All the recommendations below are for the town of Nyaung Shwe, which holds the vast majority of guesthouses and tourist services for Inle Lake.
Biggest Tip: have lots of patience or book ahead. I called 20 places from our guesthouse in Kalaw. The 20th had availability in our price range. The 10th had a room for 4x what Lonely Planet quoted. We ended up staying at the Good Will Hotel, a decent place with a leaky toilet, a bathroom big enough for our trek laundry, a nice veranda, and a breakfast that's been the worst so far (pretty much eggs, which meant nada for Lina). We paid $35/night for the first two nights. The third night I negotiated down to $30. All comparable places seemed to be the same price. The least we heard was $25/night for a double.
Eat and Drink
Pretty standard food at standard prices. Our favorite experience was eating at the Mingala Market. We went twice, each time opting for a variation of a Shan noodle dish. In addition to our main dish, we got a huge bowl of fresh guacamole and rice crackers, as well as pickled vegetables and fried onions.
The grand total for both of us: 1000K, or $1.25 US. The place has no name, just look for this lady (and her cute kid if it's not a school day):
See and Do
The lake, the lake, the lake, plus hot springs and a scenic bike ride. Check out our Inle Lake photo gallery to see what I mean. I never wanted to leave. Make sure you see Indein. It's like a mini Bagan smashed into a compact area on a big hill.
We trekked to Inle Lake from Kalaw and left by bus to Bagan. The pickup came to our hotel and took us directly to the bus junction. The 8-hour bus trip was 10,000K each.
More Inle Lake
For more inspiring photos around Inle Lake, check out our Inle Lake photo tour. Read our tips for day trips around Inle Lake to see why we wanted to stay much longer than we could afford.
Have any tips for Inle Lake on a budget? Where did you end up staying? Let us know in the comments!