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Inle Lake

Southern Shan State-  natural wonders and cultures

inle_rower_awThe Intha people row their boats while standing up, paddling with one leg, balancing the boat with the other.
Spend a few days exploring the unique lifestyle of this freshwater lake, the second largest in Myanmar, which in 2015 was designated as part of the World Network of Biosphere reserves.

At an elevation of 880m, the climate is very pleasant year round- a welcome relief to the heat of summer season in the Irrawaddy plains and during winter months, very comfortable days with night time and early mornings becoming quite cool.

Small villages are found along the lake’s shore-  the largest is Nyaungshwe at the north end, a one hour drive from Heho airport.

Nyaungshwe was home to the last Shan chief or the Saopha Sao Shwe Thaike who had become the first president of the Union of Burma following independence from 1948-1952. The former palace, now a cultural museum is located in town and worth a visit to understand a bit of Shan history.

Today, populated by a mix of Intha, Pa-O, Danu, Shan and Bamar people, Nyaungshwe has evolved into a travelers mecca filled with new guesthouses and restaurants catering to backpackers and flashpackers, and where you can easily arrange your own boat trips to explore the lake. A range of beautiful upscale accomodations are also found right out on the lake or along quiet shore sides- see links below.


The Intha people reside in floating villages and along with the Pa-O people who live ashore surrounding the lake, have created amazing floating gardens. The lake depth is rather shallow allowing for plant and weed growth to be harvested to create land for plots of vegetables and flowers.

Traditional markets rotate every five days to different villages and it is well worth to check the local market calendar to see locals in traditional dress coming to buy and sell produce and livestock. On a Full Moon day, there is no local market as locals venture to worship at the pagodas.  There is what is still called a floating market every day, but rather than selling from boats as in the past, the market is now based on a platform catering to tourists.
The white stupas of Shwe Indein dot the landscape with sculptures of celestial beings, mythological animals and nagas all giving protection to Buddha.

The lake is also home to floating monasteries.

Nga Phe Kyaung formerly known also as the Jumping Cat Monastery where the monks would have their pet cats jump through hoops to entertain tourists. This practice has now been discouraged within this place of worship but the souvenir stalls still do a brisk business. This wooden monastery is home to precious Buddha images.

Phaung Daw Oo Monastery is home to five sacred Buddha images which over the years, have had so much gold leaf applied, that they now look like golden bowling balls.

From August to October, several festivals take place on the lake, and the most famous to experience is the Phaung Daw Oo Festival in October for the end of Buddhist Lent. Replicas of the five Buddha images are taken out on a barge to visit surrounding villages, accompanied by processions of long boats with traditional rowers as well as boat races-  so worthwhile to check into these dates.

Various cooperatives of artisans from silversmiths to silk weavers are found on the lake and visitors are welcome into their workshops to learn about their traditional craft work.

An extraordinary tradition of weaving developed using the fibres of lotus stems. Over 100 years ago, a woman named Paw Sar Ou had a dream to weave a monks robe from a lotus plant. When cutting up the stems, threads appeared and so Paw Sar Ou collected enough fibres to spin these threads into cloth.

Mind you, it takes thousands of lotus stems to produce just one robe, so this is quite a process!
But Paw Sar Ou was able to realize her dream to offer her specially woven robe to the abbot of her temple.

In Buddhism, the lotus symbolizes the possibility we all have in life. The roots of the lotus, buried deep in the mud of water, shoot up into a beautiful blossom. So this is an example of how we can become something more than our first appearance. Today lotus fibres are also woven into scarves and shirts and locals believe wearing lotus fibre can absorb any bad energies from our bodies, bringing us good luck.

You will also see a range of products, silk and cotton weavings- often using the ikat tie and dye technique.
The lotus cloth is naturally dyed using the bark of the raintree or sao/cassia trees along with lotus leaves.


Inle Heritage-  a wonderful place to visit!
a non-profit organization looking after the cultural and natural heritage of Inle.
Offering vocational training to learn the hospitality trade at their on-site restaurant and accomodations on traditional stilt houses.  The students conduct free tours of the facilities which includes a waste management program, organic gardens and an aquarium to learn about Inle’s aquatic life and its challenges. There is also a repatriated pure Burmese Cat Village where the cats will play with you if they want to!

Enjoy lunch or cooking class, or stay overnight.
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Other accomodations at Inle Lake:

Inle Princess: by the same owner which developed Inle Heritage.  Luxury lodgings located on a channel of the northeast corner of the lake, and a short drive into Nyaungshwe:

Inle Lake View Resort:
a serene setting northwest corner of the lake at Khaung Daing. This lovely resort offers pool and spa facilities. Easy boat access to the lake and a short ride into Nyaungshwe town:

Staying right on the lake:

Golden Island Cottages- (GIC)  2 
My favorite for years run by a Pa-O family with a staff warmly welcoming you.  The Golden Island Cottages operates their original hotel (GIC-1)  a bit further south at Nampan.  But GIC-2 at Thale-U is a quieter setting, a bit more sheltered from the motorboat sounds.  GIC-2 is also connected to a land bridge allowing for a nature walk into the village behind. At sunset time, egrets fly in to nest for the night also enjoying the view of the stars.

Traditional fishermen close to GIC-2

Kakku Pagodas:

The road behind GIC-2 now connects through Pa-O villages and lovely countryside less than two hours drive to the setting of Kakku pagodas.

The tradition of building stupas began with King Asoka of India in 3rd century BC. Realizing the tragedies of war, King Asoka converted to Buddhism. The famous Asoka pillars can be seen throughout the region and the building of stupas symbolized pacifying the universe.  As Buddhism spread into Burma, kings of Bagan began building these stupas at Kakku.
Now there are over 2500 stupas to explore at this peaceful place, listening to the bells casting off your wishes in the wind.

Most visitors drive through Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State to get to Kakku, but the newer road behind the eastern shore of the lake which passes Thale-U is a much nicer drive. An entrance fee of  equiv. USD 3  is charged to enter Kakku. There is a lovely restaurant overlooking the stupas run by the GIC group.

It is so worthwhile to experience the Inle Lake area!

These boatmen will no doubt charm you to take their photos!

Former palace of the Saophas of Nyaungshwe now lost in time.

Heho Airport is connected with daily flights to Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan.  Taxis are now easily found on arrival but it may be good to have your accomodations provide an airport arrival transfer.
Enroute to Nyaungshwe, a check point will collect USD 10 entrance fee (13,000 Kyats) to the lake which is valid for 5 days.

Also just before reaching Nyaungshwe is the lovely Shwe Yan Pyay Pagoda:


Pindaya and Kalaw:

Driving the other direction from Heho Airport-  less than two hours will bring you to Pindaya.  A fork in the road at Aungban brings you to the former British Hill station of Kalaw.

Pindaya is famous for its limestone caves housing over 9000 Buddha images and where legend tells of seven princesses held captive by a giant spider.

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