Inle Lake deserves more than one single day’s visit. The best way to reach it is to take a bus (from Mandaly, or Yangon) to Nyaungshwe, the main access point to Inle Lake. To organize a boat tour around the lake, go to the Harbour and look for some locals. Bargain the price and arrange with them the itinerary you prefer. Me and my girlfriend paid about 15.000 Kyat each (about 20$ AUD or $15 USD) for a full day tour around Inle Lake. We visited local markets, floating villages and saw many local people and the typical Inle Lake fishermen in their everyday life.
I think the best time to go there is during shoulder season (October, November, March, April), the areas around Mandalay and Bagan are hotter and Yangon reaches 40 degrees. We visited Inle Lake in mid January and it was cold, especially in the early morning.
I would like to focus not on the Inle Lake Tour, but on its people, who are the main highlight of Inle Lake: the fishermen. Every morning, a flotilla of slender wooden canoes fitted with long tailed outboard motors surges out into the lake, carrying visitors to various natural, cultural, religious and commercial sites. That is the way to meet many fishermen doing their job. When we left the harbour on board of our boat, it was 5 o’clock in the morning and it was pretty cold, about 8 degrees. The boats have no roof and the humidity and wind can be very strong on the lake. For this reason they gave us a blanket to keep us warm.
The big adventure started, and after a few minutes we stopped on the way to the first floating village. We also saw the first fisherman, he was busy with his fishing net and was making some weird movement collecting the net and trying to keep his balance at the same time. I was waiting for this moment, because before starting my trip I saw many iconic pictures of Myanmar showing the fishermen working at Inle Lake, and now, I was there, in front of them. I was looking for their canoes the entire time, a long flat wooden boat and their main fishing accessory, a conical net, so after that I focused my attention on the fisherman. He was standing at the bow of the boat, after a few seconds the man was paddling with one leg wrapped like a vine around the wooden oar, digging it into the placid lake waters. The reason why they paddle this way is because there are many reeds and water plants in the lake, and if they row sitting down on the boat they could not see them.
Standing at the end of the boat they have a better view and also they have their hands free to collect the net whilst propelling the boat. At that point I asked my girlfriend, how do they fish? One of the fishermen answered me. First, the fishermen hit the water with their oars and then put the cone shaped net into the water. This cone has a small net inside and the fisherman trap the fish by throwing the cone shaped net into the water, pressing on it with his feet so it sinks to the bottom where the fish are.
This unique technique is possible only because the lake is not very deep. I do not think this is fishing, I consider it art. Spending a day on a boat trip around Inle Lake is a must do in Myanmar. You have a great chance to see some of the real countryside everyday life, visiting interesting sights like floating villages, markets and workshops. We had a great experience there and I fell in love looking at the fishermen doing their amazing job.