Bagan to Inle Lake is a very popular route for travellers in Myanmar. No wonder that there are a few different options for transportation with different levels of comfort and varying prices. If you are on a budget, taking the bus is the best option and offers some interesting views of the countryside. On the downside, the bus ride is not always the most comfortable as it is a long trip. If you have some extra money, and/or are pressed for time, flying is the most convenient and fastest way to get there. Unfortunately, there is no direct train from Bagan to Inle Lake, but the most adventurous ones can still consider connecting via Thazi and Mandalay or Yangon, too.
Flights from Bagan to Inle Lake
Flights are a quick and easy way to get from Bagan to Inle Lake. This could be a good option for you if you want to cut down your travel time and you have some extra money to spend.
Flights are around an hour in length but you will have to factor in an extra 45 minutes onto the trip to get from the airport to Inle Lake. The cost of a one-way flight ranges in price from USD70-110.
There are six companies that offer flights at a variety of times during the day. Some airlines fly via Mandalay which will add extra time. So double-check to make sure you are getting a direct flight. Both Air KBZ and FMI Airlines have direct flights daily.
Flights leave Bagan at Nyaung U airport and arrive into Inle Lake at Heho airport, which is about a 45-minute taxi ride into Nyaungshwe, where most hotels are located. The taxi will cost about MMK30,000. This is quite expensive considering that an 8-hour bus ride from Bagan to Inle Lake is cheaper. Booking the taxi from the airport through your hotel should enable you to cut down the cost considerably. Another option is to take local transport from the town of Heho which is 3km from the airport. However, this is much less convenient than taking a taxi direct from the airport.
Bus from Bagan to Inle Lake
The from-eight-to-ten-hour stretch from Bagan to Inle Lake is one that travellers often opt for. The roads between Inle Lake and Bagan have improved, and the views of the countryside are quite impressive. But, it is still a very long bus ride – and well, not the most comfy one in any case. So, if you are planning a short trip to Myanmar, flying might be a better option to save time.
There are many bus companies to choose from. However, it is still a good idea to book your bus at least a day ahead to ensure a spot. Most bus companies will have a bus that leaves early in the morning and later in the evening.
The easiest way to get a ticket is to go directly to a travel agency or bus company office. You will see many of these around Bagan and other popular tourist destinations in Myanmar. Look for shops with big posters of a bus on the outside. They will be able to tell you the different times the bus leaves to Inle Lake. Most companies have the option to take a regular bus for around MMK11,000/USD8 or a VIP bus which costs a bit extra (up to USD20) but offers a bit more legroom, comfort and sometimes a meal. Often travel agents can arrange pick up from your hotel.
Note: Always make sure to clarify with the bus company whether the bus to Inle lake will drop you off at Nyaungshwe or Shwenyaung Junction. Shwenyaung Junction is a 20-minute taxi ride into Nyaungshwe (where most guesthouses are located) and taxi drivers will charge a hefty fee to get you there. There is public bus that can get you from Shwenyaung to Nyaungshwe but you may end up waiting a long time to catch it, especially if you arrive early in the morning. It is much more convenient to get dropped of in Nyaungshwe as it is in walking distance to a lot of hotels.
Note: If you are travelling on the night bus be sure to bring a heavy sweater as the A/C on the bus can be freezing cold. Almost all buses will break up the trip at a couple of rest stops where you can pick up snacks like fruits and nuts and use the bathroom if there isn’t one on the bus – and in fact only the most expensive buses do have toilets on board, otherwise it does not come as a standard.
From Bagan to Inle Lake by train
There are no trains that go from Bagan to Inle Lake. If you are set on seeing Myanmar by train you should consider rerouting your trip to go from Yangon to Inle Lake or from Mandalay to Inle Lake. There are many options to stop in between with both Yangon and Mandalay are easily reached from Bagan by train, but note that this is going to be a very long journey – if not to say epic . Just to give you an idea of travel times: Bagan–Mandalay leg is between 8 and 12 hours; Mandalay–Thazi is 3 hours and Thazi–Shwenyaung is 10 hours. Throw in the connections and you will easily get a 40-hour railroad adventure.
