How to organise your boat trip on Inle Lake
Drifting past the floating tomato gardens, exploring peaceful stilt villages and watching the distinctive Intha fishermen at dawn... a boat trip on Inle Lake is a quintessential part of travelling Myanmar.
Whilst it is easy to organise through your accommodation or a tour company, it's just as simple to arrange your own tailored itinerary and handpick exactly where you go – often for a cheaper price.
I've put together this guide to help you decide where to visit on your boat tour and how to organise it independently.
Where should you go?
Before you approach a boatman, you should have a think about where you want to visit. Our recommended stops are the ones that we visited, and our boat trip lasted 12 hours, taken at a leisurely pace. If you'd like to make more stops or explore further afield (consider Thaung Thut, Samkar and Hmaw Be), you may need to negotiate a longer day, which will increase the cost.
Our recommended stops
- Phaung Daw Oo Paya
Home to a popular pagoda festival during Thadingyut, this site makes for a pleasant, if crowded, stop. Note there are a lot of stalls surrounding the pagoda selling various wares and it is popular with local tourists.
- Nga Hpe Kyaung
This monastery used to be known for its jumping cats. Monks trained them to leap through hoops for treats during the downtime between their scripture recitals. This is no longer practised as it (unsurprisingly) led to the cats suffering from joint problems. Nonetheless, the monastery itself is worth a stop off.
- Ywama Village
Trawling through Ywama's narrow passageways between wooden stilt houses, stopping to visit one or more of its various handicraft workshops, is a worthwhile stop. We visited a silversmith and picked up a miniature little fish as a souvenir, which Matt is besotted with.
We also visited an umbrella workshop, home to Kayan women of the Padaung tribe (also known as the long-necked women). We chose not to take photographs but it was very interesting to speak to the women about their beliefs and home of Loikaw.
The journey to get here from the main lake is through a winding river of bamboo dams, which are used by the farmers to irrigate the rice fields. We were lucky to be visiting Indein when a large and bustling market was in full swing (part of the five-day rotating market around Inle Lake), with bowls of spices and colourful clothes for sale. We saw a fair few Pa-O people, whose black and red headscarves set them apart. Indein is also home to a site of ancient, crumbling pagodas, some dating back to the 12th century, and the Shwe Indein Pagoda, which is by no means as impressive as Yangon's Shwedagon pagoda, but worth an explore if you choose to stop here.
- Maing Thauk
We didn't actually visit here during our boat trip as we had passed through when cycling the day before, but if have no plans to hire a bike, pull up at the teak bridge and have a wander.
- Inle Heritage
Home to a collection of gorgeous Burmese cats, a smart restaurant and art gallery, this makes a pleasant lunch spot with pretty reviews of the surrounding countryside. The nearby lotus silk weaving workshops are the perfect place to pick up a scarf.
How to book your boat trip
Once you have a good idea of where you would like to visit and the route you want to follow, it's time to book your boat trip. We booked ours the night before we wanted to go, but there's no harm in being more organised and organising it on your arrival in Nyaungshwe.
Head to Nyaungshwe jetty, which is located on Strand Road, by the Inle Star hotel.
We walked here from our guesthouse the evening before we wanted to take a boat trip. It was fairly quiet, with few people around, but we were approached by a man who saw us looking at the boats and we proceeded to organise our trip with him.
Check the boat and ask what is included
It is worth checking if the boat is covered, or if there are umbrellas provided to shelter you from the sun. Look to see if there are chairs within the boat and most importantly - ask if there are life jackets on board. Our guide took us to his boat and showed us all of this as we were negotiating with him, so we didn't need to ask.
Agree your stops and time span
Once you are satisfied with your boat, you should agree your itinerary. You may not want to stop at every place your guide suggests, so it is best to come with an idea of what you want to see and where you would like to avoid. Otherwise, you run a risk of being taken to stalls and shops where you may be strongly encouraged to buy something. We wanted to set off before sunrise, so we requested our guide to start at 5.30am as opposed to 7.00am, as he'd initially suggested.
Negotiate a price
Prices tend to be per boat rather than per person and they fluctuate depending on how far you would like to go. Visiting Insein is a detour so will raise the price, and you can expect to pay more if you decide to visit places further afield. We paid K20,000 / USD15 for the two of us, which we thought was a fair price for a twelve-hour day seeing all the sights we'd handpicked.