A complete guide to planning and booking an Inle Lake boat trip from Nyaung Shwe. Tips for getting the best Inle Lake boat tour experience on your Myanmar trip.
Inle Lake in the Shan Hills of Myanmar is home to one of the world’s most unique communities of lake-dwellers and fisher-folk. For travelers in Myanmar, taking an Inle Lake boat trip is by far the best way to experience the charm and beauty of this incredible region.
From leg-rowing fishermen to ancient monasteries and vibrant floating markets, Inle Lake is a must-visit destination for anyone visiting Myanmar!
Here’s a full guide to help you book and understand what to expect from an Inle Lake boat tour from Nyaung Shwe.
Inle Lake Boat Trip – Tips Before You Book
You’re likely already aware that boat trips on Inle Lake are the most popular things to do in the area. This is due to the fact that life at Inle Lake is largely built on the lake itself.
While you could walk down the main street in Nyaung Shwe and find an eager boat tour salesperson within minutes, I’ve provided a few tips below on how to score the best trip. If you want to skip this and head straight to the tour I recommend, you’ll find it here and the itinerary outline below.
For more tips and Myanmar travel ideas, I’d highly recommend downloading the Lonely Planet eBook. Combining blog research with their detailed guides is probably the best way to prepare for any trip.
Pick a Sunrise Trip
If you can help it, I’d highly recommend an Inle Lake sunrise boat trip. Leaving early will mean you will catch the best light as you visit the pagodas and spot the authentic Intha fishermen on their morning trips.
Also, starting early will mean you will avoid the hot Burmese sun, which is anything but pleasant on an uncovered wooden boat in the middle of the hot season.
Book in Advance
Since you’ll be wanting to leave at first light, it helps to have a boat tour booked and ready to go. The day before is fine.
You know those iconic photographs of the Intha basket fishermen standing on one leg at the edge of their boats? I’m sorry to inform you but these guys earn their dues from tourist tips, not catching fish.
Of course, you can’t blame them if they can earn up to ten times more from posing than actually fishing. And in a way, I’m glad that the age-old tradition gets to live on, albeit in a different sense.
Regardless, if you want to catch a glimpse of the authentic Intha fishing lifestyle, let your boat driver or guide know in advance and they won’t pull up in front of the posing fishermen.
Then again, if you really want to catch a snap, a 2000 to 5000 kyat tip is more than enough, and trust me, they’ll ask.
Support Local Inle Lake Boat Tours
Due to the recent tourism boom at Inle Lake, large hotel chains and Chinese-run tourism businesses have taken advantage of the new demand.
It goes without saying that tourism dollars should go straight back into the pockets of the local people. Research a book a tour that is run by and delivered by locals.
Check What’s Included
Before you lock in and agree to an Inle Lake boat trip, make sure you ask what is included in the trip in advance. It helps a bit with bartering when you know what to expect in advance. Popular and worthwhile stops that I recommend are:
- Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda – a beautiful monastery
- Ywama Village – local floating market
- Inn Dein Pagoda – ancient Buddhist site
- Maing Thauk – bamboo-stilted village
- Silk and lotus weaving shops
- Cigar rolling shop
- Pa Daung Women – longneck tribespeople’s weaving shops
- Nga Phe Kyaung – jumping cat monastery
I’ll go into detail on most of these stops in the Inle Lake boat trip itinerary section below.
Where to Book the Best Inle Lake Boat Tour
Okay now that you know what to look for, where can you actually book an Inle Lake boat tour?
I can only recommend this boat tour, here’s why.
During my time solo traveling at Inle Lake, I went on two boat trips with completely different stops. The first was a spontaneous agreement between myself and a local boat driver, which in all honesty, wasn’t that great (I’ll explain). The second was one that I booked on Klook based on great reviews.
The Klook boat tour that I went on is run by local Inlay residents and includes a private boat and a tour guide who speaks adequate English. This boat trip was advertised to take 6.5 hours but they agreed to leave a little earlier and in all went for about 9 hours at no extra charge.
This Inle Lake boat trip included all of the highlight stops listed above. Having a guide explain the cultural and historic significance of the sites was much better than my first trip, where I was left a little confused.
My first trip was with a local boat driver who was very friendly but spoke almost no English. I think he took advantage of this fact by not stopping at most of the sites that I wanted to see but instead took me to three different silversmiths. Here he tried his best to pressure me into purchasing silver products (clearly in hopes of a commission on sales).
I completely understand that this is livelihood, and I still had a great time. However, since I missed most of the highlights on my list of things to see, I decided to book the second trip – and I’m glad that I did.
Inle Lake Boat Trip Price
Inle Lake boat trips are always paid per boat, not per person. Expect to pay between 18 000 to 25 000 for a regular Inle Lake boat tour on the street.
However, as I mentioned above, these can be a little hit and miss and typically do not include an English speaking guide.
Instead, I can recommend booking the tour mentioned above for a little more money, which went a long way in terms of tour quality for me.
Most boats are small, traditional-style Burmese lake vessels with an inboard engine. These can vary in size but most tourist boats accommodate 6-8 people.
