Inle Lake is this fascinating place in Myanmar’s Nyaung Shwe township. It’s this freshwater lake just 5 km or 3 miles south of Nyaung Shwe town and it’s the second-largest lake in Myanmar with thriving communities around and on the lake itself. I have to be honest, many people told me to skip the lake or to only spend a day. But I still booked a bike and kayak tour with Grasshopper Adventures and I’m so glad I didn’t listen.
When I saw that this company called Grasshopper Adventures are offering an intimate tour to show the authentic local life of Inle Lake, I immediately jumped on the chance. I signed up to their Inle Bike, Boat and Kayak Tour and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
About Inle Lake
Inle Lake is this very picturesque freshwater lake in Nyaung Shwe township and has been a rising attraction in the area over the past several years. The lake is over 7 km or 4 miles at its widest point and is considered quite shallow as far as lakes go. During dry seasons, its deepest points can only go as deep as 12 feet but during the wetter months, this can increase up to more than 5 feet.
The lake used to be three times wider than its widest point but human settlements around and on the lake as well as human activities such as floating gardens and farms have reduced its size to what it is today.
Currently, Inle Lake serves as a home to multiple indigenous groups in the area and depends on it for their livelihood. Homes on wooden stilts create entire villages on the lake and the villagers use local wooden boats to get around the lake. There are even monasteries around and on the lake and religious events and other celebrations are regularly held on the lake itself.
Inle Lake also serves as an important habitat to multiple species of local wildlife with more than 25 species being endemic to the area. Plus from November to January, Inle Lake hosts over 20,000 migratory birds. All of these combined made the lake a protected site for the conservation of its unique ecosystem.
All of these features make Inle Lake a fantastic place to visit for travelers to experience a more relaxed and laid back side of Myanmar and the see the unique way of life for Myanmar’s local people. Tours like the ones Grasshopper Adventures offer allows visitors to experience local life for themselves without the usual disruption that groups of tourists make to popular destinations.
Grasshopper Adventures’s Inle Bike, Boat, and Kayak Tour
Grasshopper Adventure’s tour promised to show the authentic side of Inle Lake and that it did. The day started as early as 7:45 am at the center of Nyaung Shwe where I met my friendly guide. I got fitted for the best bike for my frame and the right sized helmet then I was given a safety briefing. Afterwhich off to the bikes we go.
Cycling past the town of Nyaung Shwe served as a warm-up for the rest of the day. The tour is expected to be 8 hours long of cycling on our bikes and kayaking so being physically fit is an advantage.
“Mingalabar,” Everyone said as we passed by on our bike, most of them are the friendly local kids and some adults. There were no tourists here, just the two of us cycling. After awhile cycling along the road, we’ve finally turned on a trail going somewhere off the beaten path. The trail was bumpy and can be scary at times but it’s doable, even for people who aren’t cycling experts like me.
We cycled through this beautiful bamboo forest and passed by rivers and through paths along fields filled with different cultivated vegetation including pretty patches of flowers.
We passed an Intha Village along the path and it really just the local Intha people living their daily lives. There’s no fanfare for tourists like us, although you can always count on the children we passed by to yell greetings and words of encouragement. Everything is just very relaxing and offers an authentic glimpse of local life. It feels so nice just seeing the real Burma.
I wasn’t the most confident riding a bike and it rained before we started the Grasshopper tour so the paths are quite muddy. It’s a good thing that the bikes they provided were very sturdy and the guide is always checking up on me to see if I was doing okay.
At that point, we were cycling for over an hour and a half. Tours like this can be quite hard for first-timers especially with the changing terrain. You just need to be careful and not get too excited when on the bike and you’ll be fine.
Despite the nervousness caused by riding the bikes throughout the tour, this was actually among the favorite things I did in Inle Lake. I would definitely recommend this to other visitors, even to someone like me who’s not so sure on their way around a bike.
We passed by even more local people throughout the bike ride and saw people doing their laundry. They’re just going through their daily lives and a lot of them aren’t all that used to tourists like us so there are plenty of kids that approached me to say hi. Everything was quite charming.
We also stopped by on a local winemaking shop where they make local rice wines. We did some wine tasting at this shop and it was good, not as strong as the rice wines in Laos though, but still quite good.
The First Stop
We’ve made several stops and seen beautiful sights on the first leg of the tour but we finally arrived on our first official stop: the small town of Khaung Daing. We rode on our bike through this charming small town.
