Inle Lake

A highlight

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What we say: 4 stars

A boat tour of Inle Lake will be the highlight of your visit to Nyaung Shwe.

The second largest lake in Burma, the rather shallow Inle Lake sits at an altitude of almost 900 metres above sea level and is an important source of fresh fish and harvested fruit and vegetables from floating gardens on the lake. It's also one of the most popular tourist sites in the country.

Expect to pay 18,000 to 20,000 kyat per day for a group up to four. Trips can be customised, as there's much to see, but will generally include floating villages, floating gardens, sightings of the fishermen that Inle is famous for, markets and several 'workshops.'

The workshops are included in the Inle Lake tours by default; you'll likely be brought to several unless you firmly specify in advance that you're not interested. It's important to remember that many of these workshops were specifically placed around the lake for the purposes of tourism; items being sold at the workshops are offered at inflated prices and it's very likely that only a small portion of the money is going to the workers.

Another option is to skip the workshops altogether and do a half-day tour of the lake. This can be arranged at most tourist agencies, but we found it cheapest to go directly to the canal area. The price for a half-day/no workshop tour of the lake is around 15,000 kyat for a group up to four. Note that there isn't a large discount in price for a half-day tour because no workshop commissions can be earned by the operators.

A great way to spend a couple of hours is to do an Inle Lake sunset tour. For around 6,000 kyat it's possible to hire a boat to go out and view Inle Lake at what is perhaps its most photogenic state. You'll likely see several fishermen as well.

For around 4,000 kyat (7,000 kyat for two) a canoe can be hired for a few hours. This is a great way to explore rural villages and paddy at a much slower pace – not to mention great exercise.

In Dein is a 90-minute boat ride from town and the area contains 1,054 ancient stupas from the 11th to the 17th centuries. You'll also see rarely visited floating villages and gardens. Try to go on a day when the five-day market is held. This couples well with a half-day, workshop-free tour of the lake. It costs around 20,000 kyat round-trip for the boat.

An artificial lake formed from the creation of a dam in Lwe Pan Son, Sankar Lake contains stupas said to be from the seventh to eighth centuries and is controlled by the Pa'o ethnic group. It's especially beautiful during the rainy season, when most of the ancient village is submerged underwater and only the tops of monasteries and stupas are visible. You'll also have the opportunity to tour the villages, which you may find interesting as this area had been previously completely off-limits to foreigners. Rice wine is produced in the area and available for tasting. A boat ride to Sankar lake takes three hours and a local Pa'o guide must be hired for $10. Entrance fee of $5 and 50,000 kyat round-trip for the boat. This is a full day trip.

Hmawbe Market is said to be the most interesting of all five-day markets held in the area. You'll see people of the Pa'o tribe trading a variety of items including buffalo and cattle. This is a great opportunity to get well off the beaten path; expect to pay around 35,000 kyat round-trip for the boat.

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On regular trips to SE Asia Matt spends most of his time motorcycling through the countryside and sampling exotic foods. He's been a fan of Travelfish since 2007 (coincidentally the same year he quit his corporate job in the USA and bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok!) ;-)

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