The lake, 22 km long and 10 km across, has a population of about 150,000, many of whom live on floating islands of vegetation. Inle Lake lies about 30km south of Taunggyi. This vast picturesque lake is situated 900 meters above sea level surrounded by the hazy Blue Mountains. It is best known for its floating villages and gardens on floating islands. Innthas (native lake-dwellers) move about on the lake in their boats with a unique way of one leg rowing. Inle Lake is figuratively named the “Venice of the East”. A colorful floating market also attracts tourists from the world over. The lake is richly endowed with pagodas and monasteries as anywhere else in Myanmar. Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda is regarded as the holiest religious site in the southern area of Shan States. Trekking can be arranged from several hours to a day hike surrounding the lake area. It’s a place we cannot miss in our itinerary as is the scenic beauty of the Inle Lake, so at least one or two nights stay is strongly recommended.
The main religious site and most important pagoda in all southern Shan state is located in Tharlay village. The temple houses 800-years-old five out-of-the-shape images of Buddha and his disciples, where four images out of five make an annual tour to 20-plus villages on the huge decorative barge towed by over 50-long boats, each with around 40 leg-rowers, and dance & music performers, in October/November. The festival lasts for around 20 to 22 days depending on the lunar calendar.
Just before entering the gateway town of Inle Lake, Nyaungshwe, there’s lie one of the most impressive monasteries in Myanmar. A typical Shan monastery with unique oval-shape windows have quite an eye-catching appearance when little novices come to pose for the photograph. The monastery was decorated with glass mosaics even on the supporting teak posts.
This is the main town having direct access to Inle Lake via 4-miles (6lm) long canal. The town dated back to almost 12th century when the Sao Bwas (Shan Chieftains) ruled and controlled the entire rice-growing Nyaungshwe plains. There is an old Shan Palace exhibiting some interesting items like the royal throne, & regalia of former Shan Sao Bwas, historic photos, Shan chronicles. In fact, the present building was the resident of the first president of independent Burma.
Located close to the southern end of the main lake, nestled among the floating gardens of tomatoes and beans, is over 150-years old wooden monastery of Ngaphe-chaung constructed with teak. This Shan style monastery was built in 1843, by the order of Nyaungshwe Shan Sao Bwa, contains a very nice collection of northern Thai style image-houses as well as Shan inspired Buddha images made out of bamboo and lacquer and then gilded. This monastery is dubbed as “Jumping Cat Monastery” since there are some cats trained by the enthusiastic monks to jump into the ring, draws a lot of package crowds.
Located on the southwestern shore of the main lake, Inn Dein village area can be said the most scenic part of Inle Lake. The creek leading to the village is beautiful at all seasons, animating with different activities on its banks. Inn-Dein village serves as the main western portal to the lake for nearby Pa O villages on the hills. There are a couple of footpaths from boat-landing to reach impressive stupa ruins numbering 1094 in total as to the last count, densely or sometimes in rows erected on the hillock topped with a temple, which housed for a Buddha image believed to be donated by famous King Asoka of India in 2nd century BC.
The In-Thars on the western shore, especially Kaungdaing village area produce Soya related foodstuffs. The people at Ywama village tend to produce beautiful Inthar traditional silverware, and various products made from Shan papers. There are Cheroot factories, boat-making, & Shan traditional bas-relief molded lacquer-ware can be found at Nampam village. The very attractive & seductive Chiang Mai or Shan-styled silk, cotton, and lotus fiber woven products centered at Inn Paw Khon village. In addition to the Inthar villages, visitors can visit a number of Pa O villages on the hills that rimmed the Inle Lake. The best time to hike these villages is from November to March.