Inle Lake was a surprising highlight on our visit to Myanmar. I had been to Ton Le Sap near Siem Reap in Cambodia and thought it would be similar at that. However there is more to Inle Lake than the obvious long boat tour, here’s my list of things to do on Inle Lake with kids.
Inle Lake is a 116 square kilometer fresh water lake in Shan State, Myanmar. The water level in Inle Lake varies between 2m and 3.7m depending what season it is. The local people of Inle Lake are called the Intha and there are 70,000 of them living in four towns bordering the lake and in numerous small villages on or next to Inle Lake.
Transportation around the lake is mostly by long boat with inboard diesel engines. Inle Lake is famous for the local fishermen who stand at the back of their boats on one leg, while wrapping their other leg around the oar and using that leg to row and utilising a large net to catch fish. This enables the fishermen to see through the reeds.
By the time we arrived at Inle Lake, we had visited Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay and the kids were getting a bit tired of visiting temples and pagoda’s. Inle Lake definitely provided a change of scenery and provided more appropriate things to do in Inle Lake. We found there to be plenty of good things to do in Inle Lake with kids and mine were even wanting to stay a little longer.
First read my Myanmar travel tips if this is your first visit to Myanmar.
Doing a long boat tour was definitely a highlight of our trip to Inle Lake with kids. We were picked up by our tour guide/long boat driver at 8am from the jetty of our hotel. It’s best to head out early and beat the heat of the day. Make sure you take sunscreen and hats, you’ll definitely need them. The long boat tour gives you insight into life on the lake for the local people and you’ll see that it’s bustling and full of life. We were back at the hotel at 2pm, we could have slowed down and spent more time at each spot but we were happy with what we had seen and the kids we keen to have a swim as it was quite hot.
I was surprised to see masses of tomato fields on the lake, they must be able to supply the whole of Myanmar with the amount of tomatoes we saw. They grow in garden beds that float on the water, there were other crops growing successfully the same way.
On arrival in Nyaung Shwe we were approached by locals offering us tours of the lake. Its hard to know what value you’re going to get and the level of knowledge the guide will be able to provide. Your hotel is able to organise a guide for you however you will be paying extra for that service. I recommend pre-booking with Klook for Inle Lake Tours these are reliable and well organised tours.
The long boat tour took us to visit a number of different local artisan workshops which we got to via a network of street like canals in our long boat. The workshops had a store where you were able to purchase some of the local products as souvenirs. The kids definitely rated the local artisans as one of the best things to do in Inle Lake.
Craig dubbed Inle Lake the ‘Venice of the East’ and it certainly is like a bustling little city in some areas. You will discover many artisans that welcome you into their studio/homes and show you their craft, traditions and give you demonstrations. Below is just a few of the local artisans we had the opportunity to visit.
This was our first stop, we were guided through the different stages of how they extract the silver and then melt it down and finally made into a piece of jewellery. It was a family run business that employees a few locals. Once you have experienced the silver being produced, you can see some of the jewellery being made before heading to the showroom to see the finished products.
I actually found the quality to be good, I bought a lovely pair of silver earrings for myself and some for my mum and sister. The girls both got something for themselves with their birthstones set in silver. The prices were very reasonable and the workmanship was good as well. I’m always happy to make purchases at places like this, particularly as they are original pieces that you won’t find elsewhere.
The kids participated in making shan paper. Shan paper is used to produce the beautiful paper umbrellas that you see everywhere in Myanmar. Produced from the stem of the mulberry branch, the paper is very popular in Myanmar. You’ll often find the paper with flower or leaf inlay, its similar to a rough tissue paper. It was great to watch the process of making the paper and definitely one of the fun things to do in Inle Lake with kids.
Its quite a long process from start to finish, the mulberry branch in beaten to a pulp with a wooden mullet. Then placed on a bamboo frame covered with a very fine cotton fabric until it settled at the bottom of a shallow tank of water. With a stick or with hands, the pulp is mixed with the water and then spread over the fabric. The frame is pulled out from the water tank, while the pulp of paper stays on the cotton. The frame and the pulp will dry for hours in the sun and finally the pulp will be transformed into a paper sheet. Delicately, the sheet will be removed from the bamboo frame.
