Aside from the gardens, markets and handicraft villages, several other minor things to do can be added on to typical Inle Lake itineraries.
The famous Jumping Cat Monastery, Nga Hpe Kyaung, has seen its former cat-loving abbot pass away. This means the the cats are apparently no longer jumping so much -- and even in its heyday bribing cats with fish to jump through hoops was one of the sillier attractions we’d seen in Southeast Asia (though Kanchanaburi’s floating nun also springs to mind. These days the temple is more notable for a collection of ancient Buddha images.
Meanwhile Phaung Daw Oo, south of Ywama in the village of Tha Ley (sometimes written Thale), is Inle’s most prestigious pagoda. It's worth a stop as much for the general scene as the architecture. In a glass case in the central shrine are five small, ancient and highly venerated Buddha images that have been so overlaid with gold leaf that the original shape of the wooden Buddhas is no more recognisable and they’ve become simple gold lumps. Once a year between late September and early October, the statues are taken on a pilgrimage around the various monasteries in a gold-painted, swan-shaped barge. (The barge is kept in a shed just next to the monastery.) Hundreds of devotees, and these days tourists, follow its progress around the lake from village to village.
Something slightly different and worth a stop if you’re passing by is Inle Heritage, a superbly restored old teak stilt mansion just outside Inn Phaw Khone village. Short but informative guided tours are offered hourly from 10:30 to 14:30.
On previous trips we’ve seen two-person kayaks for hire for around 10,000 kyat for a couple of hours. On our mid-2016 rainy season trip they were absent; we’re hoping they’ll be available again in high season, since a gentle paddle around the waterways to the south of town is a very pleasant way to spend some time and of particular interest to bird watchers. Common lakeside birds include various species of egret, heron, duck, geese, kingfishers, kites as well as purple swamp hens and jacanas. During winter months myriad additional migratory storks and terns arrive to supplement the indigenous population. (We have spotted a rare black stork close to Nanthe village south of Nyaung Shwe.)
Also during the dry season months of October through to April, hot air balloon trips are on offer. (Balloons over Inle: (092) 5737 6600; firstname.lastname@example.org and Oriental Ballooning: (092) 5008 9443; email@example.com; www.orientalballooning.com. Both offices were closed for rainy season when we visited but check ahead of time if this tickles your fancy.
In town, the Cultural Museum (open Wed-Sun 10:00-16:00, entrance 2,000 kyat) is remarkable more for its exterior than interior, as it’s housed in the old palace of the last member of the former local Shan royal family. It's an impressive old building, which by all accounts used to hold an impressive collection of royal regalia and historic artefacts. Possibly viewed by the government as an incitement to Shan nationalism, the best bits of the contents were shipped off in 2009 for discreet storage in a Yangon warehouse (though some items may appear at the National Museum) after the monks’ demonstrations. (They did get off relatively lightly: The spectacular old Shan Sky Lords’ palace in Kengtung was simply razed to the ground by government bulldozers.) Today the museum displays a lacklustre array of old Buddhas and religious paraphernalia. Do check out the exterior’s fading glory, but it’s doubtful the entrance fee is worth paying.
The key stupa to keep an eye out for is Yadana Man Aung Paya to the south of the town centre on Phaung Taw Site Street. The centrepiece is an unusual multi-levelled stupa not unusually gilded with gold paint. Some of the colonnades surrounding the square compound house a small museum containing various items and Buddhist images collected by resident monks. It’s not going to be one you tell your grandchildren about but it is worth a peek and there’s often a chatty monk or two about.
More spectacular, and more frequently photographed, is the all-teak Shan monastery just outside of town to the north, on the road out to Shwe Nyaung. The classic shot is resident monks and novices seated in the oval-shaped windows though there are some interesting wooden carvings inside too. Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung is a bit too far to walk to, but makes for a convenient cycle ride and there’s some pleasant rural scenery to be seen along the short route.
Finally, the Aung Puppet Show is located in the eastern part of town and is very popular with travellers. The 20-minute show runs twice nightly at 19:00 and 20:30; tickets cost 5,000 kyat. Hand-carved puppets are available for purchase.
By Mark Ord.
Last updated on 13th October, 2016.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.