Your standard tour of Inle consists of a boat tour around the scenic lake, passing through stilt villages and floating gardens, punctuated by stops at a pagoda or two, a local market and a series of handicraft or cottage industry workshops. And if the village workshops are the commas in your itinerary, then In Dein is definitely the exclamation mark. This is the highlight of the tour for many visitors and one not to be missed.
In Dein (sometimes written Indein), which you’ll occasionally hear referred to as the Shan Bagan, is a collection of restored and ruined stupas begun in the 12th century and added to by Shan princes up until the 18th century. The restored section — a forest of shining spires restored on a low hill — creates a spectacular effect (although the restoration would probably give an archaeologist a heart attack), while the still-ruined brick stupas on the lower slopes are superb.
The site lies at the foot of the hills overlooking the Lake and is reached by a short boat journey up the In Dein River. The river is picturesque and carries visitors to the small eponymously named village, where there are numerous cafes and souvenir shops. (In Dein Village also forms part of the five-day lake market circuit.) From here a short walk through the market area takes you to the start of a long, covered corridor lined with non-stop souvenir stalls, which climbs the gentle hill to the central pagoda.
Note that many of the spectacular ruined stupas lie to the left and right of this main corridor. Try and branch off left as soon as possible to visit the clump of ruins situated to the south, which house some of the most dramatic and photogenic sites.
The largest of this group of ruins (see below) has preserved murals and a recently uncovered Buddha image. Moving to the far left of the group will afford wonderful views up the slope towards the main temple site, as you can see in the first photo.
From here, a dirt track frequented by Pa-O people coming and going from villages further up the slope leads to the south end of the main stupa ‘forest’, but there’s also a spectacular section on the right side of the main corridor, so head back into the souvenir stalls and look for a small pathway leading off to your right. This will take you on a short circular route around a very quiet group of 10 or so ruined brick stupas clumped densely together and which house particularly good stucco work and carvings. Most visitors overlook these!
Criss-crossing the covered walkway again, head back off to the left where following the dirt track will provide you with the best views of the main group of stupas on the hill’s summit. From here you can head into the main temple, prestigious for locals but of less interest for visitors and, carrying your shoes with you, you can then return down the main walkway. Look out for an open area on your left which will take you back to the jetties by way of the ‘bamboo forest’ and a riverside path, a particularly scenic walk lined by friendly Pa-O hawkers.
This is a slightly fiddly route, but well worth the effort of following to get the best out of this fabulous site. It’s also well worth the effort to get down to In Dein early, since in high season and on market days especially it can get very crowded indeed. Allow up to two hours for your visit.
By Mark Ord
Last updated on 12th March, 2014.