Apart from places in Nyaungshwe, there are a number of places and villages in and around Inle Lake that will make your visit to Inle quite interesting and worthwhile. You can see the way of life of Intha which are quite adept to the environment of Inle Lake, their culture and custom as well as daily life of ordinary people of Inle Lake. You should hire a boat for the whole day and should plan in advanced for the trip and make agreement with the boatman when hiring the boat. Make sure the boatman agrees to the whole trip before agreeing the boat fee.
This intha village in the north-western shore of Inle Lake is especially well known for hot springs nearby. Khaung Daing village can be reached by car directly from Taunggyi (capital of Shan State, 2 hours drive), from Nyaungshwe by car(one and half hour drive) or bicycle, or from the lake by boat (30 minute from Nyaungshwe and 5 minute drive from the boat pier to the village). Main reason people go to Khaung Daing village is to bath in the hot springs near the village. There are both public bath places as well as private bath rooms (US$ 2 per room). The water is said to cure a number of joint and muscle diseases such as arthritis. Apart from famous hot springs, Khaung Daing is also famous for the soybean cakes and shan noodle as well as pottery and weaving. Every village in Inle Lake produces Inle style textile which is quite famous among local Burmese as well as foreign visitors to Myanmar (Burma).
The road to Khaung Daing from Taunggyi or Nyaungshwe is quite rough and bumpy with a lot of pot holes. The boat trip from Nyaungshwe is smother and you can make it as the first stop on your tour to Inle Lake.
Inleh Bo Teh (Middle of the lake Official Guest House)
The name Inleh Bo Teh means “Official Guest House in the middle of the lake”. This place used to be a guest house for government officers in the past, but has been abandoned for quite a long time. There is nothing much to see here. However, water here is quite clear and shallow and it is a nice place to have your lunch while on the picnic or for swimming in the lake.
Nga Hpe Chaung
Nga Hpe Chaung village is famous for the Kyaun Khon Kyaung (Jumping Cat Monastery) in the village. The abbot at this monastery at Nga Hpe Chaung Village trained the cats to jump through the hoop like in the circus. Many local travelers and tourists visit this monastery just the see the cats jump. Apart from the jumping cats, the monastery has a collection of Shan, Tibet, Bagan and Ava style ancient Buddha images.
Note: One of my friends who has been to Inle Lake recently told me that now, there are only two or three cats left and they cannot leap like their ancestors. This information cannot be individually verified. Please ask your local boatman for the latest information.
Ywama Village and floating market
Ywama (meaning main village) Village is famous for its daily floating market. There are other floating markets in other villages around Inle Lake but the floating market in Ywama is the largest of all. Sadly, once this famous floating market has now turned into a traffic jam of boat loads of tourists and souvenir hawkers, among which a few local farmers trying to sell their products to a few local buyers. The scene at Ywama Floating market, like any floating market in South East Asia, has turned into a tourist place now. On non-market days, it is even worse as there are only tourist boats and souvenir hawkers there. If you really want to enjoy this once famous floating market, you need to get up very early to get there. A little late and you will be in the traffic. The market is in full swing at around 8:30 AM so you should reach there before 7 AM.
The approach to Ywama village is quite beautiful, and it is a nice place to visit after morning rush hour. There are a number of restaurants along the canal to Ywama village serving Burmese, Chinese and Shan noodles.
Other floating markets in Inle Lake rotate among Khaung Daing, Maing Thauk, Nam Pan, Indein and Thandaung in a five-day cycle. There are fewer tourists at these markets which serve mainly the local people. It is a better idea to enjoy the local way of life at these smaller markets than at Ywama.
Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda
Phaungdawoo Pagoda stands in front of the main boat landing in Ywama. This Pagoda in Ywama is famous among locals as well as tourists visiting Inle Lake. Considered the most sacred pagoda in the whole southern Shan State, Phaungdawoo Pagoda is the place of worship not only for local Inthas but also for other Shan people as well as Buddhists from all over Myanmar.
“Phaungdawoo” in Burmese means “front of the raft”. According to a popular legend, Burmese King Alaung Sithu from Bagan travelled all over Burma by raft. During one of his visits, he received five Buddha images from a mysterious person (believed to be a celestial being). He donated these five Buddha images to Inthas during his visit to Inle Lake. Inthas built a shrine to house these Buddha images. Because the Burmese king always carried the Buddha images in a shrine at the front end of his royal barge, the Buddha images were subsequently known as “Phaungdawoo”.
Phaungdawoo Pagoda festival is the most important event in Inle Lake. It is also the most important religious festival in southern Shan State. The pagoda festival ususllay falls in September or October, depending on Myanmar calendar. It is a grand 18 days event with a grand procession of Buddha images, boat race and other activities. Four of the five Buddha images were carried on the royal barge which is pulled by large Inle traditional boats. The boats were manned by Intha boat rowers who row by their foot. This royal barge is followed by hundreds of other boats that take part in the grand procession. The event is a good photo opportunity for visitors and tourists to Inle Lake. You should plan your photo trip in advanced before the procession so that you get the best spot for your photography.
