Inle is one of Myanmar’s largest fresh water lakes, located in the middle of the country. There are two ways to see the lake, the first is by boat and the second is by bike. Seeing the villages by both methods gives you a different perspective and allows you to see more of this beautiful area.
The easiest way to get into Inle Lake is by domestic flight, but you can also take an overnight bus. We arrived in Heho, the only major airport in the area that’s about a 45 minute taxi ride away from the village of Nyaung Shwe. To enter the region, we had to pay an entrance fee of $10 USD per person that goes towards the preservation of the area.
Even though it is only an hour flight from Yangon, Inle is a completely different world filled with old world charm. Despite being overrun by tourists, it still retains some of its authenticity. Along the main road, you’ll see wooden homes perched above the water on rickety stilts surrounded by lush greenery. There are more motor bikes and horse carts than cars, in fact we saw a guy driving a horse cart standing straight up, like it’s the most natural thing in the world. The only traffic you’ll find here is probably from a slow oxcart.
Renting bikes is fairly easy and will cost you about 1,000-1,500 Kyat, which is about a dollar, for the entire day. Most hotels will have their own bikes that you can rent, but they are usually more expensive than what you’ll find in town – and likely in a little better condition. We were a little surprised when they gave us the bike without even taking our name or a deposit. Usually when you rent anything in the States you’re required to leave identification and sign over your first-born. We could probably have run off with the bike…but why would we? It’s refreshing to be in such a trusting place.
We took the bikes and headed out into the country-side. The road was bumpy, but it is totally worth the discomfort. From Nyaung Shwe, we peddled west along an unpaved road until we got to a T-junction where we toke another left heading south. On the road, you can make a pit stop at the local hot springs or winery, but since both did not sound appealing at the time, we opted to keep going. We cycled along the water towards Khaung Daing, a small village just past the hot springs. Keep an eye out for a boat stand sign where you can hire a long boat to take you across the lake with your bike for 9000 Kyat.
After weaving through the narrow waterway, we burst out onto the clear blue lake where we saw the fishermen hard at work. Gliding across the lake in the motor boat provided a nice breeze on a hot afternoon as we sat back and enjoyed the view.
We were dropped off at Maing Thauk, a quaint village on the east side of the lake. There were houses on stilts and floating gardens that the villagers use to grow vegetables. Even though there were a lot of foreigners biking around, the idyllic village remains surprisingly free of tourists.
Across from the dock there was a nice restaurant called Shwe Yee Win, the perfect place to waste an afternoon. We left our bike at the jetty and took a little boat across the river. We ordered some food and beers and spent the afternoon watching people going about their daily chores. The place was relatively quiet, until the late afternoon when school let out. The happy children walked down the pier where they were picked up by their parents. The experience was so relaxing and enjoyable, it made us forget the time.
After several beers, we realized it was after 4 pm, and we’re quite a distance from our hotel at the north end of the lake. We knew it would take a while to get home and, we had to hurry back. Along the way we saw groves of sugar cane and fields of sunflowers. We stopped briefly to take a few photos, but we didn’t want to dally too long. The sun was setting fast and the temperature was rapidly dropping. There are no street lights, and the road could get dangerous after the sun goes down. Luckily we made it back to town before it was completely dark.
The whole journey takes about 3-5 hours depending on how long you spend at lunch. If you’ve never ridden a bike in the country side in a third world country, you don’t know what you’re missing.