Myanmar – Inle Lake
Myanmar has always been on my list of country to visit. Finally, we made it! Good thing about living in Hong Kong is that we are just a few hours away from Myanmar. We started planning our trip last year in October. Myanmar has a lot of potential and attractions in many areas, however, things are pretty much at the developing stage. I believe it is getting much better compared to a few years ago.
Myanmar, is not, in my opinion suitable if you travel with a baby. Though you could choose to fly inter-state, it is still pretty costly. Besides, our itenerary doesn’t suit a baby. In order to have 100% freedom and travelling without worries, my mom-in-law has kindly offered to take care of our little one with assistance from our helper. She planned her trip to Hong Kong to coincide with the week we wanted to go away. We couldn’t have asked for more, it was really nice of her!
Since we had only a week in Myanmar, we could only cover 3 places. At first, we wanted to squeeze in 4 places but it worked out a bit too rush and expensive. There are direct flights from Hong Kong, either with Cathay Pacific or Dragon Air. If you choose to stop over, then you have a few more choices. Recently, HK Express launched new routes to Yangon and Mandalay. However, they only fly on certain days, so, slightly inflexible. We chose to fly to Air Asia, with a stop in Bangkok.
Inle Lake (အင်းလေးကန်) is one of the places that was on our itinerary. It is such a peaceful and amazing place with natural beauty – the second largest freshwater lake located in Nyaung Shwe Township of Taunggyi District of Shan State. There is a US$10 entry fee for the Inle Lake area, which you have to pay when entering Nyaung Shwe.
When it comes to accommodation, we wanted to stay at somewhere quiet and relaxing. Instead of the town centre, we opted for a hotel near to the lake. We chose Notovel Inle Lake Mayat Min, which is about 35-40 minutes from the town centre.
It was before 0500 when we arrived in the town centre on an overnight VIP bus from Bagan. It was really chilly in the morning. We were immediately met with a swarm of Tuk-tuk drivers. We negotiated and took one, obviously overcharged. Normally, it should only cost around 10,000 Kyat from the town centre to Inle Lake by Tuk-tuk. The driver whizzed through the villages in pitch dark, street lights could no where be seen. There were bumpy roads at times. A lot of stars could still be seen very clearly in the sky. The air had that sort of smell – of flowers and things like that, greenery I suppose.
It felt like the longest journey ever in my life. Then, we finally arrived in front of a gated and spacious hotel. It looked calm inside. We paid the Tuk-tuk driver and was escorted by the hotel staff to reception area. I had made arrangement with the hotel for an early check-in and they had kindly accommodate my request, which was nice. The process was quick and smooth. Within minutes, we were on a buggy, heading to our suite with a balcony that overlooks lushes gardens.
“Spacious, sleek and nicely decorated with high ceiling.” That was my immediate impression of our room. I love everything about it and I wanted to just dive in the bed!
Instead of doing that, I had the best shower to start the day before we made our way for breakfast at Terrace restaurant, overlooking the infinity pool against the beautiful backdrop of the lake and mountains. The surroundings were quiet and peaceful. The lake’s rural charms remain authentic and alluring.
With a relatively short stay (2 days and 1 night) in Inle Lake, we wanted to relax and do stuff at the same time. So, it worked out pretty well for what we did!
1. Cycling. Visit a monastery.
Cycling along the lake you will see many monasteries, viewpoints, villages and amazing farmland. Bicycles are provided by the hotel for its residents. We hopped on one, with a little map given to us in our hand and started cycling towards the direction of a monastery halfway up the hill, which is about 45 minutes – 1 hour away by bicycle from the hotel. It was quite a steep climb, so we ended up pushing the bicycle and walking uphill. It was a good exercise! It was quiet when we arrived at the monastery. All the monks were out to the village for the alms round.
Apparently, the tradition is that monks or nuns leave the monastery, mostly in a group. They walk according to seniority. The robes are arranged formally, covering both shoulders. They walk barefooted into a village and then from house to house, not favouring rich or poor neighborhoods, accepting, but not requesting, what is freely donated, that is, dropped into one’s bowl. Everything dropped into the bowl is simply mixed together, since monks are asked not to favor one food over another.
About 20 minutes later, we saw some novices coming back to the monastery. We later learnt their lunch time was around 1030. So, we decided to stay a bit more. I walked around and went into the kitchen and saw 2 very smiley ladies preparing some food. One even offered me some watermelon, she was really gentle and sweet. Though communication is a problem, I sense they probably help to prepare food on a daily basis for the novices and monks. Looking at the setting of the kitchen brought me back to many years ago, where gas or electricity hobs were non-existance. Given a chance, I really want to try cooking in such village-style kitchen.
2. Take a dip in the pool, then a nap. Enjoy a drink (or two) overlooking the beautiful sunset in Inle Lake.
We spent half a day cycling and walking, so was pretty exhausted after. It was a good decision we had our late lunch at the hotel’s restaurant, I had Mohinga, a rice noodle in a fish base curry gravy , which is considered by many to be the national dish of Myanmar. This dish is widely available by the street and is eaten throughout the day. It’s a mixed of Thai and Indian in a bowl!
A nap in a comfortable bed, followed by a swim then a drink at the hotel’s bar, overlooking the picturesque lake and waiting for the sun to set. Alternatively, get a boat for a short ride to enjoy the gentle breeze and observe some fishermen trying their luck in the lake is another way of enjoy beautiful sunset in Inle Lake.
3. Boat trip
We paid US $15 for a half-day morning trip. The long, narrow boats with wooden chairs fit about 5 passengers. We had the whole boat and tailored our day by selecting a few of the suggested options – Indein Market which rotates every 5 days in different villages; several stops at villages with cottage industries, including lotus silk weaving, silver smiths, umbrella making, cheroot-making etc; observe the fishermen who have a unique style of leg-rowing (one-legged rowing) while using both hands to fish; floating gardens with tomatoes and other produce; wooden homes occupied by the people of Inle Lake (called Intha), rest on stilts above the water.
I like market and there is plenty to see. It’s old-style and traditional, as if I was brought back to many years ago! We took our time and just walked around. I was particularly interested in observing the lifestyles of the locals and captured some scenes at the market. The floating gardens are just as amazing – looking at how Intha work on a daily basis – the farmers gather up lake-bottom weeds from the deeper parts of the lake, bring them back in boats and make them into floating beds in their garden areas, anchored by bamboo poles. The constant availability of nutrient-laden water results in these gardens being incredibly fertile. This is the first time I’ve ever seen cultivation on the lake, I am pretty sure the produce can’t be more organic!