Inle Lake is a gorgeous area, where soft green mountains frame an 11-mile-long lake. Inle Lake is the must-visit place on your trip to Myanmar. The area has its own authentic landscapes and culture and being amidst all that is a life-changing experience. However, before visiting Inle Lake, here are some things you need to know.
Most of the people head to Nyaung Shwe on their trip to Inle Lake as Nyaung Shwe lies just to the north of the lake and has the majority of guesthouses, hotels, restaurants, shops and other facilities. To reach Nyaung Shwe, there are three major options.
From Kalaw, you can take a train to Shwe Nyaung, the nearest railhead for Inle Lake. From Shwe Nyaung, Nyaung Shwe is only 13 km, so you can either hire a motorcycle taxi or a taxi that will take you to Nyaung Shwe. You can also reach Shwe Nyaung by train from Yangon or Thazi.
Trains in Myanmar are quite slow, even though the journey will be worthwhile with its picturesque sceneries throughout the way. However, if you don't like the slowness of the train, you can get a bus directly to Nyaung Shwe from Yangon, Mandalay, Kalaw and even from Hsipaw.
The nearest airport from Nyaung Shwe is in Heho, about 32 km northwest of the lake. From there, you have to take an hour taxi ride. This is much more expensive than a bus or train; however, if you find other travellers, you can share the taxi and split the cost.
The month between October and February is the peak tourist season in Inle Lake. The months between October and February is the dry season in this part of Myanmar, so you don't have to worry about rainfall. You will also experience cooler weather during this period, especially in the early morning hours and at night. At the beginning of September or October, the renowned Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival also occurs, making a boat trip on the lake a lot more eventful, exciting and worthwhile.
For birdwatching enthusiasts, this time is also the ideal one, particularly from November, because of the influx of thousands of migrants. However, if you arrive too late, you will only see seagulls.
Most of the travellers visiting Inle Lake stays in a town called Nyaung Shwe that lies at the very top of the lake. The town is not the prettiest but has the majority of guesthouses, hotels, restaurants, shops and other facilities. If you want a social atmosphere and meet other travellers, and, you should stay at a hostel. If you prefer private accommodation, you can stay at one of the many hotels in the town. If you prefer to stay in the lake, you will get to enjoy sunrises and sunsets on your bungalow balcony on the lake, but you will be less connected to the town and most other activities.
Inle Lake is approximately 22km in length and 10km in width, although it is tough to determine exact boundaries of the lake due to the surrounding marshland. It is the second-largest lake in Myanmar with the total surface being 116.3 sq.km. The main watershed area of the lake is to the north and northwest of the lake, and the primary outflow of the lake lies with the Nam Pilu River at the south end.
The lake's depth averages about 2.1meters in the dry season and increases by about 5feet during the wet season. The maximum depths of the lake will be around 3.7 meters in the dry season and about 5.2m in the wet season.
Source: My travel experience
First thing you must do on your trip to Inle Lake is to take a boat trip. Hop on a local boat, and roam around the gorgeous lake. You can either book the trip online or head to the pier, and book on the spot; the tour takes about a whole day. The standard price for a boat bus is about 25000kyats; however, this gets quite low during low periods. On your trip, you will see fisherman using some unique techniques of rowing boat while fishing. You will also get to see floating villages and floating lake gardens.
Source: Lonely Planet
If you head to the west side of the lake early in the morning, you can enjoy a balloon ride across the lake while enjoying the sunrise view. From the balloon, you will get to enjoy stunning views of Inle Lake, floating villages, floating gardens, and many more. However, the hot-air balloon is not cheap; you will have to pay about 400USD to fly up there. But, the mesmerizing experience more or less covers the cost. You can book the ride online with the tour agencies.
The Nyaung Shwe village has a colourful market where you can purchase fresh organic goods at a cheap price. At this market, you can also eat delicious fish at very affordable prices at night.
Inthein cannot be called a village, but just a collection of small homes, shops, a few restaurants, a school and a few monasteries. However, it is one of the five villages that host the five-day rotating market and its liveliest stops. The stupas here mostly date back to the 17th and 18th centuries with the oldest stupa containing an inscription dating it to the 14th century. There are also many other temples around this small village. There are not many records available, but it is most likely that most of those were built during the reign of King Narapathisithu and later renewed by King Anawrahta, who were both kings of the Bagan empire.
Source: Travel Blog
Nga Hpe Kyaung is a wooden monastery standing on stilts over the water. This monastery doesn't look as brilliant as other monasteries in the region; however, holds all of its treasures within its walls. The name of the monastery, Jumping Cat Monastery came as at past, a monk had trained domestic cats living at the monastery to leap through small hoops as an attraction for tourists. However, the cats of the present don't show these attractions; they just sleep lazily or lounge around on a rug all day long. The major attraction at present is the amazing and diverse collection of beautiful Buddha statues in the Shan, Tibetan, Bagan and Inwa styles.