Lisa Owen

The roar of boat engines spluttering to life filled the air as I set sail on the smooth blue waters of Inle Lake. This heralded the start of a magic day sailing through floating villages, past local fishermen in the shadows of the surrounding mountains, and wandering the ruins of an ancient city.

Myanmar’s Inle Lake is one of the major draw cards to the Southeast Asian country – up there with Bagan and Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda as must see sites.

Hire a long boat with a driver for a day of explorations across Inle Lake and through surrounding canals. The long boats fit five people so it’s an absolute bargain with a group.

You’ll get your own boat driver who escorts you to the dock, guides you to sit down on a wide wooden chair on the deck of the open boats, and then you set sail.

Once out of the canals of Inle Lake’s gateway town, Nyaungshwe, you’ll be greeted by Intha fishermen on traditional boats, using one leg to stand on and the other leg to power the paddle rather than their hands and arms. They use this technique to guide the boat as the waters are so clear and calm, they can often see down into the water to steer clear of weeds and then spot the distinctive bubbles of fish below. By propelling the boat forward with their legs, it leaves their hands free to guide their unique conical net into the water and catch the fish.

The journey to the highlights of Inle Lake is all part of the fun as you see local life going on around you. The vast, calm lake is 11 kilometres wide and 21 kilometres long, so it’s easy to find a spot away from the swag of tourists – especially if you leave early in the morning.

The itinerary is up to you but there are some hot spots on the tour that you’ll want to go see. First up, my friend and I headed through floating villages and gardens before being taken to a silk workshop.

The workshops are a bit of a tourist trap so you may want to skip them, but I do recommend visiting at least one of the silk workshops. Other workshops on the lake produce silver jewellery, umbrellas and boats. Each village has their own specialty and you’ll be shown through the production process – and of course then led to their sales area.

You can say no to the driver if workshops aren’t your thing but it’s worth seeing a workshop in Nan Pan village where they use the lotus flower stem to make silk. The process of pulling the silk from the stem is mesmerising and then you can see it being woven into scarfs.

The boat building workshop is also worth at least a sail by – where you’ll be greeted by the noise of saws. The long boats used to traverse Inle Lake take four weeks to build and are made of local teak.

Whatever you do, do not skip the excursion to the Indein ruins – it was the highlight of my Inle Lake trip but you have to choose the ‘long’ tour to be taken there. On your way to Indein, you’ll likely traverse the beautiful canals of the Ywama Village, distinctive with its stilted houses and quaint arched bridges.

Indein is a smaller version of the better known ancient city of Bagan, but is also filled with sandstone pagodas, many of them populated with Buddha statues.  The ruins date back to the 16th century, and about 1000 pagodas and stupas remain from more than 2,000.

Next up is the floating wooden Buddhist monastery Nga Phe Chaung, and the floating markets visited by villagers from the surrounding towns.

It’s up to you how long you spend on the lake. Most tours offer to take you out from 8am to 4pm. But if you don’t spend long in the workshops, you can see it all in about five to six hours.

There’s not a lot in Nyuangshwe so you don’t need to spend long here. Do your Inle Lake adventure, maybe hire a bike to ride around the lake’s edges and you will make the most of your visit.

Things You Should Know

  • Nyuangshwe can be reached from Mandalay by road or you can hike from Kalaw. You can also fly into Heho airport from Mandalay, Bagan (Nyuang U) or Yangon. The trip to Nyuangshwe from the airprot takes between 45-60 minutes along a scenic road.
  • Entry into the Inle Lake area is USD$10 per person and you’ll pay at a road booth as you enter the area. You must pay in cash and US dollars seem to be preferred rather than Pounds. The notes do not need to be new - it turns out even the crumpled US dollars you’ve been carrying in your wallet for the past few months will be accepted.
  • You’ll need Myanmar Kyat in Nyuangshwe to pay for meals in restaurants. Some hotels take cards but a 3% fee will apply. While there’s lots of ATMs in many of the other touristy parts of Myanmar like Bagan and Yangon, there’s only a few in Nyuangshwe so bring some cash with you just in case.
  • Make sure you take the ‘long’ tour on Inle Lake to check out the Indein village.
  • Many of the workshops you’ll be taken in the Inle Lake villages are a bit of a tourist trap if shopping isn’t your thing. It’s your tour so you don’t have to stop there.


Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 60 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors. Instagram: @thelittleadventurer. Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.