The ultimate guide to Nyaungshwe, Inle Lake
As the gateway to Inle Lake, one of the most serene places to visit in all of Myanmar, Nyaungshwe is a must on any visitor’s itinerary. With a bustling market, plenty of good restaurants and a vineyard nearby, this mountain-backed town makes a pleasant base to explore the waterways.
Below is my guide on how to make the most of your time in Nyaungshwe.
What to do
Nyaungshwe's highlights can be seen in two days at a push, but stay a little longer and you'll find it easy to settle in to the relaxed pace of life here...
Go on a boat trip
Not getting out on the water would be like visiting a steak restaurant and ordering a salad. Not only is it a fascinating way to learn about local culture, but the landscape is stunning and, once you've got used to the sound of the motor, it can be incredibly peaceful.
Our twelve-hour private boat trip cost K20,000 / $15, and we happily tipped our guide at the end of the day. We'll soon be publishing a handy guide on how to organise your boat trip and where you should visit.
Cycle around (part of) the lake
Get a different perspective by hiring a bicycle from your accommodation or a bike hire outfit such as Active & Authentic Travel & Tours. A popular route runs down to Khaung Daing, where you will find a jetty with boats offering to take you and your bikes across for around K6000 / $4.50 (after some haggling, of course!).
Once you arrive at Maing Thauk, turn left onto the main road which leads you directly back to Nyaunshwe, stopping off at the Bamboo Hut restaurant (see below) on the way.
Top tip: We started chatting with a family and the matriarch pestered her son to take us across the river. After speaking to other tourists, we found that this was cheaper than if you went direct to the jetty.
Visit Red Mountain Estate winery
Compared to wineries elsewhere (we’re looking at you Australia and California), this is nothing special. The wine is okay, service and venue just fine. But blimmin' heck, this is Myanmar; after a couple of weeks of drinking beer in South East Asia, a visit to Red Mountain feels like a treat!
Tastings cost around K4000 / $3 and you will try two red and two white wines in the tasting room area. Head to the front terrace with a glass of your preferred wine for a better view and more of an atmosphere. Bottles start from K9000 / $6.50.
Browse Mingala market
As you drive into town from the train station, you are likely to pass Mingala market, where traders sell handicrafts, fish and, er, machetes. It’s part of the five-day market that rotates around nearby towns (including Kalaw) and makes for an interesting morning stroll.
Visit Khaung Daing for their hot springs and tofu
This small Intha village of Khaung Daing offers a great opportunity to rest sore muscles after the Inle trek or recent bicycle ride in their spring pools. We didn't end up visiting, but admission at the time was advertised at around K5000 / $3.75. Khaung Daing locals produce yellow pea tofu which is worth a try.
How to get there: If you are cycling, leave Nyaung Shwe by the Teik Nan bridge and follow the unsealed road. It will veer left, and then right, where you will travel down a bumpy and straight tree-lined road - the lake will be on your left. Once you climb a gradual hill, you will reach a t-junction. Turn left and you will soon see signs for the hot springs, which will be on your left. The journey should take between 30minutes and 1 hour.
Watch a puppet show
Yoke thé, or traditional marionette puppetry, is common in Myanmar's cities and tourist centres. The Aung Puppet Show usually plays at least once a night down a small road opposite Nandawunn Hotel, costing around K4000 / $3.
Take a cooking class
For an introduction to Burmese cookery, Bamboo Delight offer morning (including a visit to the market) and evening sessions for a reasonable K20,000 / $13.50.
They tailor the menus depending on the group's tastes, and having run such classes since 2013, it's not a well-oiled machine!
Where to eat
With a wide range of restaurants offering both Burmese cuisine and food from elsewhere in the world, Nyaungshwe was one of our preferred towns for eating out.
The French Touch
This Western joint stirs up some seriously delicious cocktails (K4500 / $2.75) and great food, to a soundtrack of hip French music. In a country where meals can start to get a little ‘samey’ after a while, a little French Touch was just what we needed. The owner has a harem of dogs and when we visited in March 2017 a litter of fluffball puppies had recently been born.
Prices are a little higher than most places in Myanmar - set aside K25,000 / $17+ for a meal for two, including one (or more...) of their delicious cocktails.
Specialising in tasty lake fish, this charming family-run restaurant is a off the main drag but all the more peaceful for it. They do excellent vegetarian dishes and salads, as well as the fish, however you want it - steamed, fried, or in a curry.
If one of your party is planning on getting a speciality dish, a meal for two will cost around K15,000 / $10.
Live dim sum house
On an early evening walk, grouchy and tired from a day's travelling and lack of a proper meal, we stumbled across Live Dim Sum house. With familiar dishes such as Kung Pao chicken and steamed dumplings on the menu, we rejoiced. It was so good, we ended up going twice during our time in Nyaungshwe.
Two people can have a filling meal here for K10,000 / $6, but up your budget and you can sample more of the menu...
Just north of Maing Thauk, this is an ideal place to stop off on your cycle ride back to Nyaungshwe. Bamboo Hut primarily serves delicious vegetarian food, including curries, salads, soups and smoothies, in a gorgeous location overlooking their dragon fruit & papaya plantation.
You can fill yourself up on K15,000 / $10, but it's possible to slash K5,000 off the bill if you're on a budget.
Where to stay
Accommodation is spread out around Inle Lake, with the majority in or close to Nyaungshwe town centre, and luxury hotels dotted on the water further south. We decided to remain in the centre of town, and found it the best base for our three-night stay.
We stayed at...Zawgi Inn
About a ten minute walk from the jetty (from which boat tours depart) this quiet accommodation offers cabin-style rooms off a pretty stone path. Breakfast is eaten on the terrace, laundry services are cheap and the staff are pleased to assist with onward travel.
We paid K30,000 / $20 per night for our double room with a fan.
We also recommend... Hotel Brilliant
According to our fellow travellers, this hotel really is brilliant. It's a little out of town (around 2km) but they offer free bicycle hire for guests and a drop off service in the evenings at the time of writing. The staff are fantastic and the rooms fantastically clean; some have balconies.
Rates are around K41,000 / $28 per night.
The backpacker favourite... ABC Hostel
The breakfast is massive, the dorms are cosy and there's a bar on site. We can see why this hostel, with a price tag of K10,000 / $7 for a bed, is so popular.
We took the train from Kalaw to Shwenyaung, and there were tuk-tuks waiting at the station to take us the remaining distance to Nyaungshwe for K2000 / $1.35 per person. You can find out more about train travel in Myanmar here.
It's possible to take a bus from Kalaw direct to Nyaungshwe, however we heard this route isn't so scenic. Buses are also available from other cities (Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay) and as with elsewhere in Myanmar, your accommodation will likely be the best source of information on the latest times and costs of buses. They will likely purchase your tickets for you if you request the same.
Flights land at Heho airport, 25.5 miles northeast of Nyaungshwe, and taxis charge around K25,000 / $17 to the town centre.