Things always seem to happen when you least expect them to. Inle Lake was not a destination pencilled in to our original Myanmar itinerary, as our initial plan was to spend Christmas Eve in Thailand, preferably lying on the beach and under the palm trees. But as Christmas Day drew closer and closer, we found ourselves not wanting to leave Myanmar just yet, so that led to our spontaneous decision of booking flights from Mandalay to Inle Lake.
Within two days, we found ourselves spending Christmas Eve at the wonderful Novotel, with no beaches or palm trees, but instead surrounded by breathtaking nature which had us enraptured and emotional as we found ourselves amidst one of the most splendid Christmas atmospheres we could have imagine being so far away from our hometown of Vienna – hard not to shed a few happy tears. But hey, let’s start from the top shall we?
1. Inle Lake by Boat
On our first full day we decided to embark on what seems to attract most tourists to Inle Lake in the first place: a boat trip. Since life for the local people here revolves around this lake, it’s no doubt then, that a boat trip out on a fisherman’s boat is the best way to experience and to gain an authentic impression of the lifestyle here.
One-legged Rowers and Floating Gardens
Our day tour across Inle Lake started at 8:30am. Best suggestion we could give you is to go out early, because the early morning light, obscured and softened by the accompanying fog, gives the lake a faded golden like ambience, which is just simply gorgeous! But make sure to wrap yourselves up warmly as it can be especially cold during the first hours of light, despite the warmth from the sun rising.
We came across our first one-legged rower not long after we started off. You might not like what we have to say next, but unfortunately many of them are simply fake – meaning that instead of fishing like you think, they only pose for tourists and make a living off performing entertaining and daring positions. It wasn’t that big a surprise for us as we’d grown accustomed to seeing things like this, but it’s still a pity of course.
The good news is that we expected the whole lake to be teeming with these ‘fake’ one-legged rowers, but in fact we only saw one particular rower, who we picked out immediately as a fraud.
We continued across the lake and drifted past countless houses built upon stilts and their accompanying floating gardens, and as we sat in the boat and watched this landscape pass us by, we realised why Inle Lake is one of the absolute must-see highlights in Myanmar.
The network of countless waterways was so fascinating that our fingers couldn’t help but be permanently stuck to the camera shutter. We expected to see lots going on around the lake, but we never would have imagined to see whole villages built on the lake.
Local Factories and Craftshops
During the boat trip we stopped by some local factories and shops. In the stilt perched houses of the villages there are countless craft shops, which are now partly adapted to tourists. The flow is usually the same, first you enter a craft shop where you can watch people working, then you can purchase the products produced by this particular workshop.
In addition to silver craftshop, textile factories such as lotus and silk weaving, you can also visit the fascinating Cheroot factory which produce typical Burmese cigarettes. Usually these local businesses operate during day trip hours, and remember it’s better to let them know in advance if something doesn’t interest you.
Initially we were a little worried that we would be badgered and hassled to buy something, but fortunately that wasn’t the case at all. The people were super very friendly and unobtrusive everywhere we went.
Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda and Market
Another worthwhile stopover is the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, which pairs well together with the market behind it. We spent about half an hour here and were very impressed by it, despite some souvenir stalls here and there, the market still retains its authentic character.
Exploring the village of Indein (“Shwe Inn Thein Pagoda”)
A visit to the ancient pagoda field of Indein is optional on most boat tours, and since the trip takes an extra 30 minutes, many tourists choose to leave it out. However, we highly recommend this extra little detour as it’s worth the little bit extra. We were completely enraptured by this place with thousands of stupas towering above hills and reaching for the sky. Some had the most peculiar structures, while others had long rubbled away. Some are overgrown with weeds while others have grown trees.
Prices for boat tours over Inle Lake
Every tourist coming to Inle Lake must pay an initial entry fee of 13,500 kyat (or $ 10), the fare for the boat tour is added to on top of that. In terms of price, most boat tours vary between 25,000 and 40,000 kyat, depending on where you book the tour and which stops are included. We booked our tour directly through the hotel because we found that the most convenient. However, we still got approached by locals almost everywhere asking if we wanted to do a Boat Tour with them.
2. “Little U Bein Bridge” on Inle Lake
A very beautiful and photogenic spot that you can visit, aside from the boat tour, is the bridge in the village of Maing Thauk. The wooden bridge is visually very similar to the famous U-Bein bridge in Mandalay, but is smaller and, more importantly, much less crowded. The golden lights and soft ambience of the pre-sunset vibes made for an absolutely stunning way to end the day.
Tip: the wooden bridge of Maing Thauk is located on the east side of Inle Lake, less than 10 minutes by bike from the Novotel Hotel.
3. Our hotel on Inle Lake: Novotel Inle Lake Myat Min
We stayed overnight in the spectacular location of Novotel Inle Lake Myat Min. And no kidding, we grinned non-stop for a minute after opening the door to our “Superior Villa”. Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine this, we couldn’t have wished for a better place to stay at for our first Christmas away from our home of Vienna.
