Visit to Inle Lake was ‘inserted’ as me and my wife were on our trip back to the Philippines. The original plan was to visit Bagan, but it was changed as the nature tripping became the focus of the trip. We opted to fly instead of a night bus trip to maximize the time. The Air KBZ flight was very comfortable with the airlines’ new ATR 72. It was a turboprop, but has an ambiance of a jet, smooth flying.
From the Heho airport, the taxi charged 25,000 kyats to the township of Nyaung Shwe. The jump off point to the lake. A thirty-minute trip, at the entrance of the township, a checkpoint collected $10 from each tourist as entrance fee.
We went straight to the hotel which is a bargain at $25 a night. The room was simple and spacious with a balcony overlooking the town center. Located just one block away from the Mingalar Market, it is accessible to most amenities in town. The staff were courteous and helpful, and most can understand and speak English.
Just beside the hotel is the T&T Minimart where you can find grocery items. My wife forgot her hair comb, and we were lucky to find one in there. Most of the bars, restaurants and travel agents are just walking distance. Breakfast was good, with eggs prepared either boiled, scrambled sunny-side, selection of bread or fried rice with fruits (banana and papaya) and free flowing brewed coffee!
The only deficient is the lack of hot water in the bath, and with temperature at 15 degrees, you can do away with early morning bath, and that for a Filipino is a great inconvenience!
After ditching our bags, we looked for a place to have lunch. Near the hotel is the The Garden Restaurant offering Shan and Thai foods. The food was good – we selected chicken rice and pork belly rice. I was surprised to get no just ordinary pork belly, but one stewed in blood, just like what we call in the Philippines dinuguan. Fresh fruit juices are available. Prices are fair. It was good which made us decide to go back the following day. Good value for money.
In the afternoon after some rest, we proceeded to the cultural museum. It was the old palace of the Sawbwa of Nyaung Shwe. During colonial times, Shan State is divided into several principalities ruled by a Sawbwa. The palace is generically called Haw (maybe a derivative from the English word house?), where the Sawbwa holds court. The building is huge compared to other locally constructed houses, made up of bricks and other permanent materials. But it is poorly maintained, despite being manage by a government agency, or maybe because of the agency’s limited resources. The 2,000 kyats entrance fee is quite cheap. Inside, the building pictures and some artifacts are found. What impressed me is the wide space that used to be the court of the Sawbwa, and the old teak wood used as posts and pillar of the house. On the western side an old cannon with French inscription is also on display.
After the Cultural Museum, the next stop was the Red Mountain Estate. There are two vineyards and wineries in Myanmar, both of them in Shan State. The Red Mountain Estate is closer to Nyaung Swe where we stayed. Most of the travel guides recommended a bicycle ride to the place, but due to me and my wife’s age, we decided to hire a motorized tricycle. Several meters from the gate, the driver told us to walk, which I estimated at more than a hundred meters. We walked along the vineyard and reached the top, we were a little bit catching our breath.
The view from the restaurant was great. It overlooked the valley, and some groups were enjoying their bottles. We went inside and crossed over to the wine tasting section overlooking a portion of the vineyard. A set of four wines were offered for tasting: 2 whites – 2016 Sauvignon Blanc and 2015 Late harvest; 2 reds – 2014 Syrah and 2015 Shiraz. At 5,000 kyats, it’s cheap! The verdict – Sauvignon Blanc for the white and Shiraz for the red.
There were so many good places to eat in Nyaung Shwe. Dinner was at the Ginki Bar and Restaurant, another good restaurant close to our hotel. The ambiance of the place was good, with teak wood panels and furniture. There was a stage with guitars and we thought there is live music. We were told not at that time. The food list offers Shan and surprisingly Thai food selections. I ordered vegetables, easily accessible in Shan State. The cooking was fine, finished the whole meal. I could have eaten more and stayed longer if there was music.
Early morning the following day was the visit to the lake itself. We left the jetty at 8am, which was foggy and cold. Aside from the lifejacket, thick blanket was part of the attire. The lake was misty and it took us several minutes to encounter the Inle fishermen. The first group was close to the mouth of the river from Nyaung Shwe. They wore the same baggy trousers and traditional headgears you see in promotional pictures with their conical nets. It was so tourist-y as they posed to the oncoming boats. Later in other parts of the lake, we encountered real fishermen who were indeed fishing, and I had a bit of guilt as we circle around them, thinking how could they catch fish when we disturb the place they were fishing.
We reached the villages on stilts and in those villages we visited handicraft producers. A silversmith, who showed how pure silver is being transformed to jewelries; lotus weaving enterprise; scarf weaving enterprise done by Padaung women.
At around 11am we were finished and went back to the jetty, starved and looking for the fastest food.
The last night in Nyaung shwe was planned to have dinner at a rooftop restaurant. We saw a poster promoting a hotel’s rooftop bar and restaurant. When we arrived I was turned off to see those entering the hotel were required to take off their shoes before entering the lobby. I saw several layers of shoes and sandals at the entrance of the hotel and I decided not to proceed. I was thinking it is ok if it was a private home as taking off shoes is customary in Myanmar, but for a hotel, it was inconvenient and unnecessary.
Instead we just walked along the main road and found the Panna Thar restaurant. We were the only customer save for a Japanese-looking youngster enjoying his meal in one corner of the restaurant. The place offered Shan food and we ordered one for each of us. When the food arrived, we were surprised to see that an order is good for 2 persons, our orders was then good for 4 persons! I tried ABC Stout for my drink as the local Myanmar beer is too light for me.
That was it, two days and two nights in Inle.