A freshwater lake surrounded by rolling hills, Lake Inle is a peaceful yet exciting getaway in Myanmar which should definitely be on the itinerary for any visitor. Located in the southern Shan state, it is home to the Intha, PaO and Danu tribes, who live in small villages along (and on) the lake, within a unique ecosystem unlike any other!
So here is a lowdown on some unique things you can do on your trip to Lake Inle, along with details on how to plan for them (and a special discount code for your tours around the lake!)
1. Take a boat ride through the fascinating floating gardens
Over the decades, farming has become one of the mainstays of the local economy, and interestingly, the lack of land available hasn’t stopped the people from growing their own produce. At Inle, farming is done in an unconventional manner through large gardens that float on the surface of the water, and a boat ride through the narrow canals of the lake is a perfect way to explore these unique floating farms.
The vegetation cultivated by this farming method is some of the best quality produce around the country, which uses lake water and seaweed for its nutrition. In fact, tomatoes and taro grown in these floating gardens are used to meet the demand for the entire nation as well as for export.
2. Visit a Shan Paper workshop
The Danu people are an ethnic tribe of Myanmar from the hilly regions of the Shan state. While most of them still reside in their homes in the mountains, some of them have relocated to Lake Inle, where they are known for their beautiful handmade paper known as ‘Shan Paper’.
To watch them make this paper from scratch, you can visit a Shan Paper Workshop on the lake. Here you will be able to observe the paper creation process, as the bark of the mulberry tree is made into a pulp and then converted to paper. This paper is then used to make exquisite umbrellas, lamps, fans and notebooks, which are commonly used as decorative items in the region. Of course, they make for great souvenirs to take back with you too.
3. Learn how to make the Burmese cheroot
Like the betel nut, the cheroot or Burmese cigar is long ingrained in the local culture, and it’s almost impossible to visit Myanmar without coming across people smoking it. If you’d like to know more about this traditional cigar and how it is made, you can visit a cheroot factory, where you will find the local women expertly rolling these cigars (often while smoking them simultaneously).
They make the process look very simple – take a dried tha-nat leaf, wrap it around the cigar filling often flavoured with aniseed or honey to give it a unique taste, seal it with natural gum and finally, cut it with exact precision into a standard size. It’s definitely an acquired skill though – the ladies allowed me to try making my own cigar, and I failed miserably!
Please note that the sole intention of this activity is to experience a unique aspect of Burmese culture.
4. Watch local artisans weave Lotus silk
In a country like Myanmar that is primarily Buddhist, there is no better way to show the importance of the lotus, the sacred flower of Buddhism, than by using it to make a finely woven fabric. And that is exactly what the lotus weavers of Lake Inle do.
Located in a floating village on the lake, the lotus weavers painstakingly extract fine and delicate threads from lotus stems, which are ultimately used to create some of the most expensive textiles in the world. The process is incredibly tedious and time consuming, and lotus threads are often collected for a period of several days, before there is enough material to actually create a small weave! Watching this rare cloth develop from its natural source all the way to the final product is a unique experience which shouldn’t be missed by any visitor in the region.
5. Play with some Burmese furballs
Ironically, there are aren’t many Burmese cats in Myanmar, and in an effort to reintroduce them in the country, a conservation centre has been established right on the lake at Inle Heritage. At this centre, visitors are allowed to go and play with these adorable fluffballs.
Burmese cats are quite different from other breeds, and this conservation centre is a great place for visitors, irrespective of whether they like cats or not. Because these ones are very playful and actually tend to behave more like puppies – they react more gently, and some of them at the centre even loved playing fetch!
6. Go wine tasting at a local hilltop winery
Wine tasting may not be the first thing that comes to mind when visiting Myanmar, but the cool climate and fertile soil of the Shan state happen to create perfect conditions for grape cultivation. Today, there are 2 wine estates in the region – Aythaya Vineyard and Red Mountain Winery. You can visit either one to get a tour of the vineyard and also enjoy a wine tasting session along with it. Do note that Red Mountain Winery is much closer to the town of Nyaungshwe (nearest town from Lake Inle), and as a result, is a more convenient and popular choice amongst visitors.
