The idyllic Inle Lake is one of the most visited sites in Myanmar and the region around it also consists of the town of Nyaung Shwe which is the access point to the lake. As well as Inle Lake itself, Nyaung Shwe has a whole host of interesting sights in its own right such as scenic pagodas, temples and monasteries.
Nyaung Shwe is the main way to get to Inle Lake which has the claim to fame of being the second largest waterway of its kind in Myanmar. The lake is covered in local villages and gardens which float on the limpid surface, and this is one of the most unique sights in the country, making it well worth the journey to get here.
Another way to get to the lake is to trek over from Kalaw or vice versa, which means that you get to take in as much of the beautiful Burmese countryside as possible in a short amount of time.
Here are the 25 best things to do in the Inle Lake Region…
1. Dine in Khaung Daing Village
If you come to Khaung Daing Village on the outskirts of Inle Lake then you will get the opportunity to try the local food by watching the residents here make a range of Burmese delicacies.
Some of these include drying tofu in the sun to make it crispy as well as roasting peanuts, corn and sunflower seeds.
You can also take a food tour of this village which is known for its culinary prowess and sit down to enjoy a local meal with the friendly villagers.
When you visit, also make sure that you ask to sample a special kind of wine here which is made with fermented rice and sugar and has quite a kick to it.
2. Watch a performance at Aung’s Marionette Puppet Show
If you want to see a bit of the local culture in Inle Lake then head for Aung’s Marionettes Puppet Show which is housed in a small theater off the main street.
This theater has been in operation for decades and is owned by local resident Aung who is also a master puppeteer.
Here you can watch a 30 minute puppet show which is set to traditional music and tells the story of local myths and legends.
The puppets here are all made by hand and you can even buy one to take home as a souvenir.
3. Admire the Phaungdawoo Pagoda
The Phaungdawoo Pagoda is known for having five important Buddha images which are used in the touring festival which is held here every year.
The images are adorned with a thick layer of gold leaf as it is considered an act of worship for Buddhist devotees to stick a gold leaf foil to the images as they pass by.
The pagoda itself is covered in ornate gilded work and is one of the most popular in the local area.
4. Visit the Cultural Museum
If you want to know more about the history of the Inle Lake, and indeed Shan State in general, then you need to make your way to the Cultural Museum (also known as the Buddha Museum which is its former name). Here you will find some artifacts related to Buddha images which have been collected from all around the Inle Lake region as well as other galleries that have exhibits like weapons, jewelry and farming equipment.
5. Take a boat trip on the lake
The main reason that people travel to Inle Lake in the first place is to get out on the water and take a trip by boat across the lake.
Bear in mind however that while this is a charming experience, it is also now very popular and as such it is also very crowded especially at sunset when everyone flocks to the lake for the views.
The fishermen here will take you around the lake for a tour, but they will often also take you to shops on the banks where they get commission so make it clear that you do not want to do this as they are often very overpriced.
6. Visit Inthein Village
A pretty village around Inle Lake is Inthein which is covered in stupas that date back several centuries.
Many of these sit on a picturesque hillside and this means that you can go for a walk and then look back over the lake and the surrounding jungle.
This is also one of the host villages of the Five Day Market so try to visit when the market is in session if possible.
7. Buy some cheroots
The local cigars in Myanmar are known as cheroots and you can buy these all over Inle Lake.
The cigars are made of a blend of tobacco which is also mixed with honey, tamarind, banana, star anise and rice flour and even if you don’t smoke these are usually presented in a ceremonial box which makes a nice souvenir of your trip to Myanmar.
8. Check out Phaung Daw Oo Paya
Phaung Daw Oo Paya is located on a channel that stretches from Ywama to Than Lay and this is widely considered to be ones of the most important religious buildings in this part of Shan State.
The temple is made up of a large pagoda that is famous for its five Buddha images which are covered in gold leaf that has been affixed to them by pilgrims.
This is meant to be a sign of devotion in Myanmar and it is worth coming here to see the images alone, even if they can be hard to make out thanks to the thick layers of gold foils.
9. Shop at the Five Day Market
The region around Inle Lake is known for its Five Day Market, so called because the market rotates and spends five days in each location, one of which is Nyng Shwe next to Inle Lake.
This is a great place to come as it is known for its local handicrafts which are brought down from the mountain by local ethnic communities so you can pick up pretty jewelry, textiles and other souvenirs.
10. Check out Yan Aung Nan Aung Hsu Taung Pye Paya
If you travel to the tranquil village of Nanthe outside of Nyaung Shwe then you can take in the Yan Aung Nan Aung Hsu Taung Pye Paya which is a large Buddhist temple.
The Buddha image here measures 26 feet and dates back 700 years but the real draw is the amazing mythical creatures that surround it.
These include whitewashed deva which are celestial creatures as well as chinthe which are guardians of the temple that are fashioned to resemble a half lion and half dragon.
11. Watch the Bird Migration
Many people visit Inle Lake on a tour to watch the sunset but often miss one of the quirkier attractions here.
This takes the form of bird migration as a huge number of local species fly to the lake to feed or nest.
This means that this is the perfect spot for keen birdwatchers and you can sometimes see some rare species such as the Pheasant-tailed Jacana.
The lake is also a well known bird sanctuary and some of the guides here specialize in bird watching tours so make sure to ask if this is something you are interested in seeing.
The best time see the largest number of different birds is in December and January.
12. Go for a bike ride
If you want to check out the pretty little local villages around Inle Lake then the best way to see these is to hire a bicycle and explore at your leisure.
