Whereas tourism is still relatively calm in Myanmar, there is one destination that definitely feels like a real backpacker hotspot: Nyaung Shwe on the beautiful Inle Lake.
As one of my friends so beautifully and accurately put it: Inle Lake feels like a lazy Sunday in the Seventies. I originally intended to stay for just a night or two, but ended up hanging out for almost a week in this dreamy spot. The town’s laid-back atmosphere made it just the perfect place to refuel after almost six weeks of traveling, and particularly a dirty week filled with trekking (by foot and by motorbike), sleeping on floors and not taking showers.
Most travelers will arrive at Inle Lake by foot, after two or three days of non-stop walking all the way from Kalaw. In order to get to the town of Nyaung Shwe (which is where you want to go), the best and easiest way is to take one of the many small boats. This allows you to visit the fascinating ecosystem of the lake at the same time.
The boats drive all across the vast lake, and you will pass luxurious resorts located in the water and traditional family housing alike – as well as the floating gardens. It’s quite fascinating to see how vegetables such as tomatoes are cultivated literally in the water and how the lake is a vital resource in this otherwise dry area.
But be careful: Inle Lake is one of the most touristically developed regions of Myanmar and the Burmese have well found out how to get as much money out of the tourists as possible: While visiting the different manufacturies on the lake and seeing how things like silk and jewelry are produced the old fashioned way, the main purpose of those workshops is to sell those products for way too much money in the attached stores. You will be able to find the same products on the mainland for less than half of the price, so beware!
Once you arrive in Nyaung Shwe, you will immediately feel the backpacker’s vibe: Unlike anywhere else I have been in Myanmar, Nyaung Shwe is the only place that cultivates some kind of restaurant/bar/guesthouse scene. So if you feel like you deserve a break from – the delicous, yet ever present – Shan Noodles, Inle Lake will feel like paradise. I for myself have stuck to Shan Noodles for most dinners anyways, but can highly recommend the Indian place located behind the market as well as the pancake place for a Burmese take on this western staple (chocolate pineapple topping, anybody?). From what I heard, the Nepalese place is supposed to be yummy as well.
What To Do in Inle Lake
For a town this small, there are plenty of cool things to do, such as wine tastings (yes that’s right), hot springs (not recommended!!! How did I even think that hot springs were a good idea in the burning burmese sun and 40°C?????), spas…
But the best option might just be to hang out with your friends or a book in one of the many cafés, attend movie night at the French restaurant and have
many a few drinks. And if you really feel like doing nothing at all: You can use the pool at Princess Garden Hotel for 10USD a day and sip on some fresh watermelon juice while working on your tan.
Nyaung Shwe is also the perfect place for (souvenir) shopping: You can find many little treasures to bring back home on the busy market in the center of town, and I stocked up on longhis, spices, tea and postcards for my friends and family. I even got an artisanal tattoo needle and a handmade knife for my brother and some jewelry for myself.
The easiest way to get around is by renting a bike from one of the numerous stalls for around 1USD per day. Most hotels/hostels provide hand drawn yet accurate maps and it’s almost impossible to get lost. You can also stop in some of the other villages located on the lake and catch some stunning views.
Where To Stay In Inle Lake
Unlike many other places in Myanmar, many travelers arrive in Nyaung Shwe from theirs treks without reservations for any accomodation, so it’s quite common to walk around and check out the different guesthouse, most of which are located close to each other. Personally, I stayed at the Aquarius Inn, which is popular among backpackers and has yummy breakfast which varies each day. The guesthouse has a nice garden with numerous sitting areas, and it’s the perfect spot to chill and dream away.
And if you now want to know what Inle Lake really looks like and what all the fuzz I am making is all about, I invite you to check out these pictures by this much more talented and ambitious photographer…