However, both wineries are located in the midst of rolling hills, and are superb spots to spend a quiet evening with a glass of bubbly while watching the sun go down.
7. Learn how to cook a Burmese meal in the middle of the lake
In order to truly understand a culture, it is important to know about its food. And at Lake Inle, you can learn all about Burmese cuisine through a cooking class held in a stilted hut on the lake. In this class, you will get a chance to visit the local markets, taste some local snacks, and most importantly, learn how to make a 4 course Burmese meal from scratch.
After indulging in this giant feast, if you are still able to sit, you can even take a canoe ride around the lake. Also, at the end, the organisers provide a recipe book of all the dishes you prepared (in English), so you can return home and try them out for yourselves!
8. Explore an ancient Buddhist complex with 1000+ pagodas
In a tiny village along the banks of Lake Inle, lies a massive Buddhist complex called Indein with 1000+ pagodas which can make anyone feel like Indiana Jones. According to legend, this complex was commissioned during the time of the Indian King Asoka (called Dhammasoka in Burmese), who was well known for spreading Buddhism in the region. Although there is no proof of that, a visit to this site is definitely like taking a walk through history, surrounded by ancient ruins in the forest. To make things more exciting, you can even reach the complex by boat during the monsoons.
9. Experience the unique one legged rowing technique of the Intha people
Perhaps the most iconic aspect of Lake Inle, the one legged rowing technique of the Intha people is an experience without which any visit to the lake is incomplete.
With one leg on the boat, and the other leg steering the boat while wrapped around an oar, this traditional rowing method is as unique to outsiders, as it is commonplace to the locals. In fact, most Intha boys are adept at it by the time they are 6 or 7 years old!
While this balancing act of the boatmen remains unchanged over the years, the traditional conical fishing nets associated with picture postcards of Myanmar are no longer a common sight. Most modern fishermen now use nets to catch their fish, and the traditional ones are mainly used when the water levels are extremely shallow (or are there for show).
Irrespective of the fishing method, if you’re adventurous enough, you should ask your boatman to teach you how to row in this unique style.
How do I do this?
The best way to explore Inle is by boat, and you can take a one day tour which will include the following:
- Boat ride through the floating gardens
- Visit to the cheroot factory
- Visit to the lotus weaving village
- Visit to the Burmese cat sanctuary
- Visit to Indein pagoda complex
- Visit to the Shan paper workshop
- Pick up/drop from/to the hotel or a place of your choice
I took this tour with Mr. Min, and since it was a private tour, I was able to personalise it further (add or skip any activity). Here are some things you can request for, at no additional cost as well:
- Visit to the local market
- Visit to a teak boat factory
- Visit to a Silversmith village on the lake
- Drop off at the Red Mountain Estate after the tour for some wine tasting
There are numerous operators in the area, but I was extremely happy with my choice, as Mr. Min was prompt in his communication, punctual, knowledgable and fluent in English.
He also organises an amazing cooking class on the lake, a unique experience not offered by anyone else in the area. This activity is spearheaded by his wife, and is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys learning holidays or cooking in general.
Now let’s get into prices.
If you book directly with Mr. Min, the cost of the day tour is as follows:
- Boat – USD 20 in total (for 1 to 5 people)
- Guide – USD 35 in total (for 1 to 5 people)
- Lunch – An additional USD 10 per person, for a Burmese lunch at a local home (highly recommended)
The cooking class costs USD 35 per person.
You can contact him directly at +95 9 428329447 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. (the easiest way is to text/call him on Whatsapp). Get an additional 10% discount on your package by using my code ‘WEEKENDEXPLORER‘!
Planning a trip to Lake Inle?
Also read: Villa Inle Boutique Resort – A Rejuvenating Lakeside Retreat
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