Destination: Inlay Lake & the environs in Shan State
Destination Climate: Mild – generally warm with cooler evenings
State Borders: Kayah State, Kayin State, Mandalay Region, Sagaing Region, Kachin State, China, Laos & Thailand
State Size: 155,800 sq km / 60,155 sq miles
State Capital: Taunggyi
State Population: 5.8 million (2014)
Destination Lineage: Shan, Bamar, Han-Chinese, Wa, Lisu, Danu, Intha, Lahu, Ta’ang, Pa-O, Taungyo, Indians & Gurkha
Destination Languages: Intha, Myanmar/Burmese & limited English
Destination Religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam & Hinduism
How To Get There
Inlay Lake (also known as Inle Lake) is a scenic highland lake in Shan State. It is easily accessible by plane from Yangon, Bagan or Mandalay to Heho airport. From there it is a 35km journey by road to Nyaung Shwe, the main “marina” for pick-up by boat. The Shan capital Taunggyi is accessible by either road or rail from where you then proceed to Nyaung Shwe. Typically, a motorised boat is the best way to explore the lake. The traditional non-motorised one-legged rowing canoe is also enjoyable.
Inlay Lake is located in the heart of the Shan Plateau. It is a beautiful highland lake, 900 meters above sea level. The lake is 22km long and 10km across, and inhabited by many different ethnic nationals of the area. The Intha are the Lake dwellers who are unique for their leg rowing. Leg rowed traditional boats are the main ceremonial attractions of the Inlay Lake.
Inlay Lake Wildlife Sanctuary
Inlay Lake Wildlife Sanctuary is a wetland sanctuary and located in Nyaung Shwe, Pinlaung and Peh Kon Townships of Southern Shan State. It covers an area of 642.32 square miles (1663.51km2) and was established in 1985. This sanctuary is to conserve and protect natural vegetation, wetland birds and fresh water fishes in Inlay Sanctuary.
Kakku Pagodas are Asia’s largest and most spectacular wonders. The Pagoda complex has over 2,400 stupas with origins dating back many centuries. Kakku is about 33 miles (53km) from Taunggyi, Shan State.
Kalaw stands 1320 meter above sea level on the western edge of the Shan Plateau. It is 70km west of Taunggyi, about halfway along the Thazi-Taunggyi road. This was a popular hill station in the British days and it is still a peaceful and quiet place. It is also pleasantly cool and a good place for hiking amid gnarled pines, bamboo groves and rugged mountain scenes.
Khaung Daing Hot Spring
Khaung Daing Hot Spring, located 27 miles (43km) west of Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State of Myanmar is famous for visitors to take pleasure in the beautiful landscape around it.
Khaung Daing Village – Inlay
Khaung Daing is the native village on the northwestern shore of the Inlay Lake in Shan State. It is known for its production of soybean cakes and noodles. There are some interesting Shan style temples just outside the village. A little north of Khaung Daing is the Khaung Daing Hot Spring.
Nee Paya (Bamboo Buddha Image)
It lies in Pinmagon Monastery of Pinmagon Village, Kalaw Township, south of Shan State. It was estimated to be established in First Inn-wa Period over 500 years ago. It is eight feet four inches high. It is noted for its longevity, its prevention of fire, and its wish granting powers.
Nyaung Shwe Market
5-day market, opened only on every 5th day, is very interesting spot for tourists. Women from various hill tribes who live in the Inlay region come to sell their home crafts, products, fruits and vegetables in this market.
One Tree Hill
One prominent Landmark of Kyaing Tong is the One Tree hill. This is a Kanyin Phyu Tree (Dipterocarpus Alatus) growing on top of the Soam Mom Hill on the outskirt of the city. It stands alone on the hill so that how the name was given. It is nearby downtown area of Kyaing Tong and planted in 1753, which is 218ft (66m) height.
Or Yaw Village
Or Yaw is a quarter of Pindaya and the main business of the native people is agriculture. On the other hand they enjoy pottery and handicrafts making. They produce water pot, flower vases and toys for children.
Pan Wai Village
Pan Wai village is situated near Kyaing Tong. You can visit there about 15 minute drive from Loi Mwe village. You can observe the tradition of Lahu people living there and the old colonial style houses.
Most of the Pa-O tribes live around southern Shan State and there are many Pa-O villages in Shan State. They live on agriculture and especially they grow cigar leaves, garlic, wheat and peas.
The Palaungs, who mainly live in the Kalaw area in Shan State, belong to the Mon-Khmer. It takes about two to four hours through the hills to the village of the Palaung tribe. At first a steep track leads down into a narrow valley where the Palaung cultivate tea, damsons and mangoes on the hillsides. The track across the valley floor and then climbs very steeply again to the Palaung village of Pinnabin, which sits on top of a hill.
Pawri That Pagoda
The pagoda was built by Shan Chief-Si Sanpa in 600 years ago. It is located on the way to Nyaung Shwe. The original stupa was built by Bamboo mats. Pagoda festival is held every year in full moon day of Tabaung (March).
Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda
The Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda is situated in Inlay Lake in Shan State. One of the most dazzling and magical places in Asia. It is a famous principal shrines in Myanmar and it houses five small Buddha images.
Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Market
It is situated on the precinct of the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda and opened daily. Local pilgrims and foreign visitors can buy different products of Inlay region as souvenirs.
Pindaya is a quiet town perched on the bank of the placid Pone Ta Lote Lake. The Pindaya cave, containing thousands of Buddha images, is one of the interesting destinations in Inlay region.
The ancient caves are about one mile southwest of the town, and can be reached by car. Except for the young and energetic, the best way is to go leisurely be horse-cart to the foot of the hills, reserving your energy for the 200 steps up the covered stairway leading to the cave entrance and for exploring the huge meandering maze made up of numerous caves.
Pyadalin prehistoric cave is situated on the western slope of Shan State, Ywangan township, Pindaya district, Southern Shan State. This cave was firstly discovered in 1960. The rock paintings are seen in the cave.
Tachileik is located on the Myanmar-Thailand border in the eastern Shan State, upgraded as a gateway to the heaet of the Golden Triangle. The Friendship Bridge across the small Mae Sai stream links Tachileik with the northern Thai border town of Mae Sai.
It is well known as China Town and the largest shopping centre in Tachileik. It is nearby Myanmar-Thailand Friendship Bridge. It offers a variety of local products as well as commodities made in Thailand and China.
Taunggyi is the caital of Shan State, Myanmar. As of Taunggyi is at an elevation of 4,712ft (1,436m) above sea level, it is hill station and gate way to Kakku Historical Zone.
This Garden is situated on the Nam Khan hill. The hill top offers unforgettable sunset views of the city. There has an entertainment hall. Sometime it is celebrated with traditional performing dance such as padaung, toenaya (Chinese Dragon) and Kanayar (kayar).
Natural Hot Spring
San Thida Recreation Center or Natural Hot Spring is situated beside the Nam Khan-Bamaw road near Nam Khan. It is natural hot spring of limestone. There have a lot of private bath rooms with spared hot spring water tanks.
Considered to be a highlight of any trip to Myanmar, the “Land of Festivals”, the cultural diversity of Shan State, as well as its breadth, mean that it is a hot spot for both ethnic and Buddhist celebrations, many of which are intertwined. Most notable are, Shan State Day in January, Kakku Pagoda Festival and Pindaya Cave Festival in March, the impressive Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival and food offering ceremonies in Inthein in October and Taunggyi’s stunning Hot Air Balloon Festival in November.
The Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival is Inlay Lake’s most prominent celebration, during which four out of the five Buddha Images from the pagoda are conveyed around 14 villages on the lake by a royal barge towed by the boats of leg-rowers. A spectacular sight as hundreds of boats follow the procession, the 18-day long event also includes boat races that are fascinating due to the unique style of leg rowing. Most festivals are determined by the lunar calendar so dates change yearly.
No visit to Inlay Lake (or Shan State) is complete without exploring at least a few of its ethnic and tribal customs. There is a wealth of indigenous traditions in the area that have been developed and upheld with great passion. Some like Shan cuisine are found all over the region and even elsewhere in the country. Mostly made from natural, locally-grown produce, be sure to try dishes like Shan khao swe, htamin jin, lahpet, mala hin and myae oh meeshay. Tasting the authentic charm of Inlay Lake is by no means limited to food.
Inlay is a feast for all the senses and perhaps the most memorable sight is watching Inthar fishermen single-foot paddling and retrieving their catches in their conical nets. Taking home a souvenir or two from this unique place is a must. Certain villages on and around Inlay Lake specialise in particular handicrafts such as Phaw Kone Village (silk and lotus weaving), Kyaut Taing (pottery), Ywa-ma (gold and silver wares), Se-khong (blacksmiths) so explore, admire and purchase to help sustain these genuine practices.
The lake itself is dotted with many interesting villages and sights worth visiting but there is even more to explore in the surrounding areas. Nyaung Shwe, a tourist hub for visiting both Inlay Lake and Inlay Lake Wetland Sanctuary, also serves as a marina for the numerous long boats ferrying visitors into the lake. Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, is a cultural melting pot with vineyards nearby offering views of the picturesque Aythaya Valley. Ramblers will delight in Kalaw, a colonial hill station, also known as Myanmar’s trekking mecca. For cave lovers there is Pindaya (45km from Kalaw) and Hten San Cave (42km from Taunggyi).
Beyond Inya Lake lie bustling towns Taunggyi and Nyaung Shwe, and laidback hill station, Kalaw, from where many trek to immerse themselves in nature and local tribal communities. Rural idylls abound in Shan, as do sacred cave systems bedecked with Buddhist icons, for example Pindaya Cave and Hten San Cave.Worth visiting any time, Kakku is an enchanting place with thousands of closely-packed, tinkling stupas. It is also the impressive setting for Kakku Pagoda Festival in March when the Pa-O people, for whom Kakku is an important centre of worship, pay homage in their finest ethnic attire and by decorating their prize bullocks.
