Lake Inle does not have direct airport access. The nearest airport is Heho airport 45 minutes to an hour away. Easy driving with nice countryside to the township of Nyanugshwe.
The lake is made up of two lakes the Northern, where most tourists limit themselves to and the Southern.
Getting on the lake
You will have no trouble arranging a boat trip as most guesthouses and hotels offer arrangements.
A day trip on the main part of the lake will cost anywhere between $10 and $30 depending on what distance you want to cover and who is providing it (e.g.. hotel). Most boats sit low in the water but can often have very noisy engines. The best seats if sharing a boat are toward the front of the boat. On most days the sun and the reflection off the water means you need to bring a hat and sunscreen. Some boats also have umbrellas to seek some shade under. The earlier in the day you go the less tourists and the cooler the morning temperatures.
On the lake you will see people going about their daily business. About 70,000 people live around the shores and on Lake Inle. Leg rowers – a technique the area is famous for – wend their way to their destination, fishermen fish and it is a major trading and transport route between villages.
This part of the Inle Lake has only been opened up to outsiders since 2003. You need to acquire on the journey south a permit/entrance fee ($5 per person) to the Pa-O and pick up a Pa-O guide ($10). They do check this at checkpoints. The journey from Nyanugshwe will take about 2.5 to 3.5 hours each way depending on whether is wet or dry season.
One of the main attractions in this area of Lake Inle is Sankar. This is an area of temple ruins located down a long irrigation canal. When the lake is high your boat will float amongst the Stupas. There is a ruined monastery and and a working monastery and village.
In this ‘main’ part of Inle Lake has a number of sites to see and the highest concentration of tourists.
An atmospheric village with covered walkways up to Shrines and Stupas. The climbs gives good views and most of the temples are not restored and are in their natural state. Shwe Inn Thein pagoda is at the top of the walkway and is surrounded by 1,000 stupas. Under the walkways vendors set up stalls selling handcrafts and tourist items. Some are good quality and value. This is a popular spot and going early may reduce the number of other tourists you will see.
Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda
This is the most important holy site in the Shan state. During the Phaung Daw Oo festival (over a 3 week period in late September /early October) four of the Buddha images are ferried around the lake on a barges – one in the shape of a golden duck, the other a golden dragon.
Your boat will want to take you to any number of craft villages. It is up to you how many you really want to visit and how many you will politely say no thank you to. Be clear at the outset what your wishes are to the boatman.
One that has been recommended by travellers is the Khit Sunn Yin weaving workshop. Here they make Lotus fabric from the chords in Lotus stems. Lotus fabric can sell for seven times the price of silk due to the labour intensive method of production and relative scarcity.
Jumping Cat Monastery (Nga Hpe Chuang)
Here at a wooden monastery on stilts the monks have trained their resident cats to jump through hoops. This is much photographed but sometimes the cats don’t jump the weather can be too cold for them. Even if this happens it is still worth a visit. The Buddha statues are varied and very beautiful, one of the best collections anywhere.
5 Day floating market
Once this was the mainstay of local commerce –buying and selling goods on the lake. Today it is a major tourist attraction and can be overshadowed by tourist trinkets and hard sell. This is not necessarily the case and choosing the secondary market circuit or asking your guide to avoid the tourists can enhance the visit.