Inle Lake is a an enchanted area in Shan State. Most people have seen the idyllic photos of the traditional fishermen and floating villages built on stilts. There are countless treasures off the beaten path, however. We encourage you to try cycling the loop circuit around the lake area. We welcome guests to take our bicycles out for adventures and sights many people will miss. Here is a guide for cycling around Inle Lake.
Before sharing the impressive sites, it is important to note that it can get really hot here. We recommend taking bike trips in the morning. It stays nice and cool until almost noon, even in the hot season. It also tends to cool down after 4pm if you’d prefer an evening ride. Always bring a sunhat, sunscreen and water with you. In rainy season it is advisable to bring a raincoat, as storms can appear any time.
One of the closer destinations to Nyaung Shwe, the gateway to Inle Lake, is the Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery. Shwe Yan Pyay monastery is 4 km (2.5 miles) from Song of Travel Hostel and directly north of town. It’s incredibly easy to find. From the hostel you bike down the main road in town, Yone Gyi Street, until you reach the market. Turn right on the street just past the market, Shwenyaung - Nyuaungswe Road, and continue straight along Tharzi Pond until you reach the monastery. It should take the average person 20 minutes to half an hour to arrive there on bike. Shwe Yan Pyay monastery is special because it is 150 years old, made of teak and has large, uncommon oval windows. It was built to house poor boys from the area who will become novice monks when they come to live here. The monastery contains a shrine that holds well over 100 Buddha statues in small niches in wall, illuminated by candles. This monastery is not often visited by tourists despite its proximity to town, and has a unique, peaceful atmosphere.
To the South West you can find a number of interesting sights. The two most popular are the Khaing Daing Hot Springs and Khaing Daing Village, also known as ‘Tofu Village’. To reach these destinations take the main road in town (Yone Gyi Street) south and cross the bridge. Follow the sometimes winding road along the local streets and rice fields until you come to a T and can no longer go straight. Take a left and continue for about 4 km, until you see a sign for Khaing Daing Hot Springs on the left. You will pass Innoo Pagoda, a collection of beautiful golden stupas, on your way and it is definitely worth visiting. When you enter you will be guided to 3 pools that have recently been built for tourists and charged about 15,000 kyat to use them. You can choose to join the locals in the original pools, in which men and women are separated, for 7,500 kyat.
15 minutes beyond the Inle Lake hot springs is the ‘Tofu Village’. This small community is comprised of families who each specialize in making different foods, including the tofu for which the village is well known. Other treats include local candies make from brown sugar harvested from local sugar cane, fried crackers, rice crackers, seasoned seeds and nuts, and ‘happy water,’ or home distilled rice wine. Upon arriving to the village you are taken on a free tour where you see the families producing the snacks and you’re able to sample all of them. Come hungry because they share a generous amount of food with you. Refreshingly, there is no pressure to buy anything. There is not even a shop. You are welcome to purchase snacks from the families, but you’ll have to ask your guide to facilitate the transaction. After the tour you are given more snacks and are able to ask any questions you have about the village, area, culture, government, or whatever piques your interest. It is a great opportunity to have a real conversation with a local. Though they don’t pressure you, donations are encouraged. The suggested donation is 3,000 kyats. The money the village earns is pooled together to pay for schools and roads and the new sustainable tree farm to power the ovens used to create all of the foodstuffs. After visiting, chances are you will feel really good about leaving a little bit of money with these lovely people.
From Tofu Village, also known as Tofu Palace, you can take your bikes on a boat across the lake. Negotiate with the drivers, but the average price 10,000 for 2 people and 2 bicycles on the boat. The boat driver will drop you off on the east side of Inle Lake near Maing Thauk Bridge. From there you can bike to the Maing Thauk forest monastery for amazing views of the lake before riding north 6 km to the Inle Lake natural swimming pool.
On the way back towards Nyaung Shwe you will find Red Mountain Estates Winery & Vineyard. It is only 3.5 km from the natural pool and about the same distance from the hostel. You will see the sign for the winery and turn right. There is a covered area to park your bikes as you walk up to the winery. Wine tastings are 5,000 kyat for 4 local Burmese wines of Inle Lake. You can also order wine and food in the restaurant and stay to watch the sunset over the mountains and Inle Lake. It’s a stunning sight.
If you want to see more before returning to Song of Travel hostel, you can visit the Htet Eain Gu Cave Temple and Monastery. This cave is located 2.7km east of the hostel and is very easy to find. From the winery continue north towards town until you reach Yone Gyi Street. Continue on this road until you reach Bamboo Garden. From there you will probably want to park your bikes and walk uphill to the cave. The path will be marked. If you are going to the Cave from the hostel turn left from the hostel doors. At the second intersection turn right. Continue until the 5th intersection where you will turn right on Yone Gyi Street. Out of respect to the culture, please cover your shoulders and your legs when entering the cave. You will find hundreds of Buddha images and figures inside this cave and are likely to encounter monks and few other tourists, especially the earlier in the day you go.
These are only a few of the sights that can easily be explored by one of our free bikes in Inle Lake. Ask our knowledgeable staff about other lesser known routes and destinations if you are up for an even bigger adventure!