Inle Lake (Shan State)
Inle is not only the second largest lake in Myanmar (covering roughly 45 square miles in a beautiful and remote, mountainous area of the Shan State), but the Inle basin represents an entire region. One could spend a week exploring the lake, villages, and nearby towns and sights such as Kakku and Kalaw, and still only scratch the surface. For many of our past travelers, Inle was a highlight of their trip, particularly during the festival season (September through January) and we'll encourage you to spend time there as well.
Located at nearly 3,000 foot elevation, the area is one of the country's most picturesque places and was a destination for colonial-era British escaping the torrid heat of Yangon. A geographic highlight of the country and most likely, of your travel in the country, Inle is also rich in a diversity of traditional hilltribes and should be part of your trip not only for the bucolic landscapes, but cultural import provided by the local populations, particularly during the frequent festivals which see wide attendance from these tribes. We recommend you linger after arrival in Myanmar, the perfect place to rest up after the long trip to get there and admire the lake from the deck of your hotel.
The area's landscapes and local culture offer, in particular, outstanding opportunities for photography and has been featured in our annual photography series with Mark Tuschman [view portfolio].
The area is also an important nature preserve, the Inle Wetland Wildlife Sanctuary (below), and site off the annual "Fire Lightning" festival, the Shan State's most important and the country's most unique festival.
Highlights of Inle
People-to-people encounters with the Inta, Pa'O, and Palaung peoples who inhabit the lake area. Their different lifestyles and customs are remarkable. Here too are the famous Padaung, or "long-necks" with their women wearing customary brass rings. Although a dying tradition, Padaung continue to wear the rings for tourists. No matter your opinion on this unique tradition (watch the accompanying video), it's a fascinating sight.
Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda
The most famous and important religious site on the lake. Founded over 800 years old ago, the pagoda houses five sacred Buddha statues . The shape and appearance of the Buddha's statues are unique and shimmer from layers of gold leaf given by devotees. There is the major annual festival, the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival in fact, usually in October for 18 days, depending on the Buddhist calendar. Plan your visit for the pleasant weather this time of year as well. Read more below.
Inle Wetland Wildlife Sanctuary
An area established in 1985 for the safety of migratory birds and their habitat. To date, 254 bird species have been recorded, including the rare Jerdon's Bushchat and Sarus Crane. Permission is required to visit the sanctuary, which we can arranged for sunrise photography.
Silk Weaving Village (Inn Paw Khon)
The fantastic and fabulous hand-weaving silk patterns are weaved in Inn Paw Khon village. The processes (such as tied and dyed) in detail procedures, the technique and creation of the fascinating design of the silk products can be seen and bought there.
Nam Pan Village
Nam Pan Village locates just before to Silk village. Making of cheroots, workshops of the boat carpenters are the interesting sites in that village. Besides, you will see the location and the style of the houses built on stilts as though we can call it Venice of the East.
Ywa Ma Village (or) Floating Market
One of the five-day markets, this floating market is in Ywa Ma Village. Popular products here are Shan bags, gold and silver wares, which are produced in the village.
Main Tauk Village and Forest Monastery
About an hour walk or 20 minutes drive by boat from the resort to get to the village. There is a meditation monastery on the top of the small hill and it is also a center now for young novices. The panoramic view of the lake can be seen from there. It takes 45 minutes walk from the village to the monastery. At lunch time, around 10:30 am, you can see the monks' disciplined way of having their food. On the way to the monastery you will pass-by a nursery school and orphanage residence.
Burmese Cat Village
Perhaps the most unusual village you may visit in all Asia. Burmese cats are known for their sleek good looks, alluring eyes and sunny disposition, but one group of “Burmese” are virtually unknown in modern Myanmar — the country’s namesake pedigree cats. Once believed to be the favoured pet of royalty and guardians of temples, the Burmese cat had vanished from its Southeast Asian ancestral homeland until enthusiasts decided to return them.
