehotel.com
We booked on Agoda.com for about $30 per night (cheaper than their walk-in rate).
The rooms are lovely, they have a rooftop restaurant with a great view and the staff is amazing!
One example: one night we asked for some boiled water so we could make some instant noodles for dinner (saving a bit of money one night). Instead of just handing us a water boiler they actually took us up to the restaurant and made our noodles for us (restaurant quality) and made us some lovely tea all for free.
The breakfast (included in the room price) is also excellent! The food just keeps coming. Every morning you will get eggs (any style) with toast, butter and jam. In addition, some days you will be brought lovely pancakes and other days you will be brought traditional Shan (local ethnic group) noodles with a fried egg on top. A few mornings we also got fruit and pound cake! Plus you will of course have coffee and/or tea.
Don’t bother telling them that you can’t possibly eat all of that food, they will bring it anyway. Just enjoy it.
Welcome to Inle Lake
Boat trip on the Lake:
If you do one thing in Inle Lake it HAS to be a boat tour. This is the way to see it. All hotels and tour companies in the area can arrange this for you.
Full Day tour: $15
(Remember that the more expensive hotels will charge a more expensive price for the same tour.)
This tour is private in a traditional boat that looks a bit like an oversized canoe with a motor in the back (basically a glorified lawnmower motor). The boats are quite comfortable and come with blankets if you get chilly and umbrellas if you need relief from the sun.
On your tour, first you will pass some homes built along the waterway that leads from the village to the main lake.
Then you will pass through a bird sanctuary. Bird watching is a popular activity in Inle Lake if you are interested.
At the mouth of the lake you will see the fishermen. Fishing is a major industry in Inle Lake. The fishermen use a combination of nets and what looks like a type of fishing basket. They balance standing on one end of their boat, often paddling with one leg to get enough power to move through the thick vegetation.
You will see daily life on the lake, everything on boats.
There are several floating shops selling various souvenirs. The prices are the same as the markets and the vendors are happy to bargain so I recommend buying something to help the locals and for a fun experience.
During your tour you will visit several artisans.
Here they weave silk, cotton and lotus thread.
The lotus thread is made from the fibers of the pink lotus flower (the white, red and purples ones do not contain fibers). It takes 4,000 lotus blossoms and 1 month to make a single lotus scarf.
You will also visit the floating market (now a land market) and pagoda.
Here is a great place to buy some souvenirs and snacks.
When you are hungry your driver/guide will stop at one of the many restaurants so you can have some lunch. We ordered tomato soup. Inle Lake is know for tomatoes which are grown in the floating gardens (seen later in the afternoon). This soup was the freshest and best tomato soup I have ever had!!!
Inle Lake has been the victim of an invasive species of plant, the water hyacinth. It was taking over the lake until the locals found a way to use it. As the floating plants grew thickly together, they found that it was actually sturdy enough to add some dirt and then farm on these floating areas. Now they are knows for growing tomatoes, cucumbers, various other vegetables and flowers.
Jumping Cat Monastery
At the end of your tour you will go to visit the famous “Jumping Cat Monastery” where all of the guide books tell you you can see shows of cats jumping through hoops (the young monks trained the cats to do this).
Unfortunately, what no one tells you is that all of the trained cats died several years ago due to an illness outbreak. They have a new generation of cats at the monastery now but we could not get a straight answer of whether or not they would be trained to jump.
All in all the tour was amazing and the perfect way to see and experience life at Inle Lake.