One of the most popular activities to do in Myanmar is take a boat tour in Inle Lake. But with so many different companies offering tours, what should you expect from your day tour, and what should you definitely not miss out on?
To Hire a Guide or Not?
Even before you venture out on the lake, you’ll need to make a big call. Do I need a guide or can I do without? The simple answer would be it depends on what you want to get out of the day, but lets go through this.
A boat comes with 5 free seats and a driver. Usually this driver will speak a little bit of English, but don’t expect much. They’ll be able to navigate you around the lake and wait for you while you explore certain points of interest. If you have a clear idea of what you do, and don’t, want to see then you might only need the driver, but be sure they understand your plans clearly, otherwise they’ll take you to the same places they take all their customers. You do however run the risk of missing out on some little gems, and obviously you won’t get the history behind what you’re seeing.
If you decide to hire a guide, then they’ll come and greet you at your hotel and bring you to your boat. They’ll take up 1 seat, so you’ve only got 4 left for you and your group in the boat (something to think about for larger groups).
Now the guide will have their own ideas as to where to go, but you’ll be able to have a clear conversation on what types of things you’d like to see (and not), and they can cater your entire day around that.
While on the water, the boats engines are too loud for much conversation or explanations, but at each location you stop at, your guide will be able to give some great insight and information.
Our advice would definitely be to take a guide out with you. The extra cost is more then made up throughout the day with their amazing knowledge, and also the ability to tailor your day.
Where to Go and What to See
So as mentioned, you’ll get picked up from your hotel, but where should you go next? A classic Inle Lake boat tour will see you visiting some of the local silver and silk artisan workshops, along with boat building and cigar workshops. Then there’s the famous Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda in the middle of the lake, the floating gardens and fishing villages, and finally the 5-day market.
All of these are well worth visiting, seeing each and every one in just a short day might not be everyone’s cup of tea. As a result we’ve put together a simple day itinerary that we would recommend:
8am – If you are able to leave your hotel this early, then head straight out to the location of the 5 Day Market (this changes daily so check at your hotel before you leave). If you’re much later then this, then it gets much too touristy and we’d recommend giving it a miss.
9am – Whether you’re just starting your day or have already been to the early morning market, head off to the small village of Indein. Depending on where your hotel is located, this can take up to 2 hours. It’s well worth it, and the landscape along the way is breathtaking. You’ll pass many small fishing villages and floating gardens along the way too which you can stop at and stretch your legs if you wish.
11am – Take your time in Indein, there’s not likely to be many other tourists at this time (most come in the afternoon), so enjoy it. The village is renowned for its pagoda complex; some of which have been restored but many are in their original state (which we prefer). If you’re up for it, ask your guide to take you on a short 30-minute or 1 hour trek, making your way up into the hills for a perfect view of Inle Lake below.
12pm to 1pm – It’s lunchtime, and we’d recommend you enjoy it at Inle Heritage. This culinary training school for young students serves easily the best food out on the lake. The whole location is well worth walking around too. Here you’ll find Burmese cats that are being re-introduced to Myanmar, along with a small aquarium that details the preservation of fish in the lake that is being carried out by Inle Heritage. All in all, it’s a great stop off for both adults and kids.
Afternoon – Now that the morning is taken care of you can slowly make your way back to your hotel, stopping off at any final locations you’d like to see. Our favourite workshop is the boat making which sees much fewer tourists and where you can see how the builders design the canoes and boats seen all across the lake. The other workshops are unfortunately very touristy, and while the products produced here are very impressive, if you’re not looking to buy anything then we’d recommend giving them a miss.
This itinerary should enable you to get back to your hotel around 3 or 4pm, allowing you to enjoy the rest of your evening sipping a nice cold drink .
The Final Word
As is the case with most other destinations in Myanmar, the early bird catches the worm in Inle Lake. We’d recommend leaving your hotel early (even 7am if you can, when the light is beautiful and you can enjoy the lake all to yourself), and then returning back in the early afternoon when the lake is busiest.
Don’t be afraid of telling your driver or guide that you’re not interested in a particular sight. While the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda is a very important historical monument in Myanmar, if you’ve already seen 20 pagodas in Bagan, it may not be top of your list.
Our final bit of advise would be that while Inle Lake is a popular tourist destination, many villagers still use the lake to fish and live on (the local population are called the Inthar people). Fishermen dressed in traditional attire are there to pose for photographs, so it’s fine to get close up to them, but remember to tip. Other fishermen are actually fishing, so if your driver gets too close (which they sometimes do, to try and get a tip themselves), encourage them to give these real fishermen enough space.
You can book a day tour of Inle Lake with the same itinerary as mentioned above, on our website. You can also book a luxury Inle Lake boat tour, using quieter engines and with comfier seats, to make your Inle Lake experience extra special.