Yin Myo Su, who took on the project with the aim of preserving the country’s heritage as it emerges from military rule, has installed a growing family of the pedigree cats in a house on the shores of Inle Lake, in eastern Shan State with a "village" for the felines. From just seven cats imported in 2008 — some sourced from Britain’s Harrods department store — the project now has 50 moggies living around Inle, including nine kittens, and has become a tourist draw.
Yin Myo Su — who has pursued the project despite a slight allergy to felines — gives neutered Burmese cats to interested local people free and charges foreigners 500,000 kyats ($580). The breed was diluted out of existence by an influx of other types of cats to the region in the 19th and 20th century, with only a handful of purebreds taken to Britain during colonial rule, which ended in 1948. Much of the modern breed has descended from a single female cat, Wong Mau, who was taken to the United States in 1930, according to world pedigree organisation The International Cat Association. The short-haired cats have golden eyes and come in a range of colours from silvery blue to cream, although rich brown is the primary colour.
The Monastery with Trained Cats
More cats! The Ngaphe Chaung Monastery situated in Ngaphe Chaung Village is popularly known as the Jumping Cat Monastery. It was built on the instruction of the Nyaung Shwe Saw Bwa Sir Saw Maung in 1843. The monastery has 5 flights of stairs and is an ancient monastery. When you are touring the Inle lake region, you are cordially invited to venerate the ancient Buddha images and observe the unusual jumping skills of the fascinating cats.
Indein Temple Complex
On the western shore of Inle Lake, easily to accessible by boat and a short walk through the village to the covered colonnade walkway to the temple hill. Best seen is in the early morning light as the sun rises above the hills on the eastern shore. Indein village has a 5 day market which travellers can visit and each year the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival comes to Indein Village. The Indein Pagoda Festival is also celebrated every year.
Full day hiking from the Indein temples to the U Daung Mountain Monastery can also be arranged.
Thaung Tho Temple Complex & Monastery
Open recently to travelers. A pleasant journey of 2 hours by boat to the south of Inle Lake from Nyaung Shwe. Set off on a hill along the western side of Inle Lake a short walk to the mound of the temples and a foot path to the adjoining Monastery. Thaung Tho Monastery celebrates on the morning of the Full Moon of Thadingyut when all of the local Pa-O, Intha and Shan villagers come for worship and festival gatherings. Also the Thaung Tho Pagoda Festival is held annually. These two events are especially interesting for travelers who will get a unique chance to meet the local villagers of this area.
Kak Ku Temple Complex
Hidden in the deepest Pa-O region of the Shan Hills, Kak Ku Temple Complex was until recently unknown to most Myanmar people and to the outside world. A unique treasure of over two thousand stupas nobly set on a hill covering about a square kilometer. The site is 26 miles away south of Taunggyi, capital of Shan State which we can visit during this day trip, particularly if it is market day. Read more about Kakku below.
Access from Taunggyi or by 4 Wheel Drive vehicles across the Shan hills from Inle Lake can be arranged sometime. Visiting the 5 day market and festivals of Kak Ku in Full Moon of March are a truly inspiring experience.
At the Nan Pan Market
Tha Kaung Temple Complex
In late 2003 travel to the very south of the Lake was opened to all foreigners, so it is possible to visit "Tha Kaung Temple" on the eastern shore of the channel leading to Sakar Lake, a beautiful complex with a main pagoda and covered colonnade and several smaller pagodas with unique Buddha statues and paintings. Further around are small stupas many with interesting Buddha images. A visit to Tha Kaung should be combined with a full day excursion to the south of the Lake.
Nyaung Shwe Museum
This small Shan Chief's museum is situated in Nyaung Shwe, 40 minutes drive from hotel to get to the jetty and from there 15 minutes walk or nice to take a trishaw. This building is formerly a Shan Chief's Resident and the Chief has given up his power before the military made a coup and took the Country-power in 1962. He was the first president of the Union of Burma in 1948. Nicely displayed with royal throne, royal Shan families' costumes, the utilities those were used in the official occasions like sedan, divan, chairs, decoration materials and their photos. US$ 2 will be charged as the entrance fees.
