Nyaungshwe is the main traveller centre for Inle Lake, and the closest Burma currently has to a banana pancake trail (and, truth be told, in rainy season even here isn't particularly banana-pancakey).
As it's low season, the hotels are all ¾ empty (take your pick of the available rooms) or closed for construction as the local entrepreneurs rush to expand to meet the high-season demand. But you do see tourists on the street: it feels like one tourist for every 100-200 locals, as opposed to the one tourist for every 10,000 locals in Yangon, and there's a real traveller vibe: every second building along the main street is either a restaurant or a travel agent (mostly empty at this time of year). The other 50% of the buildings are the standard small town Asia conveniences – little shops that sell electrical goods, or plastic household items, or miscellaneous food stuffs (that seem at first glance to be mostly pork rinds or some other kind of deep fried thing). There are also several cheap-ass looking local tea shops and beer bars (none with any English language signs).
|Mmm... dusty. Main streets near the market, Nyaungshwe|
In addition to the restaurants and tea shops mentioned above, you've got plenty of other options for eating. The main market (at the north end of town, near the permit booth) has a number of stalls selling rice and noodles for breakfast/lunch (the market shuts down in late afternoon), as well as fruit and veg, raw meat, dry goods, and housewares.
|Mmm... healthy. The main market's vegetable section.|
Just west of there you'll find a series of side streets that have been taken over by another market, selling clothing, farm implements, thanaka, candy, and miscellaneous junk. A few small stalls sell snack foods in this market, including fried quail eggs and oily but yummy dosai (filled with chick peas, tomato, and green chili). Between the two markets, you'll find a particular alleyway designated the official night market, with 5 or 6 little open-air restaurants offering largely identical menus (every single one does Shan Noodles, for example).
|Mmm... pointy. Farm implements for sale in the street market.|
The main street, running from the main market west to the teak bridge on the main canal, is dusty and busy with traffic. Lots of locals riding up and down on motorbikes (I wonder where they're all going). Lots of tractors passing through. Lots of touts near the canal, trying to sell you boat tours.
Away from the main road, the markets, and the main canal, the side streets are quiet and relaxed. I'd strongly recommend you look for a guesthouse/hotel in the side streets - slightly less convenient, but infinitely more peaceful. My guesthouse was by the teak bridge, near where the longtail boats go from, and it is noisy. Wake you up at 3:30 or 4:00am when the first fishing boats go out noisy.
(Plus, the canal area smells like sewage after every time it rains. I'm not eating fish from this lake, I tell you.)
|Side street, locals, and the ever-present construction.|
An aside on communication: today I asked for water and the woman had no idea, so I showed her the word for drinking water in my book, and she immediately went “Ah, Wadder!” with a short A and a very strong D sound. I'd said it the British way, with a long A and a T. This is the second time I've had to put on an American accent to be understood. I guess a lot of people here are mostly used to American pronunciations. It doesn't help that I talk too fast - I have to keep reminding myself to put on a strong American accent and over-enunciate or over pronounce everything so I don't confuse people.
Despite a few touts and the odd attempt to overcharge you here, this place is still reasonably friendly, especially once you leave the main shopping street in town and start to wander down the places tourists go less – the fruit and veg market, the neighbouring towns or countryside. Anyone you smile or say Min-guhl-la-ba to invariably smiles and says Min-guhl-la-ba back.
It's a nice, low season town.
It's probably completely different in high season.
|Complimentary welcome juice at the local monk's festival.|