Perched atop a mountain, the Shan capital, Taunggyi is home to numerous ethnic tribes and some important sights. Shwe Phone Pwint Pagoda affords panoramic views of the city and across the plains to Inlay Lake. Sulamuni Pagoda, Taunggyi’s most prominent religious monument, a huge white stupa built in 1994 to commemorate the town’s centenary, is modelled on Ananda Pagoda in Bagan. The nearby golf course and vineyards provide scenic outings. In November throngs of visitors gather for the spectacular Taunggyi Fire Balloon Festival.
Simple attractions are what Pindaya has become famous for including its rolling farmland, hills, and limestone caves filled with thousands of Buddha images (some dating back to the 11th century) and meditation chambers. The caves are a short distance from Pindaya town centre which is located on the placid picturesque lake of Pone Taloke. They are reachable by horse and cart, jeep or a pleasant 45-min walk. The colourful countryside can also be explored on foot or even by hot air balloon.
Often the arrival point for visitors going to explore Inlay Lake, Nyaung Shwe acts as a “marina” for the many boats ferrying tourists and has a bustling market. The town features Yadana Man Aung Pagoda, built in 1866, which is famous for its elements of traditional Shan architecture. Equally fascinating is a lovely wooden Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery, built in the early 19th century and located just outside Nyaung Shwe. Enjoy stunning sunset views across the lake at local vineyards near Maing Thauk.
On the Lake
The lake’s serenity and spectacular scenery are often so beguiling that visitors may forget how Inlay is home to a plethora of busy communities. An excellent example of a traditional Inlay village is Nampan where you find small enterprises produce handmade cheroot (traditional local cigars) and the lake’s oldest pagoda, Alodaw Pauk, a large gem-encrusted golden shrine.
Most famous for its floating market, Ywama village also has various handicraft workshops, a monastery and a pagoda. Numerous other villages are worth visiting, many of which are accessible from the lake via narrow canals, sometimes nestled among impressive bamboo groves with small lagoons where children play.
Phaung Daw Oo
This pagoda is one of the holiest sites in Shan State. The shrine itself is huge and features five ancient golden Buddhas. Next to it is the large golden barge, a replica of the one said to have been used by King Alaung Sithu to travel around the country, which makes an annual tour during the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival to over 20 villages towed by over 50-long boats, each with around 40 leg-rowers, dancers and music performers.
Meaning “shallow lake”, Inthein (also spelt Indein) is some distance from the main circuit of Inlay Lake and can be reached (water level permitting) by boat on a narrow canal to the west of Ywama. It is most famous for atmospheric clusters of hundreds of densely packed stupas and ancient pagodas (some ruined, some restored) waiting to be explored. The village has a vibrant market and wonderful views across the lake can be enjoyed from Shwe Inthein Paya.
Inlay Lake Wildlife Sanctuary
Established in 1995 this wetland sanctuary covers 1,664 sq km in the townships of Nyaung Shwe, Pin Laung and Peh Kon and aims to conserve and protect natural vegetation, wetland birds and freshwater fish. Inlay Lake, though not large, contains over twenty endemic species of snails and nine endemic species of fish that are found nowhere else in the world. In 2015 Inlay Lake became the first site in Myanmar to be added to the UNESCO-backed “World Network of Biosphere Reserves”.
On the Lake
Key ethnic groups such as the Intha (literally meaning “sons of the lake”) and the Pa-O make up the colourful social and cultural fabric of Inlay Lake. Most are devout Buddhists and live in simple houses made of wood and woven bamboo. The Intha fishermen, known for their impressive single, leg-rowing techniques, have become icons of the scenic lake and are much photographed by amazed visitors. The so-called “Five-Day Market” offers a good opportunity to meet many different local tribes.
This is where everyone comes to tout their wares, from jewellery, longhis and the distinctive Shan trousers and bags, to Buddha statues. Fresh produce grown by the Intha people on floating islands can also be found in the market. Those fascinated by this method of cultivation, a unique aspect of life on the lake, can visit floating gardens in the villages of Kaylar, Inchan and Zayatgyi, to see a variety of vegetables and flowers being grown, both for local and countrywide consumption.
Located in Shan State, this beautiful highland lake is based at about 900m above sea level, 22km long, 10km across, and inhabited by many different ethnic nationals of the area. Inlay Lake (also sometimes spelt Innlay and Inle) is famous for the unique way of life of the local tribes, for their villages on stilts, floating gardens, fresh produce markets and well-preserved traditions. In many places the authentic life on the lake shines through. Functioning communities – largely based entirely on the water – are fascinating to observe and interact with. Every experience of Inlay will leave an indelible mark on your soul.
Rich in ethnic customs and rituals, the tribes inhabiting the lake have preserved much of their traditional existence. Many of them have a self-sufficient way of life, farming the floating gardens on the lake and fishing using long-established methods. The lake is well known for its locally produced woven textiles especially lotus, and hand-rolled cheroot cigars. It is also home to plenty of craftsmen who produce handicrafts in time-honoured traditions such as silver wares, bronze wares and wooden sculptures. The same is true of the surrounding villages where, for example, naturally beautiful, handmade Shan paper decorated with fresh flowers.