Inle Lake

The Leg Rowing Fishermen

Leg Rowing Fishermen Inle Lake

Inle Lake is unlike any place you have ever seen, in person or through photographs. Traditional leg rowing fishermen, floating gardens, hotels on stilts, and water taxis are the norm here, and although the lake draws plenty of tourists, you won’t find crowds or big tourist attractions.

Inle Lake Leg Rowing Fisherman

Far from the busy, modern cities of Yangon & Mandalay, and in a radically different microclimate, it is easy to feel like you’ve stepped into a distant world. Most people come here to see the lake and experience its unique people and culture.

I never thought I would be “dusted” by a couple of monks on a motorboat!


A couple of monks leave us in their dust. This was simultaneously awesome and extremely humbling, like getting passed by a 90 year old in a Cadillac on the highway because you’re driving too slowly.

There are many ways to explore Inle, but the best is to stay on the lake itself. Once you get there, likely from Yangon or Mandalay, you find yourself in a water taxi to your destination. This was, by far, the most fascinating taxi I have ever been on. Monks, leg rowing fishermen, weavers, gardeners, and foreigners alike crisscross the lake on elegantly-shaped long tail boats. I never thought I would be “dusted” by a couple of monks on a motorboat!

Most accommodations on Inle Lake take the form of "floating hotels".

Most accommodations on Inle Lake take the form of “floating hotels”.

Many of the accommodations on the lake are “floating hotels”, like ours pictured here. The only way in or out is via water taxi. As someone who loves water, but isn’t much of a beach-goer, this had the best of both worlds. The only downside is the locals hit the water with motorboats as early as 4am, which is about as tranquil as a runaway freight train, but you can’t have it all, right?

Inle Lake Leg Rowing Fisherman

Inle Lake’s iconic leg rowing fisherman learn to balance on one leg, row with the other, and operate fishing equipment with both hands all at the same time.

Our best experience while there was actually the least structured: hiring a water taxi to leave before sunrise so we could photograph nature and the iconic leg rowing fisherman as the day started. Most of my favorite photos were taken on this trip, including the featured image at the top of this post, were taken during this early outing.

Inle Lake

While there, we also took a tour of one of several local villages built on the lake. For us, this included the floating gardens, a trip to the monastery, and a tour of a lotus silk weaver — people in this region are well known for their textiles. There are several other cultural attractions depending on your interests.

After a couple of days, it was time to move on to the next stop, which in this case involved an elephant sanctuary. If you want to read more about Inle Lake, there is a separate post on how to get there.

Getting to Inle Lake

Getting to Inle Lake

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.

Getting to Inle Lake

The area surrounding Mandalay is bucolic and stunning, but you’ll notice there aren’t any major highways.

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.

Getting to Inle Lake Downtown Mandalay

Downtown Mandalay

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.

Getting to Inle Lake

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.

How to Get to Inle Lake

Our “floating hotel” on Inle Lake.

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.

How to get to Inle Lake Heho Airport

Heho Airport

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.