The closest airport to Nyaung Shwe and Inle Lake is at the tiny town of Heho (HEH). Heho lies approximately 40 kilometres northwest of Nyaung Shwe, just off the highway between Taunggyi and Kalaw.
As of late 2016, the following airlines operate out of Heho: KBZ, Yadanarporn, Asian Wings, Golden Myanmar, Myanmar Airlines (the national carrier) and Yangon Airways.
KBZ, as at most airports, is the most expensive, with Golden Myanmar posting the cheapest rates. In principal, each company operates daily flights to the following destinations, though if numbers are low flights may be combined so you could purchase a ticket with Asian Wings and find yourself on a KBZ plane. Prices are approximate.
Yangon: $100-105 KBZ, $85-90 Golden Myanmar. $90-100 other airlines.
Mandalay: $75-90 KBZ, $70-75 other airlines.
Nyaung Oo (Bagan): Comparable to Mandalay.
KBZ also operate flights from Heho to Tachileik and Kengtung three times a week. This should increase to daily during high season 2016-17. Cost is approximately $125.
For any other domestic destinations, you will need to change in Mandalay or Yangon.
The closest railway station to Nyaung Shwe is at the junction village of Shwe Nyaung, a few kilometres north of town on the Thazi to Yaksauk line. From Heho, the track winds up to Kalaw then down to Thazi, where it hits the main Yangon to Mandalay line.
A tuk tuk or taxi from the station to Nyaung Shwe shouldn’t set you back more than 8,000-10,000 kyat. There are, in theory, two departures per day for Kalaw and Thazi at 08:00 and 09:45. These trains stop at Heho (the town, not the airport), Aung Ban and Kalaw before reaching Thazi, 250 kilometres distant some 11 hours later. It's very slow, but very scenic. Heho is an hour, Aung Ban 2.5 hours and Kalaw 3.5 hours, though bear in mind this is only what the printed schedules say. Main line connections at Thazi with the Shwe Nyaung line are not always great, so unless you have a particular like of Thazi train station we’d recommend not attempting to go further on the same train journey. Furthermore, if we understood correctly, tickets aren’t available at Shwe Nyaung for further travel anyway; you’d have to buy another ticket in Thazi.
Thazi is 1,300 kyat or 3,000 kyat for upper class, while Kalaw is around 1,000/2,000 kyat. Eastwards, the tracks turn north to the remote town of Yaksauk (it doesn’t quite make it to Taunggyi).
Small Nyaung Shwe doesn't have a bus station. Transport departs from in front of the various Yone Gyi travel agents, while shared taxis and minibuses go door to door collecting customers from hotel lobbies. We counted around 10 different companies providing long-distance transport to Bagan, Mandalay and Yangon or shorter hops to Kalaw. There are also direct buses to Kyaukme, Hsipaw and Lashio which avoid passing through Mandalay. Other destinations include Pyin U Lwin, Bago, Taungoo and even Hpa-an and Myawaddy, though we’re not recommending you go from Nyaung Shwe to the latter two in one hop. Heading east, foreigners are not permitted to travel overland further than Taunggyi at present.
For the three main long-haul routes you have a choice of coach-style night buses, while day journeys are more often done by minibuses.
Buses are much improved in Burma these days, though roads are not. Air-con buses are cheaper than minibuses, though VIP sleepers with fewer seats and more reclining space are usually comparable in price to minibuses. You’ll pay a slight commission to either a travel agent or a hotel or guesthouse but rates shouldn’t vary by much either way. Note the minibus services pick up and drop off at the door, which can save you a few kyat in taxi or tuk tuk fares. This is our preferred means of road travel. Below are sample prices and times noted as of mid-2016. Fares will vary slightly from one company to another and travelling times are very approximate!
