Myanmar | A Few Days’ Break in Inle Lake

Inle Lake is one of the top tourist destinations in Myanmar, but it still feels untouched and village-y, if we decide I can use that word I just made up. Many make their way into Inle Lake by trekking from the town of Kalaw, staying overnight in a local family’s home and waking up to them preparing the food for the day, in the most traditional way. I made my way in a shared eight-hour taxi (think: van) next to a woman who kept leaning her knee on me and leaving voice messages for her friends and then listening to their messages on speakerphone for all to hear. The next time I go to Myanmar, I’ll try to include some hiking in there, and I’d love to stay with a local family.

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I stayed in Nyaung Shwe, a small village on the upper right corner of Inle Lake, where the majority of visitors make their home base. The best way to navigate around town is by bicycle. My hotel, The Grand Nyaung Shwe Hotel, had bikes you could rent out. They weren’t new, by any means, but they did the job and I LOVED riding around the streets by myself. In two to three days, you’ll have done everything in town, but you could also spend a few extra days relaxing a bit if that’s your style.

It was hard to choose my favorite pictures for this post so I included a bunch more in this Flipagram video which I couldn’t figure out how to embed (you can follow me @10milesbehindme). Then read on for tips on what to do, eat, skip, and know during your own visit.

To Do:

A boat ride on Inle Lake

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This is what people come to the area for, a relaxing ride on quiet and gorgeous Inle Lake. My friend I’d met on the boat to Bagan set up our ride for us, starting around 5:30 in the AM and ending around 4. At first, I thought it would be a long time to be out on a boat, but there could be way worse ways to spend a day than out on serene waters in the sunshine.

Your boat captain, who may be a teenager, will drop you off without any words at random shops and restaurants along the way – all on bamboo stilts, of course. There were silversmiths, lotus-silk weavers, cigar-makers, and more. Each shop we went to was educational as well in showing us how they made their goods and there wasn’t too much pressure to spend money. I only bought a delicate silver ring that I haven’t taken off yet. The lunch we were dropped off for felt glamorous, as we had our own private hut overlooking the lake.

Along the way, we also stopped at a monastery with dozens of cats, a temple we climbed to with the guidance of three stray dogs, and a local market that rotates locations depending what day of the week it is. It’s pretty fun to just get on a boat and be at the mercy of a seventeen-year-old and never know exactly what you’re climbing up to until you get there.

Maing Tauk Village

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Inle Lake is home to many “floating villages” with homes built on bamboo stilts and school boats instead of school buses. I visited Maing Tauk, just an hour bike ride from Nyaung Shwe. I rode my bike on the hottest day ever and was pretty darn sweaty and tired and accidentally turned into a resort instead of the village and added 45 minutes to my ride, but I decided to keep on going once I realized my mistake and I’m so glad I did.

I finally arrived at Maing Tauk, parked my bike, and walked across the bridge with no railings for about 20 minutes, until I reached the end of the road. If I wanted to go further, I’d have had to hop in a boat and I didn’t want to, until the cutest old man in the world offered a ride in his. I couldn’t resist and his price was right (about $2.50) and he’d take me back to the beginning of the bridge so I wouldn’t have to walk the way back.

My new friend took me around for about twenty minutes, through all of the tiny passages in the lake, past floating tomato gardens, cats sitting on porch railings 15 feet above the water, and children jumping into the water with empty plastic bottles on their backs instead of inflatable floating devices. It was an incredibly peaceful and wonderful experience and once again, a reminder of “you don’t need much,” something I’m so thankful to be taking away from my travels this year.

Red Mountain Winery

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I only started liking wine once I turned 30 for some reason. I’d had some Inle Lake red wine when treating myself in Mandalay, and when I heard the Red Mountain Winery was in biking distance of Nyuang Shwe, there was no stopping me. I biked to Red Mountain Winery immediately after my boat ride in Maing Tauk and though I was stopped by both a rainbow that needed pictures taken of it and a rainstorm that drenched my entire body and all of my belongings, I eventually made it.

I was more exhausted and soaked than I’d been in a while so the fact that after I parked my bike I had to climb up a hill was a little disenchanting. Was sitting in my wet clothing for another hour going to be worth it? When I got up that hill and  looked out across the vineyard, I knew it was already. This is another lesson I’m taking with me this year, that if it’s hard to get somewhere, it’s probably worth going.

For 5000 kyat, or $4, I received two reds, two whites, some cheese, and some bread. The snacks were underwhelming and the white wine was too tart for me, per usual, but I quite enjoyed the red wine, and that view of course. The sunset was incredible, and though watching it meant that I was riding back to Nyaung Shwe in the dark, I met some other travelers and we rode back together, each discovering that our bikes had automatic lights, which was much better than if I’d had to use my iPhone flashlight the whole way.

