Exploring Inle Lake

Getting out onto the water is naturally the most popular way to experience Inle Lake. Every morning a flotilla of slender wooden canoes fitted with long-tailed outboard motors surges forth, transporting visitors to various natural, cultural, religious and historic sites. Nyaungshwe, on the northern edge of the lake, is the base for setting out on motorboat trips – every hotel and guesthouse in town can help arrange one, or just wait for a boat captain to approach you in the street.

Trips can be tailored, but tours typically include visits to the famous sights in the northern part of the lake, such as Phaung Daw Oo Paya in Tha Ley, the Nga Hpe Kyaung (Jumping Cat Monastery) in Nga Phe village, and the floating gardens. Make sure to spend time observing the Intha fishermen (most photogenic at dawn) and their unique technique of rowing the boat with one leg while using both hands to fish. Other destinations further afield include villages Thaung Thut, Hmaw Be, and Samkar, and you can also include a visit to Inthein, where crumbing, hilltop pagodas look down on the water.

A standard day trip costs K15,000 to K18,000 (US$12 to US$15); or K20,000 with Inthein. The fee covers the entire boat; drivers will carry up to five passengers, who get padded seats and life jackets. Many trips start at dawn, when the light is great for photos. During the day it gets very hot: bring a hat, water and plenty of sunscreen. Sunset trips are also popular, although note it can get chilly on the lake. Most boats provide blankets but you may want a jacket or a wrap.

DIY cycling tour

Inle is not only about the water. It’s also possible to explore the perimeter by bicycle and take in some beautiful Burmese countryside. Many sights are clustered around the lake, including hot springs and small villages.

Begin in Nyaungshwe, where bikes can be hired for around K1500 (US$1.50) per day. Peddle west along an unpaved, bumpy road through farmland. Take a left at the T-junction and head south, following the mountains. After about 8km you will reach the Khaung Daing hot springs, where the water is piped into a series of swimming pools. A soak here costs adults US$7, or US$10 for a dip in a private pool.