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Nestled within the sprawling hills of Shan State, Inle Lake is one of the most serene natural beauties in Southeast Asia. A freshwater lake, Inle is 22 kilometres long and 11 kilometres wide, situated at an elevation of 883 metres.

The lake is particularly alluring at dawn when curtains of mist hover over the placid water (the centre of the lake rises to a depth of no more than 4 metres) and the inky Shan mountains are hazed in an azur tableau. At this time of day, the surface of the lake appears a rippling sheet of molten silver, with jurassic dragonflies skimming over the surface alongside the long and narrow boats ferrying locals and visitors across the water. At dawn and dusk Inthar fishermen balance deftly at the end of their flat-ended canoes, particularly photogenic with the backdrop of the hills and perhaps a fortuitous sighting of a sarus crane taking flight into the wetlands.

Inle Lake and its environs are home to a variety of ethnicities including the Shan, Taung Yoe, Pa’O, Danu, Kayah and Bamar, both peppered about the surrounding hills and on the shores of the lake itself. It is however the Inthar, the ‘Sons of the Lake,’ who dominate the region and are most widely associated with Inle.

The fish caught at Inle are primarily nga hpein (Inle Carp) and it is a staple of the local diet and should be sampled when visiting the region. In addition to fishing, the locals cultivate large floating gardens on the lake where they grow fruit and vegetables, with reeds from the lake acting as floating beds. 70% of the tomatoes consumed in Myanmar come from these floating farms.

Animal lovers may be interested to know that Inle is home to a variety of endangered wildlife. There are over 20 species of snail and over 9 species of fish that are found nowhere else on earth. Inle is also an ideal spot for keen twitchers, being home to the gorgeous brown and black headed migratory seagulls, approximately 20, 000 of which are to be found around the lake throughout the winter. The Inle Wetland Bird Sanctuary looks out for the herons, warblers, cormorants, wild duck and egrets that live at the lake. Regrettably, the heavy use of pesticides and diminishing water levels has begun to have a large impact on the wildlife.

Around Inle Lake

Those travelling to Inle should visit the Five Day Floating Market which takes place in villages and towns in and around the lake. Locals flock to these markets each day to sell and buy local fare and goods. In addition to souvenirs and gifts such as the brightly-woven Pa'O tote bags that you will see the majority of the people around Inle sporting, visitors will also be able to inspect handmade goods and tools that the locals use on a day-to-day basis. The market at Indein towards the very south of the lake is one of the largest and most easily accessible of these markets. However it has become the most frequented by tourists and has therefore lost some of its authenticity.

Autumn is a popular time for tourists to visit Inle as it is the time of the three week-long Phaung Daw Oo Festival, where the Inthar turn out in their local dress and embark upon traditional boat racing and ferry four Buddha images around the lake. The Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda is the most impressive pagoda to be found around Inle, as well as one of the oldest.

A boat trip to the ancient city of Sagar will take visitors south of Inle and down to Sagar Lake. Centuries ago, Sagar used to be an autonomous princeton until its ruler lost his throne when gambling with his fierce rival the Shan Prince (sawbwa) of Inle. Commencing at Inle, a trip to Sagar will take approximately 3 hours, passing the Nampan cluster village resting on stilts at the southern end of the lake. Here one can visit the cheroot workshop to sample flavours such as banana, honey and cherry. Further south, travelling along the canals that connect Inle and Sagar one will pass the village of Ja Kan with a mammoth and ornately gilded monastery next to a cluster of crumbling little zedi. At Sagar itself there is a much larger collection of zedi, amongst which nonchalant cattle graze, indifferent to the architectural treasures that surrounds them.

On the opposite side of the lake from Sagar is the Tharkaung Pagoda complex, which is a smaller and more chaotic version of the pagoda fields of Kakku and Indein. In autumn one can take a wander outside the complex under the avocado trees, keeping an eye out for the pebbles fired at the fruit by local boys wielding sling-shots. On the way back from Sagar one can visit the Inn Paw Khone Village where there is an extensive weaving workshop with a fantastic selection of scarves, bags, hats and thamain (longyi for women) made out of cotton, silk, and lotus. Nearby is Inle Heritage House, a centre preserving and promoting the culture of the lake. Making up the complex is a top-notch restaurant serving traditional 'Grandmother's Recipes' of Inle, a small aquarium (featuring the elusive Inle Carp), a sanctuary for Burmese cats, photo gallery, shop selling handicrafts from around the country, and accommodation for visitors. Inle Heritage House is also a vocational college for youngsters keen to enter the hospitality industry.

From Inle Lake, a trek to the former British Hill Station Kalaw, the capital of Shan State Taunggyi, as well as ethnic villages of the Pa'O and Palaung, are enjoyable and easy to arrange.

Getting to Inle

Inle is 660 kilometres north of Yangon, and 330 kilometres east of Mandalay. A flight from Yangon to Inle Lake is easy to fit into any itinerary. The region is served by Heho Airport which is only 35 kilometres away from the lake and receives regular flights from the country’s major airports. From Nyaung U, visitors can easily fly from Bagan to Inle. Similarly, for those who are travelling from Inle Lake to Yangon or from Inle Lake to Bagan, flights are daily and easy to arrange. Private cars and public coaches are also options, allowing for the seamless construction of a Yangon-Bagan-Inle Lake itinerary. For those ending their journey in Myanmar, an Inle lake to Yangon flight can be arranged. Just tell us what you want, and we can make it happen!

You can have a look here to find out about hotels on and around Inle, and read more about Sampan Travel and our Suggested Journeys here. More can be seen of the lake on our Pinterest Inle Board.

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