Roughly 20 kilometres long, Inle Lake is a silvery pool of outstanding beauty and inhabited by many different ethnic nationals of the area. Floating gardens filled with colourful flowers and various vegetables like tomatoes, beans and cucumbers are beautifully grown on the lake.
Local villages and markets are always interesting. With the Shan mountain range in the background, both sunrise and sunset over the lake are truly enchanting moments.
Aside from the breathtaking landscapes, it is also home to many ethnic groups including the predominate Intha, Shan, Taungyo, Pa-O, Danu, Kayah, Danaw and Bamar. Living in the surrounding hillsides and floating villages, the Intha are best known for their unique rowing technique with a single foot pushing the boat oar – a practice that’s become one of the most sought-after photo opportunities on the lake.
The Inthar and other lake residents are known for several cottage industries including silversmiths, blacksmiths, cigar rolling and weaving.
The best time to visit Inle Lake is September and October. This is mainly because of the ceremonial Phaungdawoo Pagoda Festival, the most important event held there. The pagoda’s most revered images and relics are displayed on the grand golden Karaweik, a replica of the ancient royal barge, and are taken to several villages around the lake. It also features the famous Inle Boat Races, a spectacle that attracts travellers from near and far.
Further away from the main part of Inle Lake, the stupa-covered hill of Indein, on the lake’s western shores, are of historical interest but also a fun boat trip. Hundreds of stone and stucco stupas fill the hill and the journey there takes you through a jungle-like canal. To the far south of the lake, around 2.5 hours from the top of the lake, the Pa-oh village of Sagar (also referred to as Samkar) has ancient stupas that are often ‘sunken’ under water. The town is also noted for its pottery and is interesting to explore on foot.
If you are a nature lover, there are several species of birds and in the early morning is a good time to catch a variety of them soaring above. The hills surrounding the lake are ideal for trekking and half day or multi-day programs can be arranged to the Pa-Oh, Shan and Palaung villages in the highlands. As well biking around the lake shores is a fun way to explore as rice paddies, sugar cane fields and even a vineyard can be discovered amongst the local villages
The best and common way of travelling to Inle Lake is by plane because all the other routes to the area are time-consuming. Heho is the entrance to the Inle Lake region, and all major airlines fly to this destination