During the festival, the most photographed activity is the Intha boat racing. The long racing boats are unique in the World that they are rowed by 80 to 100 rowers who row the boat standing. Two such racing boats race for the first price during the Phaungdawoo pagoda festival. This is perhaps the most spectacular event in Inle. People from other villages and towns around Inle also come and pay homage to the Buddha images during the festival so this is the best opportunity to observe the way of life of Shan people as well as a great opportunity for taking photos of local people in their traditional costume.
Normally, the Phaungdawoo Buddha images are housed in the shrine at Ywama. Visitors can see the Buddha images, four of which has already turned into golden balls due to excessive application of gold to the images by the devotees.
Nam Pan Village
Photo by Thinzar
Village of Nam Pan is situated to the south of Ywama village. The whole village is situated on the stilts over the water, which is a traditional way of building houses in Inle Lake. The Oldest pagoda in Inle Lake, Alodaw Pauk Pagoda, is situated in Nampan. This pagoda enshrines a gem-encrusted Shan style Buddha stupa. Nampan has a number of cheroot (traditional cigarette) factories and a few restaurants that serve delicious food at an affordable price. Golden Island Cottages (Nampan) is a famous resort in Nampan.
Inle floating gardens
Inle is famous not only for its leg rowers of boat, but also for its unique style of aquaculture. Inthas live not only on the lake; they also live off the lake. Inle Lake provides them with food – fish from the lake as well as vegetables from its famous floating gardens.
There are a large number of these floating gardens to the north of Nampan village. Here Intha farmers grow tomatoes, flowers, squash and vegetables on long trip of floating land. This is a naturally formed collection of tangled, old, decayed water hyacinth, weeds, reeds and grasses that formed around the rim of the lake. It takes years to form a thick layer of floating land around the rim. Inthas usually go and look for a good piece of light, deep trough around the rim of the lake. Once found, they cut them into long piece and towed them by boat back to their village. Here, they were tied down to the bottom of the lake by long bamboo poles. Called Kyun myaw, Intha women cultivate vegetable on this floating garden from boat, usually working on both sides. These vegetables are a good source of income for Inthas who export them all over Shan State and Myanmar.
Inphaw Khone Village
The village of Inphaw Khone, situated to the west of Nampan village, is famous for its traditional weaving workshops. This village, due to its weaving industry, is a popular stopping place for tourists. The weavers, most of who are young girls, skillfully weave beautiful, multi-colored, ornate fabrics using the local made traditional weaving machine made of bamboo and teakwood. It is quite fascinating to watch these young teenage girls skillfully operate the machines using only their hands and feet (all four limbs at the same time) to make a beautiful fabric.
One of the specialty products of Inphaw Khone village is the famous lotus-silk shawl. The delicate fiber strands from lotus shoot were carefully extracted to make strings for the shawl. The process of fiber string extraction from lotus shoot is a tedious and time consuming as well as expensive process. As a result, the shawls made of lotus-silk are very expensive – cost a minimum of US$ 30 for a small shawl.
Apart from famous lotus-silk shawl, Inphaw Khone also produce a large quantity of silk and cotton fabric that are famous among Myanmar girls all over the country.
Intein (Indein) village
West of Ywama is the Indein (Intein) Village. Indein (Intein) in Burmese means shallow lake. True to the name, the village of Indein (Intein) is situated in the shallow part of Inle Lake. The village can be accessible by boat only during rainy season and winter, and cannot be reached by boat during summer months, as the water becomes shallower during hot months.
Indein is quite famous among tourists for its collection of ancient ruined pagodas. At the entrance of the village, you can see a large group of tourist waiting boats, which partly ruin the nice atmosphere of the village. Nevertheless, the ruined pagodas on the hilltop are still a dramatic sight to see.
Nyaung Oak – these are the first groups of pagodas immediately behind the village. Nyaung Oak in Burmese means a group of Banyan trees. The ancient pagodas are in a crumbling state but the ornate stucco carvings of mythical animals, deva (celestial beings) and chinthe (mythical lions) can still be seen in some parts.
Photo by Gepiblu
Shwe Intein Pagoda – climbing along the covered stairway from Nyaung Oak will bring you to these ruined ancient pagodas of Shwe Intein Paya. Constructed in 17th and 18th century, these ancient pagodas are in a state of part ruined, part reconstructed. From the hill where the pagodas are situated, you can have a great view of the village and the surrounding area.
Five-day market – the five day market (circulating between five villages in Inle Lake) in Intein is the largest of all, and most lively one. You can see Pa-O and Danu tribal people in their traditional dress coming from surrounding hills to the village to trade. For the exact date of the market, please ask your guest house.
There are two more ancient ruined pagodas to the north of the village.
Maing Thauk Village
On the eastern side of the Inle Lake is Maing Thauk. This village is the place of colonial era Fort Steadman whose remains now are a few crumbling gravestones near the orphanage. The village of Maing Thauk is built on both land and water, on stilts. The two halves of the villages are linked by a 450 meter long wooden bridge.
Maing Thauk can be accessible both by boat and by land. You can hire a bicycle from Nyaung Shwe and cycle along the dirt road for about an hour to reach the village. From the main road in the center of the village, you can then climb up the hill to a peaceful forest monastery which as a magnificent view of the surrounding land and lake.