The lake itself is the territory of the Intha, a culturally distinct people who are thought to have migrated here from the Dawei area of southern Myanmar in the 18th century. With the land already populated, the Intha constructed stilt villages on the lake and established amazing ‘floating’ gardens to grow their crops. The Intha also fish the lake and have come up with a unique way of catching their quarry, on this shallow and weed-filled body of water. The Intha fishermen row with one leg, leaving their arms free to manhandle the conical fish baskets they use to trap the large fish they are seeking. The people sell their fish and produce via their own 5-day market system, using boats to trade at villages on the lake.
Later in the morning it’s time to continue on, to the centre of the lake and a group of villages that have established cottage industries. Silversmiths work in one village, Shan paper is sold at another. In Phaw Khon village is well known for its weaving workshops complete with clattering looms that produce high quality fabrics including products made from scarce lotus fibre. Remember to bargain if you want to purchase something. You can also visit the cheroot-rolling factory, though we are yet to meet a visitor who enjoys smoking them! You will probably want to stop for some lunch at this point – there are several restaurants in convenient locations in amongst the floating villages.
The Intha are Buddhist, so of course there are some interesting stilted teak-built pagodas and monasteries to explore; Phaung Daw Oo and Nga Hpe Kyaung (Jumping Cat Monastery) being the best known. And of course, there are those amazing floating gardens. Staked to the lakebed by bamboo poles, these metre-thick mats of vegetation and mud grow delicious tomatoes, as well as other vegetables and flowers, for placing at the owner’s Buddha shrine, or the local monastery. And then it’s time to return, across the still lake, watching the sun as it dips behind the hills.
The morning market is interesting, filled with the produce of the lake’s floating gardens. South of here the Yadana Man Aung Pagoda is the most important in town, containing a unique stepped stupa and an interesting collection of costumes and antiques. The quieter, eastern half of the town away from the main canal and market is dotted with interesting monasteries where you can listen to the soothing chanting of the monks. Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery, just a short walk north of town is well-known by photographers for its unique oval-shape windows which serve as eye-catching frames when novice monks stand to look out. The monastery also has a beautifully carved, gilded ceiling. The town boasts most of the budget accommodation in the Inle Lake area and has many restaurants, some serving delicious lake-caught fish. Nyaungshwe is a good base for walks into the surrounding rice paddies and the hills to the east of the lake.
Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda.
Nga Hpe Kyaung.
Good standard budget accommodation is available in the area’s main town, Nyaungshwe. Options on the lake itself range from two to five star standard, and include some really beautiful properties boasting overwater bungalows with stunning lake views. Please note that accommodation fills quickly around the time of the Phaung Daw Oo and Taunggyi balloon festivals – please book as far in advance as possible if you wish to attend the festivities. Half, and full day boat tours of the lake and its attractions can be arranged in advance. For daytrips to more far-flung attractions, please see the ‘Daytrips from Inle Lake’ and ‘Pindaya’ pages of our website. Some of the day treks we can arrange are mentioned above. For details of the 3 day Kalaw – Inle Lake trek, please see the ‘Kalaw’ page of our website. Most visitors choose to trek in this direction but treks starting on the shores of Inle Lake can also be arranged.