Imagine a beautiful lake untouched by hordes of tourists, where fisherman have learned to row with their legs in an iconic technique and floating gardens and houses form the periphery. Also imagine the most terrifying experience you’ve ever had in a motor vehicle, and that pretty much sums up my trip getting to Inle Lake.
If you haven’t already read my experience at Inle Lake, click here, as that’s a good place to start so you know why I sought to visit this amazing place, otherwise read on for my journey to get there.
To reach Inle Lake, you first must understand infrastructure in Myanmar. There’s no easy way to get anywhere, at least not yet, so getting around is like trying to bring me to a shopping mall; it’s a lesson in patience and compromises, with periodic moments of sheer terror thrown in.
In this case, I was arriving from Mandalay and departing to Yangon. To get there from Mandalay, the options were flying, bus, train, or car. Those are also possibilities going to/from Yangon, but any travel by ground would entail many, many hours, so we elected to fly.
Given that, we decided to get to Inle Lake via car, a trip of about 6-7 hours. The train would taken much longer with an overnight in a small town, and the prospect of traveling a winding road in a bus loaded with people in 110 degree weather sounded like my own personal definition of hell.
I don’t know if we made the right decision and, honestly, I don’t know if there is a right decision. The price was worth it (about $110 for the car and driver, and you can split that between as many friends as you have with you), but the journey was terrifying given Burmese road rules [or lack thereof], no guardrails on a tall mountain pass, and a noteworthy lack of seat belts. If I could do it all over, I’d insist on seat belts in the car when booking it. That said, when we asked our driver to help us access the seat belts (which had essentially been uninstalled and bolted under the seat), he cheerily replied “Ah yes! Ok, ok. It’s okay!” then proceeded to get back in the car and continue driving like a robber fleeing the scene of a crime.
Once in Nyaungshwe, it’s easy to find a long-tail boat to take you to wherever you’re staying on the lake, or you can stay there for the night. The average time to a hotel on the lake varies from 30-60 minutes, depending on the hotel’s location. From my understanding, there are no other entry points to the lake, so regardless of where you’re staying, this is your starting point.
Leaving was much easier than getting to Inle Lake. We spent the morning at a nearby elephant sanctuary, one of the my coolest experiences anywhere then flew from the nearest airport, Heho.