Inle Lake

InleLake-detailArrive at the vast tranquility of Inle Lake and it feels as if you have been transported to a world altogether more serene. Here, surrounded by marshes and floating gardens, villages built on stilts and Buddhist temples rise from the water, while the local fishermen propel their boats using a unique one-legged rowing technique. It’s bizarre but true.

Around 13.5 miles long and penned in by the tall hillsides of the Shan plateau, the shimmering waters of the lake endlessly refract the rays from the sun far above.

Boutique Inle Lake hotels

The recent explosion in the number of Inle lake hotels forewarns the intelligent traveller that this is a busy spot. There has been a rapid proliferation of accommodation in Inle Lake, from simple guest houses to luxury boutique hotels. We’ve set out on foot, by bicycle and by boat to seek out the best hotels in Inle. And you’ll see from our selection of Inle Lake hotels that there are a few remarkable candidates that would fit squarely in the category of a luxury boutique hotel.

Inle’s people

The indigenous people are known as Intha, which translates as ‘children of the lake’.

Balancing precariously on one end of tiny, delicate flat-bottomed boats, the hardworking fishermen row using their legs, leaving their hands free to work with the huge cylindrical nets they use to trap their finny quarry.

The lake is home to more than 200 stilt villages standing as precariously as the fishermen themselves above the waters. They form complete communities with schools, health care clinics, craft factories and even a cigar making workshop.

Around a quarter of the surface of the lake is occupied by extraordinary floating vegetable gardens, lovingly tended by the locals from their boats. Fringed by beautiful water hyacinths providing a sea of colour, these extraordinary allotments are made up of floating platforms of fertile mud, ingeniously generating delicious ingredients for the local cuisine, such as spring onions, tomatoes and cucumbers.

If you only do three things in Inle Lake…

  • Acquire some lotus flower silks. Inle is famous for its ancient weaving crafts, using the silks of the lotus flower. There are a number of weaving factories around the lakes which create fine shawls and ties.
  • Take a boat up the narrow winding creek towards Indein village. You’ll find a hillside covered with hundreds of stupas, some in complete ruins with the jungle taking over. See if you can spot Lara Croft.
  • Spend time just pootling around the lake and its many fascinating villages. It’s like nowhere else you’ve ever been so savour the moment.
Pagodas and temples

As always in Myanmar, there are monasteries both on and off the lake, while stunning pagodas and temples are not in short supply.

The Hpaung Daw U Pagoda is probably the most famous of all on Inle lake. Located on an island in the centre of the lake, the temple houses five Buddhas that have been turned from detailed statues into remarkable spherical golden globes (they look a little like gilt-wrapped  Ferrero Rocher chocolates) through the immense application by many dedicated worshipers of thin gold leaf (you’ll see the application of gold leaf to Buddha statues throughout Burma as it is an offering and a sign of respect).

Elsewhere around Inle

The main town is called Nyaung Shwe and it is from here that most people hit the water. Boats carrying tourists are increasingly common, as are the showcase shops selling tourist orientated knickknacks, with tribal people ‘imported’ to be shown off to foreigners.

Escaping the tourist hordes can be difficult, but it can be achieved with some savvy local knowledge.

And, lest we forget, the Inle Lake vineyard (yes, Myanmar wine does exist!) is worth a visit. Putting the marketing propaganda to one side, the plonk isn’t bad (we always opt for the rosé) and the views are tremendous.  

Out and about

There is so much to see and do on Inle Lake. We have spent days going around by boat exploring the 200 or so communities that call the lake home. The fabric of the societies has remained constant for hundreds of years. The Intha fishermen are undoubtedly the highlight but there is much more to learn about the local way of life.

The stupas and pagodas that surround the lake are spectacular, as are the golden ceremonial boats docked by Hpaung Daw U Pagoda. We have a particular soft spot for the ruined stupas at Indein village, which is an enchanting place to explore. And the Nga Phe Kyaung monastery (occasionally referred to as the Jumping Cats Monastery for its trained performers, although we prefer to avoid this) dates from the 1850s and is a beautiful but very simple teak building perched on stilts over the lake that contains a significant number of antique Buddha images.

One of our favourite ways to explore is to get out on the country roads using pedal power. It’s easy to find your way around and there’s hardly any traffic. Nyaung Shwe is the main town of the Inle area. It is modern and caters for life’s daily necessities. You’ll find stalls operating out of traditional wooden shuttered shopfronts, a maze of a market selling anything from fresh veg to plastic Chinese children’s toys and a few charming cafes.

Eating and drinking

Predictably, there is an abundance of fish in the many restaurants built above the lake on stilts. The endemic fish is locally called Nga Hpein which can be translated as Inle carp. It is served up in many different ways, partly depending on the tribal origins of the chef. Our favourite is fried with garlic, chilli and coriander. It can also come in curries or in soups.

Generally, when out and about, we tend to eat local Shan food as the Western offerings are hit and miss. But if you are dying for something familiar, we have discovered a superb place serving up a delicious pesto spaghetti made with locally grown basil and cashews instead of pine nuts. A bizarre and unexpected treat in the middle of Inle!

If you head on to land, the Red Mountain wine estate is a great place to spend a couple of hours. There is no organised vineyard tour but visitors are permitted to walk amongst the vines. The wines are produced under German and French supervision and are refreshingly palatable.

Thoughts on a postcard

The sight of the Intha men, wearing hexagonal bamboo hats and baggy cotton trousers (sometimes fetchingly combined with a football shirt!), rowing with their legs while net fishing was surely the most unique shot on our digital SLR.

 
Inle Lake : The map

Pillow Talk

Our Escapologists only recommend hand-picked, delectable properties we have sampled and savoured ourselves. We judge all our hotels by their excellence, the sheer hedonistic pleasures they have to offer. And we reject a lot that don’t meet our exacting standards.

Some of our selections are classics, with reputations recognised the world over. Others are discoveries: boutique havens where hospitality, relaxation and fine cuisine have been distilled into a rare art form. You’ll find a few options for the budget conscious too, where Yonder’s principles are still to the fore. And for those who just need an airport stopover on their way to paradise, there’s one or two convenience choices, too.

We provide in-depth descriptions of every property, based upon our own experiences there, along with our unique Yonder rating and icons that will give you further insights into what’s on offer. We even tell you the types of clientele you might soon be rubbing shoulders with!

Now that’s choosing a hotel Yonder style!

Highlights

In each of Yonder’s main destinations, we have selected a range of highlights you might like to include in your personalised Yonder trip. Whether they are fabled regions, resorts or cities, single destinations or entire itineraries, these are the Yonder ingredients we know will help you begin to piece together the ideal trip…

Journeys

Here at Yonder we have devised some exciting itineraries that will illustrate just what amazing journeys you could enjoy through Yonder’s exciting far-away destinations.

Of course every one of Yonder’s clients is a unique individual and we only create personalised itineraries that reflect those personal desires and wishes. So your Yonder journey will be as individual as you are. But to help you envisage just what amazing adventures might be possible, we have devised sample itineraries that we are confident will inspire you. You only have to pick up the phone to explore how any one of these ideas might be adapted to create your own perfect journey Yonder.

Offers

Chat to your dedicated Escapologist about the latest offers available.

Notes In Our Journal

A Few Tips to Consider When Booking a Luxury Holiday

Beat the Post-Holiday Blues with Yonder

Somewhere to go and forget the world, allowing a complete rejuvenation of the soul.

The rise of the newest new world wines

YONDER'S HAND-PICKED GEMS

Whether you're looking for one perfect hotel stay or to create an exciting itinerary, all our properties are hand-picked and only selected if we absolutely love them!