Our little “palace” (yes, that’s exactly what it felt like) was not only incredibly spacious, but also furnished immaculately to our taste. One of our favourite designs was actually the free-standing bathtub! Yes, we are a tiny smidge ashamed of the negative eco-effect, but we just could not help it and every evening, for three nights in a row, we bathed in it! Too good and too enticing not to!
Another added bonus is that the hotel is located on the east side of Inle Lake, which means that you can admire the most beautiful sunsets over the lake from the restaurant’s terrace. (So happy we got to do this all three nights in a row! Cheers to Happy Hour!)
Pool overlooking Inle Lake
One of the most beautiful part of this hotel is no doubt the magnificent pristine outdoor pool, slightly elevated for an even more stunning view. This is were we spent our Christmas Eve and we had an wonderful time drinking fresh coconuts and listening to Christmas songs by Michael Bublé under the shade of a sunny 28 degree day. Funnily enough, after a short while we actually really started to like the album… perhaps the heat got to us finally?!
Christmas at Inle Lake
Speaking of Christmas, we’d already spoilt the secret that we spent it at the Novotel, but what we haven’t told you yet, is that our partnership and collaboration only came together in the last second. We are extremely grateful to have stayed in such a splendid accommodation and had such a wonderful time, despite the absence of home, family and tradition. Right up until the day we arrived, which was the 22nd, we weren’t in much of a Christmassy mood at all!
But all of that changed as we arrived and saw that the hotel had spared no effort in Christmas festivities for the guests. They even sent us the most delicious praline chocolates on the Eve of Christmas! They had also organised a grand Christmas dinner that evening, which we found out two days earlier from a very friendly Italian Chef who was also very excited for the event himself. Christmas songs were sung and cocktails were drunk – it was wonderful! When we finally got back to our rooms, we discovered a surprise of Christmas biscuits and a small wooden crib waiting for us. (Crib – a model of Nativity of Christ, made of wood).
Conclusion: Who is the Novotel suitable for?
As it happens, the hotels on the water front of Inle Lake, which include the Novotel, tend to be much more expensive than those in Nyaung Shwe for example. However, in our opinion, we think that the extra jump in price is really worth it because this hotel combined with the view of the lake is simply priceless and makes for a truly unforgettable experience. If you are looking to treat yourself to some luxury and exuberance, then this is the perfect place to find your peace and seclusion. We felt so at home here and so comfortable – so definitely a 10 out of 10! The Novotel has won our recommendation without a doubt!
You can book the hotel here: Novotel Inle Lake Myat Min
4. Restaurant tips around Inle Lake
We can highly recommend a small, family-run restaurant called Bamboo Hut, where we were treated to the most delicious (late) lunch. The prices were very affordable and the interior design and layout was so nice, you feel like you’re dining in a open living room of someone’s house. Everywhere you look there’s green plants and nature, and not to mention the staff were incredibly warm and welcoming.
We actually reached the Bamboo Hut restaurant directly from the Novotel with our own bikes. It took about 45 minutes on the road, which proved to be rather busy. Nevertheless, it was still really nice because we got to see and appreciated much more of the surrounding landscape.
5. Getting to Inle Lake
What we did: Getting there by plane
The nearest airport is called Heho. Coming from Mandalay, we decided to travel by plane, which only took 25 minutes and decided to stay with the “Myanmar National Airlines” as we haven’t experienced any hiccups flying with them thus far. These small propeller machines (ATR-72) all seem well maintained and relatively modern. We paid 50 euros per person for the flight (one way). Heho also happens to have connections with many other National Airports such as Yangon, Bagan and Thandwe (Ngapali Beach).
What’s actually more time-consuming than the flight is the transport from Heho Airport to Inle Lake. Here you are dependent on private taxi where a one way ride to the lakeside hotels costs about 40,000 kyat per car. The ride to Nyaung Shwe, however, is much cheaper at 30,000 kyat, and here you can find much more affordable accommodation. Luckily, as we came out of the airport, we bumped into another person travelling the same way so we just split the fare at the end.
Alternatives: Getting there by bus
Depending on where you’re coming from, travelling by bus is definitely an option. The prices are of course much cheaper than by plane, for example: the route from Mandalay to the Inle Lake, you’d expect to pay about 15 dollars. However, the rides are excruciatingly long: Mandalay is about 8hrs, while Yangon takes 10hrs! We’ve also heard a few “horror stories” about how windy the bus trip is and so we decided to fly instead as we really didn’t feel like another bus trip through the night!
Disclaimer: Invitation & Affiliate Links
We were invited by the Novotel Inle Lake Myat Min for those three nights – thank you for throwing us such a wonderful Christmas! All other costs (food, boat trip, Christmas dinner) were our own and we are in no way affiliated with them.
This blog article contains our personal recommendations in the form of so-called affiliate links. If you book or buy something via the links, we will get a small commission. For you, this does not change the price at all. How great is that?
Have any of you been to Inle Lake? Were you also amazed? We look forward to hearing from you! :)