Visitors to Inle Lake stay in Nyaungshwe, a town right north of it. It has plenty of accommodation and food options, hospitals and even a bookstore. So that is your final destination if you want to visit Inle Lake for a few days.
There is a larger city called Taunggyi nearby that serves as a transportation hub. Tens of buses and minivans run between Taunggyi and Nyaungshwe.
An alternative to all transportation options listed below is, of course, hitchhiking all the way to the lake.
Direct bus or shared taxi from Hsipaw to Inle
As Hsipaw gets more and more tourists, bus companies in Myanmar will soon implement more buses, at the moment there are only a few options. Make sure to be at the bus station at least 30 minutes before departure time! Tickets cost between 15,000 and 16,000 kyats.
- Shwe Loon Pyan (Golden Shuttle Bus). Departs at 16:00 from Hsipaw RC Gate, and arrives in Nyaung Shwe at 07:00 at Shwe Loon Pyan May Gate.
- Taung Pyar Than bus. Departs at 4pm or 7pm (depending who you ask, so confirm with your guesthouse), arrives in Taunggyi (not Nyaung Shwe) in the morning.
A direct taxi from Hsipaw to Inle costs around 23,000 kyats and takes only 8-9 hours.
Train and bus combination
There is a way to go from Hsipaw to Inle and still be able to see the Gokteik Viaduct from the train, which is a national landmark. To do this, take the 09:20 train from Hsipaw’s railway station towards Mandalay and exit at Nawnghkio (ticket is 750/1700 for ordinary/upper class). See this article for complete train schedule and fares. Nawnghkio is a junction town, where the north-south road that goes to Inle (road 43) and the Mandalay-Hsipaw/Lashio road (road 3) intersect. It is located after the Gokteik bridge coming from Hsipaw.
Once in Nawnghkio, finding public transportation to go south towards Inle without getting ripped off is no easy feat.
Going directly from Nawnghkio to Inle, you avoid going all the way to Mandalay, which is a big detour if you look at a roadmap.
Taxis and minivans from Nawnghkio to Inle Lake
If you mutter “inle lake taxi” to anyone on the main road of the city, you’ll quicky find a taxi ready to take you, but definitely no other travellers in town to share it with.
To get a minivan, you can either stay around the main road or where road 43 leaves the city and stop one. They are easy to recognize, as they are white and have a small banner with the destination on the front. The names are in Burmese, so make sure you can recognize the Burmese name for Taunggyi (တောင်ကြီးမြို့). No minivan goes straight from Nawnghkio to Nyaungshwe.
Alternatively, you can call a minivan from Golden Nawnghkio at +95(0)9450950446 (secondary numbers +95(0)9777681826 and +95(0)9961543446), which is a regional network of minivans.
Buses from Nawnghkio to Taunggyi
There are two travel agencies in town that deal with buses: Mayman (22.331319, 96.800799) and Shwe Mandalar (22.331131, 96.798386). Mayman offers many buses “between morning and lunch”, and then an evening bus at 8pm (but be there around 7pm just in case).
Shwe Mandalar seems not to be able to get you on the evening bus; they only offer morning buses, starting 8AM, for 15,000 kyats.
Eat and sleep in Nawnghkio
There are two options for overnight accommodation: either book a night with Shwe Mandalar, or head to a hotel a few buildings east from Mayman (22.331295, 96.800391).
Like other small towns, there are plenty of street cafes and food stands throughout the main streets. For a good lunch or dinner, I recommend a restaurant called Lucky (22.329029, 96.798632) with a wide range of rice, vegetables, pork and chicken dishes.
Nawnghkio also has a market where you can buy groceries.