My formula for epic trips is something like this: travel with friends, seek out a diversity of unique and fun experiences, enjoy a bit of adventure, always imbibe in a bit of alcohol, find a balance between the natural and urban worlds, find good value for the money and meet other travelers.
When Bohemian Vagabond suggested we visited Myanmar, I admit I wasn’t super excited – having only visited once before near the Thai border and never really digging deeper into the countryside. She said at the time that Inle Lake delivered some of her best experiences and memories while traveling.
She was absolutely correct.
Perhaps not on everyone’s travel radar – Inle Lake was one of the highlights of our most recent visit to Myanmar. We stayed at the budget Gypsy Inn located in the town of Nyaungshwe directly across from the river channel that ultimately connects to Inle Lake. Rooms are basic and the staff/ownership is very friendly and helpful. It is located within a short walk of a plenty of massage businesses, restaurants and just down the street from the river boat pier. Or for a more private experience and one just outside of town, consider staying at the Inle Lotus Hotel (about a 10 minute drive from the center of Nyaungshwe and 10 minutes from Red Mountain Estate Winery).
Arguably one of the top highlights of visiting Inle Lake is a stop at Shwe Inn Dein Pagoda. It is located about an hour by car from Nyaungshe or about 90 minutes by boat (from the primary pier in town) – crossing through Inle Lake and eventually moving up the narrow Inn Thein creek passing by sugarcane fields and several villages. After you embark you will pass through a number of artisan vendors selling everything from shirts, to scarves to paintings. A number of restaurants and tiny food stalls are also located on the walk to the pagodas.
Hundreds of pagodas are built on a hill – most dating from the 1700’s – some are not restored, many are. A long covered entrance leads to the top or one can wander outside among the pagodas slowly making their way up the hill to the top. Be sure to peek in some of them – containing picturesque statues and other sculptures.
Khaung Daing Nature Hot Springs are located about a 30 minute drive from the center of Nyaungshwe or an hour bike ride. A small temple accessed via several hundred steps is located on the right hand side of the road just before you reach the hot springs. A walk to the top affords one excellent views of the valley below and Inle Lake in the near distance.
If you have the time, we recommend renting bikes in town and riding to the hot springs – the road is fairly bumpy and slow going but the scenery is pretty – passing by rice fields and through the countryside – maybe picking up views of a sunflower field (and or a selfie with a sunflower) on your way.
These natural hot springs are located at the Pristine Lotus Resort; 4 or 5 hot spring pools are available in the general bathing area – each spring is a different temperature ranging from luke warm to super hot. A small cafe is on site – we recommend the very tasty French Fries (of all the foods one might think of ordering in Myanmar this one is probably low on your list!). Fairly pricey admission ($10 at the time of our visit).
Red Mountain Estate Winery is located about 30 minutes from town by bicycle (popular with cyclists later in the day) and others as this very scenic location is a great place to enjoy rare Myanmar wines paired with small bites and a gorgeous sunset. Surprised to find a winery in Myanmar? So were we when we first heard that Myanmar has two wineries. The hillside setting with the surrounding vineyards almost feels like parts of South African wine regions.
A must do highlight of a visit to Nyaungshwe/Inle Lake is to take a boat tour of the waterways and or the lake with a cruise through some of the water villages, artisan shops and a stop to see a few Myanmar long necked ladies (coils are wrapped around their necks from a young age and they live with these all their lives – which eventually lengthens their necks).
Another very unique highlight is a stop at the Khit Sunn Yin Weaving Center where handcrafted clothing and fabric is created from strands of lotus stems. Simply cutting into a Lotus stem and then pulling it apart will reveal long thin strands of fiber. The trans-formative process from the raw strands to beautiful fabric is remarkable and an effort in patience and specialized knowledge. Visitors walk among the ladies working here – all engrossed in various stages of creating the product. Not cheap, one realizes why when you understand the significant time and effort that goes into creating a single piece of clothing.
This boat tour will last most of the day and can easily be arranged just by walking along the waterfront where vendors will quickly approach you asking if you would like a boat tour.