Another option is to get the bus from Bagan to Kalaw (7.5 hours) and then take the train to Inle Lake (3.5 hours). This will add extra travel time onto your trip and is highly recommended: you will be rewarded with charming mountain views as the stretch of the railway line between Kalaw and Inle Lake is arguably the most scenic in the whole country.
Stopovers worth considering on the way from Bagan to Inle Lake
From Bagan to Inle Lake via Kalaw
If you’ve got extra time and are the adventurous type you should definitely consider stopping in Kalaw. Travellers interested in trekking can begin a two-day hike to Inle Lake that takes a scenic route through the countryside. The walk offers a chance to see a more authentic glimpse into the lives of the hill tribes of the area than that of Inle Lake. You can reach Kalaw by bus from Bagan (7.5 hours).
From Bagan to Inle Lake via Meiktila
Meiktilla is a pleasant lake-side town to visit if you are keen on breaking up the 8-hour bus ride between Bagan and Inle Lake. It doesn’t have much in terms of tourist sites but is a nice place to relax and journey off the typical tourist trail. Buses from Bagan take about 4 hours.
A sidetrip from Inle Lake to Indein
Once in Inle Lake, taking a long-tail boat to Indein village is a highlight for many. The boat ride itself is a lot of fun and offers stunning views of the picturesque lakeside and the people who live there – including the fisherman who are famous for using their leg to paddle. While there, you can see hundreds of rustic pagodas that are slowly being overgrown by trees. The whole trip will cost around MMK18,000 which can be split between those in your group.
Inle Lake Entrance Fee
There is a MMK13,000/USD10 entrance fee for foreign visitors to Inle Lake area now – in theory – payable only in local currency. In fact, US dollars are still accepted but you have to present a brand-new beautiful banknote, otherwise it will be refused with disgust. The entrance fee is collected at the toll post on the road to Shwenyaung – you should not miss it whether you are heading to the town from the train station, Heho airport or trekking from Kalaw. If you do miss the toll post by some reason, you will either be asked to pay at your guesthouse or hotel – or enjoy Inle Lake for free as normally nobody checks the receipt.
Why go to Inle Lake
The iconic image of fisherman against the downing sun hauling in nets while balancing on one foot on their cockleshells lure hordes of travellers to visit Inle Lake. Arguably one of the most stunning attractions in Myanmar, Inle Lake does not offer classic guidebook sights. It is all about atmosphere, nature and culture. The 22-km long lake is inhabited by a variety of hill tribes who keep the lifestyle of their ancestors, building stilt houses and supporting their lives by fishing and fresh produce from floating gardens. Traditional handicraft products are sold at the colourful local markets, rolling hills around the lake hide hot springs and are a great destination for an afternoon bicycle ride and the amazing spires of the In Dein temples give the whole picture the necessary glitter.
Onward travel from Inle Lake
Bagan and Inle Lake are two of the most popular and exciting destinations for travellers. Some of the other must-see destinations in Myanmar you might consider visiting after Inle Lake are Yangon, Mandalay, and Hsipaw.
You can reach Mandalay by plane, train or bus. All options operate daily. Keep in mind that the train is not direct to Mandalay. It stops in Thazi where you will have to redirect onwards to Mandalay. Buses journeys are 6-7 hours and the route can be bumpy and uncomfortable. Flights leave Inle Lake from Heho airport and take less than an hour.
Hsipaw is quite far from Inle Lake. It is probably best to break up the trip in Mandalay. Plus, the train ride from Mandalay to Hsipaw is considered one of the world’s most spectacular. If you are determined to go direct from Inle Lake, buses leave daily and are 12-14 hours. Flights are not an option.
Going south to Yangon can be done by plane, train or bus. You can break up the long bus journey by stopping in Bago which has a few noteworthy pagodas and is a good place to arrange travel to the Golden Mount.
You can travel by bus East of Inle Lake to Taunggyi. At the current time, travel to most places east of Taunggyi Is restricted for foreigners without prior permission.