Kalaw: Several daily departures, 2-2.5 hours, 4,000 kyat
Mandalay: 7-8 hours
Air-con bus: 19:00, 12,000 kyat
VIP night bus: 19:30 & 20:30, 14,000-17,000 kyat
Minibus: 09:00 & 09:30, 14,000 kyat
Bagan: 8-9 hours
Air-con bus: 07:00 & 19:00, 15,000 kyat
VIP night bus: 20:00, 19,000-20,000 kyat
Minibus: 08:00, 20,000 kyat
Yangon: 11-12 hours
Air-con bus: 09:00, 18:00 & 18:30, 16,000-18,000 kyat
VIP night bus: 17:30, 17:45, 18:00 & 18:30, 20,000-25,000 kyat
Kyaukme, Hsipaw, Lashio: 11, 12 & 14 hours respectively
Air-con bus: 15:00, 16,000 kyat flat fare
Pyin U Lwin: 8-10 hours
Air-con bus: 19:30, 20,000 kyat
Bago: 9-10 hours
Air-con bus: 17:00, 14,000-16,000 kyat
VIP night bus: 18:30, 22,000 kyat
Taungoo, Hpa-an, Myawaddy: 8-9 hours for the former, a very long time for the latter two!
Air-con bus: 15:00, 25,000 kyat for Taungoo, 50,000 kyat for Hpa-an and Myawaddy
For the short ride up to Taunggyi, you can either tuk tuk up to Shwe Nyaung and wait for an eastbound bus to pass along the main road, or take one of the cheap local pick-up buses from just off Yone Gyi Street. Fares are 1,500 kyat and it takes around an hour. They depart throughout the day whenever they are full.
For Loikaw, we couldn’t find any direct buses. You’d have to change at either Kalaw or Taunggyi, or pay for a boat.
Thu Thu Travel Agency: Yon Gyi St; T: (081) 209 258, (094) 100 3892; email@example.com; open daily 08:00-20:00.
Despite there being so much water around, there’s little or no public boat transportation accessible to foreigners. Sure, longtails ply routes between most lakeside villages and the main town Nyaung Shwe, but for safety reasons authorities would rather not see tourists on these overcrowded craft and for financial reasons boatmen would prefer to see you on a private hire boat.
Regular Inle Lake boat details are discussed in our Inle Lake sights section. Private boat hire to destinations further afield can get pricey. Return to Samkar (Samka) at the northern end of the first lake south of Inle, for example, is 50,000 kyat, taking three hours, while for Pekon at the foot of the third lake, we were quoted $150 one way. From here it’s a 40 minute ride by local bus to Loikaw. It’s an all-day trip and the boatman will need to stay overnight, hence the expensive tariff.
Around Inle Lake
Private boat hire to or from lake resorts or villages to Nyaung Shwe should set you back 10,000-15,000 kyat. Some resorts around Khaung Daing and Maing Thauk are accessible by road and will cost similar rates by tuk tuk, or slightly more by taxi.
Around Nyaung Shwe
The town is small enough to be walkable, though bicycles are a fun and easy way to get around. They can be rented from most guesthouses and hotels as well as travel agents and cafes for 1,000-1,500 kyat per day. Make sure you take the phone number of the people you’re hiring from in case of a puncture. Motorbikes or Bagan-type e-bikes are not available in Nyaung Shwe.
Horse and traps are rare now in town and we’d assume the few motorbike taxis we saw in town were down from Shwe Nyaung. Otherwise you’re relying on tuk tuks and taxis. Taxis can generally be booked through your guesthouse or a travel agent. They usually only cost a bit more than the local orange tuk tuks hanging out at the tuk tuk station at the northern end of the market on Lan Ma Taw Street. The tuk tuks are cumbersome, slow vehicles. The combination of appalling, or zero, suspension with dodgy country lanes can make journeys seriously uncomfortable.
Sample fares are 15,000-20,000 return to Khaung Daing and the hot springs, or 15,000 to the Red Mountain winery including waiting time. The hour-long trip to Heho should be around 15,000-20,000 for a tuk tuk or 20,000-25,000 for an air-con taxi. The junction at Shwe Nyaung is 10,000 kyat.