Inle Lake Boat Itinerary
Leaving at first light, boats depart from the river inlet near the Tai Nan Bridge. This is where most of the boats are docked and it’s where you’ll want to head if you prefer to negotiate a boat tour in person.
Firstly, boats depart the docks and head down the Nyaung Shwe canal before entering the broad, Inle Lake.
Once you’re out on the lake, you’ll spot several fishermen and local boats as they conduct their daily business on the water. From here, it will depend on your particular tour for an exact itinerary.
Nevertheless, here is a typical Inle Lake boat itinerary with a bit more insight into each stop.
Note that this probably won’t be in order, as every tour is different.
Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda
The Phaung Daw Oo is one of the largest Inle Lake pagodas and is located on a river stream connected to Inle Lake. Even if your tour doesn’t stop to wonder inside, it’s still a notable site on the boat trip.
While Nyaung Shwe is now mostly a tourist hub, there are several small bamboo-stilted villages on Inle Lake that have retained their local heritage.
Ywama village is a great stop worth checking out from the boat, or by wondering into the vibrant lake market.
Inn Dein Pagoda
Nearby to Ywama village is the famous Inn Dein Pagoda. This particular pagoda contains a series of remarkable golden spires. It’s said that the original Buddhist site was built by King Ashoka as early as 220 BCE.
Maing Thauk is another notable village which is a popular spot on most Inle Lake boat tours. Complete with a monastery, stilted houses, bridges and markets, it really does showcase what life is like for the Inlay people.
Here, you’ll also often find local people selling traditional Burmese goods and fruits from their boats.
Myanmar Cigar Rolling
An interesting highlight of my Inle Lake boat trip was a stop at a traditional Myanmar cigar rolling factory. By now, you’ll no doubt have already spotted them having from the mouths of nearly every man in Myanmar.
A fun fact is that these cigars are nearly exclusively crafted by women using banana leaves.
Visiting The Pa Daung Women
The Shan State in Myanmar is home to large populations of Kayan tribespeople. At Inle Lake, many boat drivers stop to visit the weaving shops of The Pa Daung.
These women are known as the “long-neck” women, due to the ancient custom of using brass rings to elongate the neck. Speaking to these shop owners about their unique customs and their Kan Khwan heritage was one of the most interesting experiences I had during my time at Inle Lake.
The Kan Khwan religion dates back to people who migrated from Mongolia. The origin story of these people tells the tale of a meeting between an angel and a dragon, who gave birth to the Kayan.
At first, many people seem to be against the idea of stopping by to meet these people as they might see it as taking advantage of their culture. While it might seem like that superficially, I believe that tourism has given these women a renewed, lucrative means of sustaining their livelihood. Yes, the brass rings are really interesting. But, giving the Pa Daung people, who have experienced horrible oppression from Burmese conflict the opportunity to keep their history and culture alive by sharing it with foreigners is at least in my opinion, a good thing.
The Five Day Market
Inle Lake’s Five Day Market is a floating market which changes locations and runs for most of the week (hence the name). Ask your guide or boat operator about visiting the Five Day Market to check out the real Intha trading practices.
Nga Phe Kyaung – Jumping Cat Monastery
A quirky stop at one of Myanmar’s most unique monasteries. Here, you’ll find out why this monastery has been named the “Jumping Cat Monastery”. The buddhist monks who live here have trained their cats (who look like the most well-cared-for cats in Myanmar) to jump through hoops and perform other tricks.
Silk Weaving and Silver Smith Workshops
Honestly, unless you’re in the market for some jewelry, I’d ask your guide or driver to skip the silver workshops. In my opinion, they are not really culturally significant and more of a souvenir stop. However, the boat-sheds and silk weaving shops are pretty interesting.
Getting to Inle Lake
If you’re still in the planning stages of your upcoming Myanmar trip, then I’ve written a comprehensive guide to getting around in Myanmar.
This guide is actually focused on getting to Inle Lake, but will be useful for most tourist destinations in the country.
Where to Stay At Inle Lake
Where I stayed: ABC HOSTEL
This hostel is located in a quiet farmland area just a few minutes’ walk from the main street in Nyaung Shwe. One of my favorite hostels in Myanmar includes breakfast, an affordable restaurant, free bikes, and an awesome upstairs chillout area with a fire pit.
Great value large group accommodation: Trinity Family Inn
This is one of the best-reviewed hotels in Inle Lake. Super close to Mingala Market, this hostel is great for larger rooms with aircon and good Wifi.
Best Luxury Resort: Sanctun Inle Resort
For those wanting the best of the best, you can’t really beat the Sanctun Inle Resort. This is ranked as one of the best resorts in Myanmar and it’s not hard to see why.
More Myanmar Travel Guides and Blogs
I hope that this guide to planning an Inle Lake boat tour or trip has been useful. For more travel guides and articles in Myanmar, make sure to check out some of the blog posts from the list below.
If you have any questions or any updated information that would help other travelers, leave a comment below!
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