Inle lake is one of Burma’s biggest draw cards, a top tourist attraction. The scenic beauty of the lake itself is undeniably a must-see when visiting Burma, so why did I have such a sour taste in my mouth by the end of my 4 nights at Inle lake?
I don’t want to ruin this destination for you, in retrospect it was worth the horrible bus ride to get there, what i want to emphasise is that you want to get in, see the lake and then get the hell out of dodge… So, the sweet and sour of it? The video below is the sweet, a boat trip around this natural wonder is the major, actually, the only highlight of visiting. As for the sour… We’ll get to that.
So what went wrong?
After arriving in NyaungShwe (The small town to the north of Inle lake where all the backpacker hotels are) on the night bus from Yangon, we pretty much had breakfast and then passed out. As you will learn if you visit Myanmar, sleeping on the night bus is not really possible… Sudden braking, terrible roads and winding turns that quite literally throw you from your seat, are all part and parcel of the Burma experience.
The route to Inle may be one of the worst in Burma but it is certainly not unique in its horror.
We organised to take the all important boat trip on the second day which, apart from one white-lie for the toursits, is actually pretty awesome (See video above!). The boat trip is about 16,000kyat for up to 4 people, and extra 4,000kyat for a 5th person and then another 5,000kyat if you want to go the extra distance to in-Dein.
The white lie, told by every tour company and hotel in town, is that you visit the “jumping cat” monastery as the finale of your trip… well, you do but the cats don’t jump! They haven’t jumped since mid-2012 when the head monk died… So really, it’s just a monastery but is it is on stilts!
Anyway, now we reach the problem and the warning. Once you have done the boat trip: LEAVE. Nyaungshwe is a small, traditional town which, due to tourism, has exploded into tourist hell. During high season you can expect to see as many tourists as locals. What was once probably a delightful corner of the world has now become jaded. Filled with western restaurants, inflated prices and very over-rated side attractions (such as the Winery and Hot Springs), Nyaungshwe is only a McDonalds away from becoming the first true Burmese international “resort”.
Inle is the first part of Burma to be truly affected by the new mass tourism, it won’t be the last. The warning I give is: Visit Burma NOW, before it’s too late. What is happening at Inle is also happening in Bagan, 5 years from now the country will be un-recognisable.
The people of Myanmar deserve a better economy, tourism can help them but the magic that is there now is rapidly being destroyed, don’t miss it.
We loved Myanmar so much we wrote a guide book! The must have, up to date alternative to Lonely Planet for 2013/2014. (UPDATE: Please note, the entrance fee for Inle lake has increased from $5 to $10 for 2014)
Need somewhere cheap to stay at Inle lake? Check out our review of Joy Hotel.