Around Inle Lake
Picturesque Kalaw Highlands with roads flanked by beautifully manicured fields from where much of Myanmar's produce comes from. Kalaw was a former British hillstation located at about 1,300 meters altitude offering the colonialists a reprieve from the high heat of the plains, similar to the Cameroon Highlands in Malaysia but not nearly as developed. The town features colonial architecture, exquisite mountain scenery with expansive views of the area. A sublime place for leisurely exploration, of the hillstation and villages nearby, taking in the scenic high-mountain landscapes with coffee, tea and cigar leaf plantations, and to visit hilltribes villages and markets (if it is rotating market week in the area), where a large supply of handmade textiles woven by hilltribes in the area are on display. The area is inhabited by a diversity of hilltribes, such as the colorful Palaaung and Pa'O. There are also Indian Muslims, Bamars and Nepalis (the latter descended from Gurkhas who had retired from the British military) who live in the area.
Kalaw is an ideal starting point for scenic overland hikes to Inle of two to three days, including a village and monastery overnight. For those with extra time, a visit to nearby Pindaya is also recommended.
Five Days Market
A large and bustling market where one can find a real local atmosphere with a variety of produce from the lake. Other places of interest in the Lake are Paya Pauk Pagoda, Zakah Village and Nga Phe monastery. The 5-days Market in Inle Region is a popular tourist destination in Myanmar. The five main places where the market is to open are Ywama, Mine Thauk & Phaung Daw Oo, Nan Pan, Pan Thaung and Taung To. The ethnics and the locals near the Inle region collect their home-made products and come to the market to trade and sell. Some travel in boats and some from the land. The 5-days Market is full of local made products.
Taunggyi is the capital town of Shan States at 4,712 feet above the sea level is blessed with a moderate climate. Also located about 500 kilometers north of Yangon and about 10 kilometers southeast of Mandalay. Situated on a high plateau surrounded by high mountains it is the location of the popular annual Fire Lightening festival in late October or early November. The Myoma Market, a place where people from the environs used to flock only once every five days to buy and sell their regional products. Now it has become a daily market and is constantly crowded with people. It is also the gathering point of different national races residing in Taunggyi.
Always the highlight of the Inle Lake region, often drawing in thousands of diverse hilltribes from small villages throughout the Shan State. Festival season is typically October and November should be a focus of your tour if the dates correspond.
Paung Daw U Festival
One of the most famous shrines in Myanmar, Paung Daw U pagoda at Inle Lake, houses five small Buddha images. Once a year, at the end of September or early October, there is an 18-day festival during which the five Buddha images are ceremonially rowed around the Lake in a colorful barge accompanied by many other boats with Inle leg rowers. [More on the Puang Daw U Festival]
Fire Lightning Hot Air-Balloon Festival
Fire Lightning Festival Parade
In Taunggyi locals celebrate the Tazaungdine festival with Kahtein (offering of monk robes) as well as the "Fire Lightening" festival, releasing fire-balloons and rockets into the sky. Balloons in the shape of elephant, ox, horse, water-buffalo, bird, pig, fish, owl and parrot are released. The Taunggyi festival is the biggest festival in the country attended not only by Taunggyins but also by people from southern Shan State and many different tribes to show and display reverence. A highlight of travel if your dates correspond with the week-long event.
One of the Asia's largest, most spectacular and largely unknown ancient monuments is a wonderful Pagoda named Kakku. Containing over 2,000 stupas with origins dating back several centuries, the temple features many examples of outstanding tradition art and architecture but also as a testament to the religious devotion of one of Myanmar's many ethnic minorities, the Pa-Oh. For many centuries, the Pa-Oh has lived in peace, cultivating their land and devoting much of their energy and limited wealth to creating monasteries and pagodas. Kakku is about 33 miles from Taunggyi. It will take about 3 hours drive by car. Kakku is located in the Shan State. Kakku is in the territory of Pa-Oh people.
