Inle Lake was the area we were most excited about visiting in Burma and it did not disappoint. From the moment we entered our lovely guesthouse we knew we were going to love it. The amazing welcome we received put most 5 star hotels to shame. The staff whisked our bags off to our bungalow while we were treated to green tea and fresh tropical fruits. It was the most relaxed check-in ever! We stayed at the Princess Garden Hotel which we highly recommend, especially because of the swimming pool! After cycling around for hours in the heat, getting back to the pool to cool off was heaven-sent. The staff here are some of the best we have encountered anywhere on our travels. Every day they would bring us free fresh fruit shakes either to our room or by the pool. If we were out all day, they would remember that you missed them earlier and they would bring them to you then. Amazing.
Inle Lake is located in the Shan state and is Burma’s second largest lake. There are roughly 70,000 people scattered around in the towns around the lake. There are also tribal people up in the Shan hills. Most of the people live in simple houses of wood and woven bamboo on stilts right over the lake. Most of them are self sufficient farmers.
Most travellers stay in the town of Nyaungshwe which has become a typical backpacker town with internet cafes, pancake places and money changers. Don’t expect any late night revelry though, most places close by 23:00! We really enjoyed the vibe of the place. It has just enough variety to keep you entertained for 6 days. There is a good choice of places to eat with more variety than Bagan. You can also stay on the lake itself which we did for two nights. You pay a lot more to do so and in our view it was not worth it. Maybe it was the location of our hotel but we hardly slept because of the boats passing by from early morning to quite late at night. We stayed at the Swe Inn Tha.
The first thing travellers do is go on a tour of the lake in one of the traditional boats. We shared our boat with a German couple we kept bumping into all over Burma. The more people on the boat the less you pay. The tour itself is a bit touristy but it’s the best way to see village life. You get dropped off at certain establishments like the antique jewellery shop and the weaving shop but this being Burma there are no hard sell tactics. Just sitting in the boat going around all the villages was a real highlight for me. I imagined sitting in one of the wooden houses overlooking the lake writing this blog. Yes, I know, delusions of Hemingway! There are many markets on the tour, some better than others. Try to find out where the tribal market is (it moves every day) as that is the best market by far. All the local tribes come down from the hills to sell their produce. I have never been to such a colourful and vibrant market. It was a photographers dream!
Another popular activity is to cycle around the lake to different towns. 5 miles from Nyaungshwe is the town of Kaung Da-ing a town known for its tofu and hot springs. The tofu is famous because its prepared using split yellow peas instead of soybeans. To be honest we just stayed in the hot springs and never bothered to see the tofu! It was a long and hot ride and even though the thought of entering a hot spring did not fill me with joy, once I entered, I soon relaxed. As did my aching muscles.
There are plenty of trekking opportunities in this area. We heard good reports from fellow travellers who went on them. We were too lazy to even enquire. It was the last few days of our trip after all and all we wanted to do was chill.
Inle Lake is going to get more and more popular just like the rest of Burma. I would go as soon as possible as the more popular it will get the more it will change. At the moment there is a great balance between the lake being a popular destination and a real local community.
This is our last blog on Burma as we flew from Inle Lake back to Yangon and then on to Bangkok. Needless to say we will return. We were thinking maybe for a crazy long weekend in Yangon when the next elections take place and (hopefully) celebrate democracy finally coming to these amazing people. Who is up for a party? Just leave a comment below and we will meet you in Burma in 2015!
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Have a great weekend.
Love & Peace