We went inside a local shop and I instantly love it! I was the only tourist and the shop and it’s full of people from the village. We got down to have a little break from cycling. We sat down on one of their tables and was served by locally made wine. The wine tasted so sweet and has this strong lemonade taste as well so I was quite concerned that the alcohol would affect me but it was surprisingly good.
We also ate some salads, all the ingredients are locally grown. We were served by this nice lady and we ate her papaya salad, ginger salad, and more. It was all lovely and relaxing. We spent some time there just talking and unwinding. We were chatting about Laos and I got to know a lot more about my local guide.
First Boat Ride
Now for the fun part. After the rejuvenating snack, we headed out of the small town and on a boat ride with our bikes. The boat is large enough to carry both of us with our bikes plus the boat operator. The engine gives this soft relaxing noise as we travel through the water. Everything was so serene.
We passed by the aforementioned floating gardens and oh gosh, everything was so pretty! This is where the local crops were cultivated floating on the water, the guide said. He also said that this maze of vegetation is unique to this part of Inle Lake and this instantly made me not regret my decision of not listening to those who told me not to visit Inle Lake.
I cannot stress how serene everything is. The only sound is the splashing of the water and the soft purr of the engine. The guide said that we’re heading directly to a special destination in the form of an isolated peninsula.
The amazing boat ride ended and we finally arrived at our destination. The ride was relaxing plus the healthy snack we ate before that energized me for what’s coming up next in the tour.
We took out the bikes off the boat and cycled for another hour or so. This part of Inle lake is isolated, just like the guide said. We passed by rice paddies, farmhouses, and through villages. There were no other tourists around and the kids of course never disappoint in coming up to me to say hi.
We cycled through dirt trails beside the rice paddies and encountered quite a lot of mud. But it was fun! We went through remote villages that I’ll never get to visit if I didn’t join this tour. We were in an area of the countryside that seldom any tourist comes to and this is what traveling is all about.
The best thing about it though is that we passed a really beautiful monastery. We didn’t have the chance to enter but the guide said it’s the monastery of the jumping cats. Years ago, monks trained cats in the monastery to jump through hoops. These days, cats still call the monastery home but rarely do they jump on command.
Inside there are also hundreds of Buddhist statues from locals who left their statues there for safekeeping to avoid being damaged from the war. They just never returned to take their statues back.
Then before I know it, it was time for lunch. We arrived at one of the local houses still with a view of the monastery. We were greeted by this lovely old lady who served us a three-course meal. It was a lovely time with just the two of us enjoying authentic homecooked Shan meal complete with a view of the monastery.
We had Shan noodles, sticky rice, and what looks like tempura. It was delicious and we’re eating right at grandma’s kitchen. If that’s not authentic Myanmar hospitality, I don’t know what is.
Kayaking Through A Village on the Lake
After lunch, we headed to the lakeside shore where our kayak was waiting complete with our lifejackets. My guide and I got in and we kayaked through this village. The houses were supported on top of the water by wooden stilts.
It was a surreal experience paddling through the houses and sometimes under them. We explored a small part of the floating village, greeted some locals and just generally enjoyed the serenity of the experience. There was even a boat racing competition we got to watch. This is definitely the best way to see Inle Lake, in my opinion.
Back to the Boat
After exploring the floating village on our kayak, it’s time to go back to the boat where our bikes our waiting. Our longtailed boat took us further into the lake where we met more locals on their boats and even vendors who’re selling souvenirs right on the lake.
We arrived at one of the local shops in the lake and I got to do some traditional lotus weaving and got to meet the women who do it as their job.
Then we went back to our boat and back to where we started but not before getting to watch the fishermen row their boats with their feet. It’s a unique technique of navigating the water not seen anywhere else in the world. It was fascinating to watch.
Head back to Town
We’ve finally gotten back to our boat and now we’re heading to dry land. Then it’s off cycling back to town. It was a full day on and around the lake with my guide from Grasshopper Adventures. It was a full work out day but it was so worth it. I don’t think I’ll ever get to experience the serenity and a taste of the authentic local life if I hadn’t got on this tour.
Extra Tips when biking around Inle:
- Wear sensible clothing and shoes. You’ll be doing physical activities throughout the tour so wear something light and allows free movement.
- Pack a light backpack and only bring the necessities, including bottled water.
- Bring ziplocked bags for your electric devices.
- Be respectful to the locals, this is their home and we’re only visiting as tourists. Don’t be shy to say hello back.
- This 8-hour adventure is just a small but great glimpse of what life is like around and on Inle Lake. I suggest spending more than a day in the area to get the best experience out of it.