You are able to purchase some of the paper from the workshop or purchase an umbrella made from the shan paper. I desperately wanted to bring an umbrella home but having only carry on luggage made this too difficult.
Padaung women begin to wear neck coils from as young as age two. The length of the coil is gradually increased however the weight of the coils will eventually place sufficient pressure on the clavicles to cause them to deform and create an impression of a longer neck believed to be a sign of beauty. This practice does irreparable damage to these women’s neck as the muscles underneath the coil become weakened.
I had not planned to seek this out, we come across three ladies from the Padaung Village while at the shan paper workshop. The kids were quite intrigued and interested in why the women would do that. Its an age old tradition that has recently been discouraged by the Myanmar government. Ordinarily not something I would support or encourage others to visit, as stated above I did not seek this out and you will have to consider your own ethical travel standards before visiting. If you do really want to visit one of these villages I suggest you do your research and find a responsible tour company that will promote a socially responsible visit. Enough said.
Nga Phe Chaung Monastery is a beautiful wooden monastery built on stilts believed to be constructed 200 years ago on Inle Lake. It is the oldest and largest monastery in Inle Lake region. It is set among floating gardens and well worth a visit. There is a strip of souvenir shops on the walkway into the monastery, we entered from the long boat at the rear of the monastery.
There are a number of different buddha’s from Shan and other areas of Myanmar inside. You might also hear some people refer to it as the Jumping Cat Monastery as the previous head monk had trained cats to jump through hoops. The new head monk was not in favour of this practice.
Lotus plants are plentiful on Inle Lake and you will see then everywhere during your tour. The lotus thread is consider the most expensive and finest fabrics in the world. The thread is produced from the stem of the lotus flower and you can see how the women of Inle Lake hand spin the thread and then produce beautiful garments. The threads are produced by cutting the stem of a lotus plant and then pulling the halves gently apart which makes a thread appear. A square metre of this fabric requires at least 20,000 lotus stems and takes a skilled artisan 40 days to produce.
There is a store on site selling the products made from the lotus thread, I was surprised to find that a lotus scarf was twice as much as a silk scarf. I usually like to purchase something from local workshops such as this but on this occasion the beautiful garments were well above my budget.
Everyone who knows me knows that my favourite part of the day is sunrise and sunset. I was determined to get out on the lake and experience a sunrise. I booked the same long boat operator we had the day before for our lake tour. I asked the family who wanted to go and I got a resounding silence and realised I would be venturing out alone.
My alarm went off at 4.30am and I got ready, waking Caelan in the process. He decided he would come with me and threw on some clothes and headed down to the resort jetty with me. Our driver arrived right on time at 5am and we headed straight out to the middle of the lake. It was quiet and eerie and the lake was so still, we were sitting floating in the long boat waiting for sunrise and watching the early morning fishermen.
Unfortunately the sunrise was terrible, we were there at the end of the wet season and the sky was often cloudy destroying any chance of a decent sunrise. Strangely enough, I was able to pick up some nice colours from my iPhone but I certainly couldn’t see that with my naked eye. It might not have been the best sunrise but I had that time with my boy and that was definitely worth it.
Hot air balloons operate between mid October to mid March and is weather dependant. The balloon company will pick you up from your hotel between 5am-5.30am. You’ll be up in the air before the sunrises and watch the soft morning glow bring Inle Lake to life. Once back on the ground, you’ll enjoy a light breakfast with sparkling wine which is a hot air balloon tradition any where in the world.
We weren’t able to do this activity as we arrived in early October, just before the balloon season began. Had they have been operating I definitely would have done it. I love the surreal feeling of hot air ballooning where you feel like the earth is slowly moving away from you while you stand still in the basket. Having done it a couple of times in other places, I’m sure it would be an absolutely amazing experience.
For a competitive price, I recommend pre-booking through Klook for your hot air balloon adventure.
For an interactive activity that is fun and educational for the kids, you can’t go past a local cooking lesson. This class will teach you how to cook an authentic Myanmar meal in a floating house on Inle Lake. You’ll have an experienced chef who’ll teach you all the secrets to create an authentic, delicious Myanmar meal.