Many guesthouses will rent you a bicycle for the day and you can cycle around and take in the amazing countryside for which this part of Myanmar is famous.
This includes the villages but you will also pass emerald green rice paddies and lush jungle canopies.
13. Hike to Kalaw
If you want to really explore this part of Myanmar then the best way to do it is to organize a trek to neighboring Kalaw from Inle Lake, or the other way around.
This usually takes between two or three days, but it is more than worth it as you will get to stay in local monasteries along the way and can enjoy the jungles around Inle Lake firsthand which are dotted with streams and waterfalls.
14. Soak in the Hot Springs
Some 45 minutes away from Inle Lake lie a set of delightful hot springs which you can easily visit or the day.
These are made up of two pools which are segregated by sex and the waters here are said to have medicinal properties.
A good way to get to the springs is to hire a bicycle which makes the soak in the hot waters at the end even more enjoyable.
15. Tour Red Mountain Winery
You may not expect to find a winery on the outskirts of Inle Lake but this is exactly what you will find if you make your way to Red Mountain Winery.
Once here you can take a tour of the facility and learn about its history, as well as see how the wine is made.
Of course there is a chance to sample some of the local brews and there is also a restaurant onsite where you can have a meal and watch the sun set over the idyllic vineyards.
16. Cycle to Phwar Ya Thay Paya
Phwar Ya Thay Paya is located on the road that leads from Inle Lake to Khaung Daing and is meant to mean ‘Lady Monk’ in Burmese.
The reason for this is that it used to be the home of a female monk who meditated here and there are some scenic steps that lead you to the top of the pretty pagoda.
Once at the top, you can take in sweeping vistas across Inle Lake and the forest lands around it.
17. Try stand up paddling
Inle Lake is famous for its stand up paddling which basically means that the fishermen here row their boats with their legs instead of their arms.
A relatively new addition to the tourist scene here allows you to go out on the lake with an instructor and try this out for yourself which is also one of the quirkiest activities on offer.
With the help of an able instructor, you can see how the fishermen do it and take to the waters and skim across the surface of the lake.
18. Walk to Nyaung Ohak
Located close to Inthein Village in the Inle Lake area is Nyang Ohak which is basically a selection of crumbling ancient stupas.
Much of the area has been reclaimed by the surrounding jungle, but if anything this only adds to the charm of a visit here.
As you scramble around the site you can take in the stucco figures which have been carved in the shape of animals, celestial beings and fearsome guardians called chinthe.
19. Take a Shan cooking class
The area around Inle Lake is known for its delicious Shan cuisine and now you can also learn how to make this for yourself.
Most cooking classes here will take you to the local market first when you can learn about the local ingredients used in Shan cooking.
Once you have purchased everything you need at the local market, you will then learn how to make some of the signature dishes here such as chicken with cashews and the best part is that you get to eat all the tasty treats at the end of the class.
20. Explore the Htat Eian Caves
If you want to get outside the Inle Lake area then you can visit the Htat Eian Caves which are similar to other cave temples across Myanmar.
When you enter the caves you will find Buddha statues inside and this is a key place of pilgrimage for the local Buddhist community.
There is also a monastery close to the caves that you can visit at the same time to see how the monks live and work in this part of Myanmar.
21. See the cats at Nga Hpe Kyaung
Nga Hpe Kyaung is one of the more famous monasteries in the Inle Lake region as it is also called ‘The Jumping Cat Monastery’. The reason for this is that, back in the day, the monks here trained cats to jump through hoops and perform other acrobatic feats.
Unfortunately, the cats nowadays prefer not to perform for visitors, so although the name and reputation have stuck, you are unlikely to see anything other than supine felines on a visit here.
22. Visit Thaung Thut Village
To the south of Inle Lake is Thaung Thut which you can also get to from Nyaung Shwe by boat which takes just over an hour.
The village is also famous as it is one of the hosts of the famous Five Day Market, so if possible try to time your visit here when the market is in town.
One of the other highlights here is a scenic pathway which extends from the village to a series of small Shan temples that are covered in white stucco.
23. Travel to Yadana Man Aung Paya
Yadana Man Aung Paya is located in Nyaung Shwe and has the claim to fame of being the most important historical building in the area.
This Buddhist shrine is topped with a large golden stupa and is close to the main Mingala Market in Nyaung Shwe.
The stupa is built in the stepped style which is unusual in Myanmar but the real treat here is the pavilions which are something of a museum dedicated to the antique collections curated by the resident monks.
The galleries have items such as local costumes, intricate carvings and some pretty Burmese lacquer pieces.
24. Visit Shwe Inn Thein Paya
Shwe Inn Thein Paya is basically a large complex which has an amazing collection of over 1,000 crumbling stupas called zedi in Burmese.
These date from the 17th and 18th centuries and many of them have fallen into disrepair although you will find a few shining examples that have been restored in recent years.
As well as the scenic stupas, Shwe Inn Thein Paya also offers you the chance to look across Inle Lake and the lush valley that surrounds it.
25. Take pictures at Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung
This monastery in Nyaung Shwe is by far the most famous in the region thanks to its gorgeous teak design features.
It has a large ordination hall which is known as a thein in Burmese which is punctuated by large windows through which you can take photographs of the monks as they go about their daily lives (make sure to ask first). The monastery is on the way from Nyaung Shwe to Shwe Yaung and if you only visit one religious building around Inle Lake then this makes the perfect choice.