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Bagan or Inle Lake for a Myanmar Tour?

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is one of the most beautiful countries in Asia, and a true delight for travelers with a sense of adventure. While some parts of the country are still off-limits to tourists, there are still enough amazing sights and things to do in Burma to keep you busy for many months. Not the least of these are two of the most popular attractions in Myanmar, Inle Lake and the Bagan Temple Complex.

The temples of Bagan and the Inle Lake are both in the central region of Myanmar, yet are still far from each other, with more than 350 kilometers between them. Located to the northwest and northeast of the country’s capital Naypyitaw, these two amazing sites are places that require a longer time to explore than most tourist destinations. With no flight travel between them available, the only way to travel from one to the other is a grueling ten-hour local bus ride.(Check for the detailed information about how to get from Bagan to Inle Lake)

If you are on a tight schedule or your itinerary does not allow you to visit both within your Myanmar tour, then you may find yourself having to choose between the two. Do you choose the picturesque sunset views over the temple city at Bagan or the graceful fishermen and spectacular mountain views of the majestic Inle Lake? 

Why You Should Never Miss Bagan for Myanmar Tour

Lying in central Myanmar, around 270 kilometers to the northwest of the nation’s new capital of Naypyitaw, Bagan is one of the most historical landmarks in Asia. Comprising of more than 2,000 Buddhist temples and pagodas, this ancient city is more than a rival for the sights of Angkor or Machu Picchu. A relatively unknown location in international tourism, it still has fewer tourists than other Burmese cities, which allows for a more exciting and less crowded experience.

Bagan temples monks
Bagan temples monks

The temples that stretch across the Bagan Plain are close together, which makes for some of the world’s most incredible views, especially when the sun is rising and setting and the hot air balloons are rising over the city. While a large number of the temples are damaged, they can all be explored inside and out, giving you a more personal experience of some of Asia’s ancient Buddhist architecture.

Of the 2,000 plus temples that are spread across the plain, there are some that stand out as the most striking and most exciting to visit, such as the Ananda temple, with its symmetrical design and golden spire that can be seen across the entire plain. Almost 1,000 years old, the temple is one of the largest and most well-preserved of the temples in Bagan, and is an important site to the local Buddhist population.

Other pagodas, such as Shwesandaw, Shwezigon, and Sulamani, are just as impressive, with architecture that varies from stupas and octagonal terraces to gold-plated domes, layered terraces and spires, and ancient murals that tell of the life of Buddha.

One of the most popular attractions in Bagan is the hot-air balloon rides. Just after sunrise every morning, dozens of hot-air balloons take off from the various sites around the plain, lifting through the low-lying morning mists to soar into the sky, giving their passengers a stunning bird’s-eye view of the entire temple complex. This image has become popularized over the internet, and is now an iconic sight for travelers to Bagan. The balloon rides are expensive, at around 330 dollars per person and only run from October to March, but are immensely popular with international travelers.

Bagan hot balloon
Bagan hot balloon

Lying on the banks of the vast Irrawaddy River, which flows from the Myit Sone Pagoda in the far north of the country all the way to the Andaman Sea, one of the most popular activities of tourists after a full day of touring the temple city is to do nothing, but do it on a river boat along the Irrawaddy River. One of the most laid-back ways to relax in Bagan, the sunset boat trips are a great way to relax, with other boats sillhoutted against the setting sun and the view of the mountains behind while you drink tea and eat snacks on the boat. Possibly the most relaxing and romantic thing you can do in Burma, the image harkens back to the British Imperial rule of Burma, when high-ranking military and government officers would relax on their boats on the Yangon River for a traditional British “tea”.

MyitSone Pagoda
MyitSone Pagoda

AS if all of that is not enough, there is more to entice you to Bagan for your tour break. Instead of taking the usual electric bikes and riding around the temple city to explore the various temples and pagodas, you can take a horse and cart ride around the complex in a much more relaxed manner. Not only is the distance between temples far, but some temples themselves are too huge to explore on foot. Horse-carts are a traditional mode of transport in Burma, and can be booked in the city or found beside many of the bigger temples spread across the vast plain. While it may be a slower way of traveling around the city, it is a better way to take in the spectacular scenery of the areas between the temples, instead of rushing from one temple to the next. The innate beauty of the Bagan Plain can make great photos, and the cart drivers know enough English to be able to explain the more remote areas of Bagan.

Why You Should Never Miss Inle Lake for Myanmar Tour

One of the most memorable and unique areas of Myanmar is the stunning Inle Lake, which is fast becoming a popular destination for international travelers. A trip to see the shimmering waters of the lake is also a trip into the natural, historical, religious, and cultural sites of central Myanmar. One of Myanmar’s most iconic locations, the serene waters and unique local culture make a trip to Inle Lake one of the must-visit destinations in Burma.

Inle lake
Inle lake

Around 13.5 miles long, the lake is home to more than seventy-thousand people, all of whom make their living from the lake. The most popular sight on the lake is the fishermen, who are known for their unique style of propelling their boats across the surface of the lake. This unique method of rowing the boat involves standing on one leg whilst moving the oar in the water with the other. Inle Lake is the only place in the world where the boaters use this method of propulsion.

For most of the local people, the lake has shaped their very culture and way of life, and their entire existence centers around this vast body of water. While there are many settlements and villages around the shore of the lake, majority of its inhabitants live on the water itself, or rather above it. Houses and shops near the shore are built on stilts out over the waters of the lake, some without even a bridge to the shore.

The stilt houses incorporate stunning floating gardens filled with vegetables and fruit to cook their traditional local cuisine. The largest area of the floating gardens is in the northwest of the lake, where the rows of vegetable pontoons stretch out in rows far out past the limits of the houses. These furthest gardens are tended to by the locals using small wooden boats to get from one to the next. In some parts, the roots from the gardens have stretched down to the lake bed and are strong enough to walk on.

As if stilt houses and floating vegetable gardens is not enough, some of the locals actually live out on the lake, far from shore, in floating villages. These villages are built by tethering the individual hose-boats together and tethering them in place using a large stone anchor. Mostly inhabited by fishermen, these floating villages move from one place to another on the lake, following the fish and making sure the fish pens are always in areas where there is food for the fish they raise there. Floating markets also line the shores of the lake, linked to dry land by a short jetty, where the fishermen sell their catches and trade for the things they need out on the lake that the lake does not already provide.

Floating gardens
Floating gardens

One of the most stunning ways to see the lake is on a cruise, which can be boarded at Nyaungshwe, at the northern end of the lake. There are a large number of boat owners that will take you out on the lake for a short or long cruise, from 2 hours to the entire day, from sunrise to sunset. The boat cruises are the best way to see the picturesque views of the mountains around the lake and the stunning and unique culture of the lake’s inhabitants.

Inle Lake has another attraction that few people still know about, but which is something of an open secret that all the balloon pilots in Bagan talk about. Hot-air balloon rides can be found at Inle Lake as well, giving you a unique opportunity to take a flight over the lake and get the best view of its entire surface, with the floating villages and the leg-rowing fishermen appearing as skeeters on the surface of the lake’s iridescent water. Compared to Bagan, the ballooning at Inle Lake is not as much of a high-profile attraction. Yet it is possible to get that same experience that Bagan has to offer with the enticing landscape and scenery that is Inle lake.

Balloon boarding in Inle Lake
Balloon boarding in Inle Lake

Check for the most classic 8 days Myanmar tour with Inle Lake and Bagan together.
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