You’ll stop by the local market in Nyaung Shwe and collect all the ingredients you’ll use during your class. Won’t your family and friends be impressed when they come over for some authentic Myanmar cuisine cooked by the kids.
For a competitive price, I recommend pre-booking through Klook for reliable, well organised tours.
You will need a visa to visit Myanmar if you are Australian. We applied for an e-visa and it was easy and straightforward. I get all my visa information from the Smarttraveller website and it directed me to the Embassy of Myanmar website.
All other nationalities I suggest you go through the Myanmar Online Visa website and follow the bouncing ball and pay at the end.
The online e-visa process cost us AU$60 per person.
There are many options to choose from when visiting Inle Lake that will suit any budget. We stayed at the Novotel Inle Lake Myat Min. I was very happy with this choice as it was the relax and recharge component of our trip. I also thought the Novotel was one of the best hotels on Inle Lake and the kids loved it.
I loved the views from the upper pool deck and as it was low season we often had the pool to ourselves. There were even some lake facing bungalows with private plunge pools. If you are looking for a hotel recommendation, I highly recommend staying at this hotel.
Fly – flights are available to Mandalay and Yangon and from smaller regional airports across Myanmar and international flights from across Asia, you can book direct or with travel agents on arrival in larger cities. Flights are generally between US$50-$100 each way for local flights;
Bus – we travelled all around Myanmar on buses, a combination of day and overnight buses are available. There are various levels of comfort from local mini bus to VIP luxury buses. You will be provided with a meal, blanket and pillow but be warned there are no toilets on board. You will need to wait until the bus stops which is does a few times each trip. The bus is very cost effective, you can get direct buses from Bagan, Yangon or Mandalay.
We got the bus from Yangon to Bagan, Bagan to Mandalay, Mandalay to Inle Lake and Inle Lake to Yangon. If you want to cut down your bus travel you could do Yangon to Bagan, Bagan to Inle Lake, Inle Lake to Mandalay and then fly out of Myanmar from there.
When travelling in Myanmar always dress respectfully when planning to visit any temples. Shoulders should be covered as with your knees. I had a skirt that fell to just below my knees and that was fine at nearly all the temples we visited. I had one request I wear a longhi (wrap around skirt) which was provided for a small fee.
I also suggest you carry a shawl, I had a pashmina wrap with me at all times. I was requested to wear it once when I had a t-shirt with a cross over back on, it actually just slipped my mind when I put that particular top on but the shawl was just fine. There doesn’t seem to be an issue with kids, however our 13 yr old daughter was asked to wear a longhi over her shorts a couple of times.
Wear comfortable clothes the day that you are doing the long boat tour as you will be getting in and out of the boat regularly. If you wear long light pants that will assist with avoiding mosquito bites as well.
Like all South East Asian countries you can get away with spending as little as US$20 per day if you wanted to. However with us being a family of 5 and we were closer to US$80 per day, including accommodation, food and tours. We could have done this a lot cheaper had we not eaten at the hotel, on a good note all hotels in Myanmar come with breakfast included. Overall Myanmar is a very budget friendly destination however I’m not the best person for making or sticking to budgets!
Inle Lake was the perfect break from the temples and pagodas we’d seen in the rest of Myanmar. The kids loved the Inle Lake day tour and really enjoyed seeing life on the lake for the local people. It was a much more relaxed pace for us and we spent the mornings out and about and the afternoons back at the hotel in the pool. My advice is if you can afford to, stay at one of the hotels that are located on the East side of the lake. It makes for a beautiful sunset each evening with a cocktail while the kids had some quiet iPad time in the room.
I could easily have spent another day or two at Inle Lake, I would have loved to do a hot air balloon ride. We only stayed 2 nights and while we managed to see a bit, there were definitely other things I would have been happy to see. I think you would be crazy not to visit Inle Lake as it was definitely one of the best things to do in Myanmar with kids.
Have you been to Myanmar? Did you visit Inle Lake? Tell me about it in the comments below.
Sal, Craig & Our3kids