Inle Lake is one of Myanmar's most lovely natural sights; a beautiful clear lake surrounded by wooded hills. At sunrise, mist hangs over the water and the waters shimmer with gentle pink and pale blue. Sunsets are more dramatic, with rich purples and a deep golden glow.
But you don't just come here to see the lake, beautiful though it is. Inle Lake has been transformed by the people who live here. Fishermen, farmers, even Buddhist monks have made their homes here and transformed the lake, building stupas, stilt villages, and floating islands.
Top attractions near Lake Inle
Pass the boat landing and the busy souvenir stalls to find hundreds of stupas clinging to the sides of the hill. It's an easy climb to Nyaung Ohak, where greenery smothers the stupas, though an occasional dancing deva or growling guardian lion emerges from the vegetation. But this is just a taster; continue up the covered stairway to the top of the hill, and over a thousand more stupas await.
Some are aging, some are half-ruined, some are new with bright gold paint. Sometimes you feel as if you're in the middle of a giant chess game, or like Indiana Jones discovering lost ruins. You can trek out to an even more distant hilltop, Zedis, or just relax and enjoy the views over Inle Lake. Sometimes magnificent, sometimes melancholy, this hike will be one of your top memories of Myanmar.
If a thousand stupas sounds splendid, how about 2,478? That's how many you'll find at Kakku. Locals say the holy site was founded by missionaries of the Indian emperor Ashoka back in the third century, and you can see how styles changed over time.
The simplest, oldest stupas give way to incredibly ornate spires carved with tumbling foliage, dancing gods, and little scrambling animals. You'll want to get a taxi from Taunggyi or Nyaungshwe to make a day trip here.
3. The Intha Fishermen
The Intha Fishermen developed a special style of rowing to give them a better view of the shoals of fish - standing up, with one leg wrapped around the oar to paddle their boats. Strangely, only the men row like this; women row sitting down. These men can do pretty much everything on the boat standing on one leg, including throwing their conical nets into the lake and hauling them back in.
The traditional fishermen have become something of a tourist attraction, and cynics say they make more money from charging for photos than they do from fishing. But further out on the Lake, fishermen still make a living from their catch, even if their motor boats aren't quite as photogenic as the little leg-rowed skiffs.
4. Floating Gardens
Like the Intha Fishermen, local farmers have adapted to life on the water. They've built huge floating mats covered by lake-drawn silt and waterweeds, on which they grow tomatoes, squash, and flowers. Bamboo poles are used to anchor the islands and provide trellises for the tomatoes to climb. Where else can you see a farmer paddling a boat instead of driving a tractor?
5. Hpaung Daw U Pagoda
This temple is a major religious site for Shan Buddhists. Its red-tiled roofs and golden spire rise directly from the waters of Inle Lake. Here, five ancient Buddha statues have been so covered in gold leaf over the centuries that they have completely lost their human shape. Potatoes? Snowmen? Puddings? Blobs? Whatever you think they look like, remember that they are now almost solid gold.
In September or October (depending on the lunar calendar) the pagoda festival sees these ancient Buddhas make their way across the lake in a golden barge shaped like a swan - a poetic and breathtaking sight.
6. Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery (Jumping Cat Monastery)
Jumping Cat Monastery, sadly, has no more jumping cats.
It is said a former head monk was a cat lover and taught them to do tricks. There are still a few cats, but they live a regular cat life of eating, sleeping, and licking their fur. It may be less fun for the tourists but it's probably a better life for the cats.
Even so, the teak wood meditation hall and the collection of Buddha statues make this floating monastery a delightful place to visit.
7. Ywama Village (Floating Markets)
In this stilt village, residents and visitors can choose how they get around. You can use boats or rickety bamboo walkways and bridges between houses and pagodas.
Ywama is one of the 'five-day markets'. The market rotates around the Lake, visiting a different village each day. The heart of the market is on dry land in front of a temple, but boats draw up all the way along the lakeside to sell fresh produce and flowers.