There are over 2000 stupas packed closely together in ranks and covering an area perhaps a square kilometer. The main stupa is around 40 meters high, the mass of the spire surrounding it uniformly. But each one is an individual masterpiece. The particular remarkable about the whole site is its good state of preservation. Originally each one must have been topped by a gilded metal hti, the multi tiered umbrella-like feature, which is typical of Myanmar Pagodas. Many of these are tilted on fallen. External rendering of mortar and stucco has crumbled away on others, exposing the brick core while trees have established themselves in a few, threatening to split them apart. But so much of the originals still exist that this site must be free of the destructive force of earthquakes, which have periodically ravaged many of the Myanmar's other monuments.
In one village on Inle Lake (simply an incredible place) the women make their local donuts and rice-flour treats. Another makes great snacks from various kinds of beans. All tasteful. We've seen too many things to set out in this short e-mail, but suffice it to say it's been fascinating. We also went to the local market day, colorful with all the tribes at the market, and a real array of fruits, veggies, and fish.
Inle is also very unique for both the methods of fishing on this shallow, large lake, and for the "floating gardens." About 70 years ago someone figured out how to combine the water hyacinth (which is a weed in the Delta at home), flowers, and mud from the lake bottom, to make large gardens that literally float... They are about 5-8 feet wide, and hundreds of feet long. You can walk on them and the rise up and down as you walk, but are great for tomatoes and dozens of other vegetables. ~ Ric Haas
External decoration on many of the stupas is simple, almost sparse, the builders, having concentrated on pure grace and form for effect, but other features elaborate decoration. Traditional motifs weave intricate patterns of arabesques and stems, to create a delicate tracery of the highest artistic merit.
Even more fascinating are the many figures, carved in stucco and apparently originally brightly painted, which adorn corner or pay silent homage beside the niches in the base, many of which still contain antique Buddha images. Angels, musicians,dancers- all created with consummate skill. The remoteness of the site and reluctance of the local people allow visitors has helped to preserve its sculptures and artistic treasures to a degree, unknown in other ancient monuments in Myanmar. Kakku is a priceless piece of mankind heritage, a truly splendid example of the creative talent of remarkable people. It will take about 3 hours drive by car. For a special thrill, considering biking back the mostly downhill route towards the lake.
On of our guests recently had his photo at Kakku featured in the Los Angeles Times travel section.
About 27 miles (45 kms) drive from Kalaw is Pindaya, well known for its extensive limestone caves. The caves are set deep in the hillsides and there stands at the entrance, a 15-meter high Shwe U Min Pagoda. There are some 6000 Buddha images and interesting stalagmites.
A C T I V I T I E S I N I N L E
Inle has always been a focal point for our cycling trips, with options for day trips to Kakku, Kalaw Highlands and overnight to Pindaya (longer tours can be organized overland to Mandalay and Bagan — View our 10-day Myanmar Cycling Tour). We can also organize trekking overland in conjunction with biking, including a ride to Kalaw, then return by three-day trek from Kalaw to Inle thorugh hilltribe villages with home stays.
The highlight of our annual Myanmar photography tour is Inle Lake featuring the most stunning landscapes in all of Myanmar; rising at dawn to photograph fisherman rowing in the eccentric one-legged style, exploring villages built over the water on stilts with their unique, vertical floating gardens, shooting at the Nan Pan "5-day market," and Indein, a village popular for it's collection of 17th century pagodas, as well as the myriad of colorful hilltribes in the region.
One of our travelers had his recent image featured in the Los Angeles Times travel section of a local Padaung "long-neck" woman near Inle Lake (right).
A short hop from Bangkok but a world away from the hustle and tourist crowds of Thailand. Here spend tranquil, romantic time on the lake between leisure time at the sumptuous Inle Princess Resort and sublime cruising on the lake. See our Inle Lake honeymoon escape for quick escape from Bangkok.
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