Mr. Aung’s Puppet Show

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Puppetry is a Burmese tradition that goes back centuries but is currently only appreciated by the tourist set. Mr. Aung is a fourth-generation puppeteer and has been practicing for 30 years. There’s no story to the show, but it truly is an art form and even an athletic feat, as you can tell by watching Mr. Aung’s arms as he maneuvers large marionettes to perform several dances.

This charming show is 5,000 kyat (about $4 USD) and is a perfect way to kill a half hour before or after dinner – performances are daily, at 7 PM and 8:30 PM. After the performance, Mr. Aung came out (very tired from the intense work he was doing backstage) and answered a few of my annoying questions and even allowed me to try my hands at puppetry.

It was such an endearing experience that I even came home with a beautiful horse puppet, handmade by Mr. Aung’s family, for 10,000 kyat (about $8 USD). What am I going to do exactly with said horse puppet? Unclear. But I do not regret the purchase.

To Eat:

Everest 2 Nepali Restaurant

I loved this family-owned spot. I was the first one there when I arrived and the family’s three-year-old tried to sit with me, which I would have totally allowed, but his dad took him away. A group of three European travelers walked in a few minutes later. We all smiled, said, “hello,” and they sat at the table next to me. When I heard them introducing themselves to each other, I said, “Wait, you guys don’t know each other? Could I eat with you?” like a desperate person but they were totally cool with it and super nice and we had a great convo and some awesome spicy curry and juices.

Inle Pancake Kingdom

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Their sign says “Tired of Rice?” and I wasn’t quite yet, but I also love me some pancakes and this place came recommended by Erin of Sundara, so of course I was going to try it. The first time I went, I got a banana-chocolate crepe and it was the absolute bomb. The second time I went, I stayed for hours trying to catch up on my journal (months later, I’m still on Myanmar…), and ordered a crepe with tomatoes, mushrooms, and onions and then a second crepe of banana-chocolate again.

Sunflower

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I was planning on eating dinner at Sunflower alone on a rainy night, but then I heard a familar accent from two gentleman speaking nearby. I said, “Are you guys American?!” – again, like a desperate person – are you sensing a trend? I didn’t realize until I’d said it how much I missed speaking to Americans after three weeks of talking to none aside from my parents back home once in a while. This time, the boys asked to sit with *me* and we had a fantastic time getting to know each other and comparing our experiences in the country. My dinner was huge and delicious. I had a mango juice, a cucumber salad, and a potato curry. The radio played Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, the same songs several times on repeat. I couldn’t get enough.

Indian Food

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I guess I was getting ready for my trip to India in Myanmar because in my few days in Inle Lake, I had Indian food three times. Indra Indian Food, right next to One Owl Grill, was very good and provided me with tons of sides. The best I had was at the night market which you’ll need to ask around about because I have no idea how I happened upon it. I can’t speak for the third one because I had to dash out of there quickly due to stomach issues from a different place after just a few bites, even though a family invited me to eat with them because I was by myself.

To Skip:

Khaung Daing Natural Hot Springs

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When I heard “Natural Hot Springs,” I imagined nature-made pools of water with hot water surrounded by trees, rocks, and maybe a waterfall or two. The bike ride to the west of the lake was easy, pleasant, and about an hour long, but the springs were disappointing: four man-made hot tubs that were too hot to sit in for more than 5 minutes at a time. I got out pretty quickly and lounged a little by them, but it wasn’t unlike if I’d been sitting by my hotel pool and I’d paid 12,000 kyat (around $10 USD – a lot for Myanmar) to be there for two hours.

The peanut butter hummus at One Owl Grill

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I like hummus and I like peanut butter so I thought this would be a good choice, but please order anything else instead of this. Not sure what I (or the chef) was thinking.

A cocktail at Viewpoint

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Though the view is nice from the top floor, skip their cocktails because what I ordered was impossible to drink due to the ridiculous amount of muddled lime in it. Stick with beer and wine so you actually get a liquid drink.

To Know:

Entrance Fee

At the time I visited (September 2016), the “Inle Zone Entrance Fee”, which your bus or van will stop to charge everyone in the vehicle before entering the area, was 12,500 kyat (about $10 USD). You’ll get a receipt and should carry it around with you just in case, but I didn’t have anyone check for it.

Outages/Communication

Just like elsewhere in Myanmar, power outages and wifi outages are pretty common. I recommend getting a SIM card while in the country. $5 can last you a few weeks if you turn most of your apps off cellular data.

Pups (are you following me on Instagram at @straydogsoftheworld?)

The dog scene is like nothing I’ve ever experienced, even elsewhere in Myanmar. While dogs in other areas I visited seemed pretty domesticated, these dogs were WILD and seemed to have their own underground society. I was woken up several times a night by howling, growling, yelping, and barking. Just be aware that the dogs seem to take over around 10 PM.

xx

I was volunteering for the amazing organization Sundara when I was in Myanmar. To learn more or to donate to a great cause, visit Sundarafund.org

> For more posts about Myanmar, click here.

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