Places To Stay: Inle Lake Sanctuary – Samkar Lake, Myanmar
“When you realise how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back, and laugh at the sky.”
– Buddha –
Name: Inle Lake Sanctuary
Location: Unlike what its name suggests, the lodge is not located on Inle Lake, but rather on Samkar Lake, which is linked via a waterway to its more famous neighbour. Where Inle Lake buzzes with long tail boats and tourists, Samkar Lake is peaceful, and mostly undiscovered.
Description: Inle Lake Sanctuary has six double rooms built on stilts that are connected to the mainland via a wooden walkway. They are spaced and oriented for optimal privacy, and even when the lodge is full, will never feel crowded. The open deck, where breakfasts, lunches and dinners are served, is a great place to relax and interact with fellow travellers. If you prefer privacy, the room’s balcony jutting out over the water, is the perfect place to relax, and watch life drift by. The rooms are spacious, with a comfortable seating area both inside and outside. The decor is kept simple to enhance the beauty of the wood. Apart from the balcony, the shower, with its views over the lake, is most probably the best feature of the room. The lodge operates on solar power, with a back-up generator, so no luxuries like a hairdryer, but plenty of delicious cold local beer. Depending on the time of year you are visiting, you will either be surrounded by water (at the end of the rainy season), or a carpet of green grass (at the end of the dry season). Either way, it is beautiful, as each season has its own special charms.
What makes it special? As always, it is the owner, who makes this a special place to stay at. Aung Min and his wife are welcoming and friendly, and by the time one leaves, it is as if saying goodbye to family. The lodge employs a small staff, who are very attentive, yet discreet.
Food: Breakfast is included in the room price, but lunch and dinner is extra. There are no other options for food in town, but once you taste the food, which is prepared with whatever fresh ingredients are available on a day to day basis, you will not want anything else. Aung Min’s wife was the chef during my stay, and the food was hearty home-cooked meals. The food was not only fresh and delicious, but also abundant. “Want some more?” is a phrase you will hear a couple of times during each meal. The only choice you have is to indicate if you prefer pork, beef, chicken, fish or vegetarian beforehand, as well as the time you would like to have your meals. Apart from that, each meal is a mouthwatering surprise, and although at 8,000 Ks it is more expensive than meals you will find elsewhere in the country, it is excellent value for money. As a vegetarian I even got a discount at the end of my stay, when I paid my bill.
The gentle splash of water that cuts through the twilight, as the silhouettes of a boats float by, is what I will remember most about my stay. The tiny lights, like fireflies, bobbing in and out of view at night, and the visit from a lone firefly on the balcony of my room, are images, together with sunrises and sunsets, I will treasure most. Here time is slow and malleable, and the silence that clings to the night, as it retreats in the morning, ointment for the soul.
If you are lucky you will catch the rotating 5-day market during your stay. It allows for a glimpse of life unperturbed by the presence of foreigners, and big, welcoming smiles to every “mingalarbar” one offers.
The lodge is linked to the small settlement of Phaya Taung (Phayartaung) via a boardwalk, where everyday life unfolds gently with each day. The chuck of a generator for grinding flour, the sing-song voices of children learning their lessons, and the cluck of chickens or grunts of pigs, are different instruments playing the songs of daily life.
The story of the founding of Paya Taung Monastery is an inspiring one that has touched and changed the lives of thousands of children. At the time of my visit there were 1,148 children, of which 40 were orphans, who were being educated at the monastery. Aung Min often makes time to accompany guests through the complex, and should not be missed. If you are lucky, you may even meet the founder U Thu Wona, or Phongyi, as he is affectionately known. The stories surrounding the founding, and development of the monastery are testimony to the generous and enduring spirit of people, who follow their calling, despite life’s challenges.
Read: Children of the Revolution by Feroze Dada
Other things to do in the area: Although this is the kind of place one goes to in order to find peace and quiet, there are various day excursions one can go on, which are organized through the lodge, so inquire when you book, as you may want to extend your stay here, as many travellers do, once you’ve arrived. I stayed two nights, but three would have been much better.
How to get there:
Heho airport is where most people travel through, when heading towards Nyaungshwe, the gateway to Inle Lake. When opting for this route, it is advisable to combine a visit to the many attractions on or around Inle Lake on your way to and from Inle Lake Sanctuary. It takes about 3 hours without stopping to get there by boat, and about 2 1/2 hours by car, but it can also take the whole day, depending on the places you stop at. It is best to organize transfers through the lodge. A driver will pick you up at the airport, which is about an hour away from Nyaungshwe, where you will transfer to a long tail boat.
Alternatively you can also fly in to Loikaw, further to the south, or leave from there in order not to retrace your steps. It is definitely what I should have done in retrospect.
Entrance Fee to Inle Lake Zone: 13,500 Ks (Kyat pronounced “ch-yat”)
Transfers vary between 90,000 Ks and 115,000 Ks depending on your itinerary from Heho, and between 65,000 Ks and 75,000 Ks to Loikaw for up to 4 people sharing.
Indein is a wonderful extra stop on route to the lodge, but as there are so many different things to do on the lake, I would recommend including it in a separate itinerary (as it takes quite a bit of time to get there), if you stay a couple of days at the lodge. It sits at the bottom of the lake, and is easily reached from the lodge. Even though the charm of Indein lies in the many stupas of various ages next to the covered walkway lined with merchandise, it is a wonderful experience to take some time to shop here. The stall owners are friendly, and not pushy at all, and there are various interesting things to purchase.
During my transfers (one by boat, one by car) I managed to visit the floating gardens, a vineyard (Red Mountain Winery), the pagodas at Samka, a pottery village, lotus weaving, silver smith, and the Burmese Cat and Hospitality Training School, where I had a superb lunch, apart from Indein. Even though I only selected a handful of places to stop at, it took much longer than I anticipated, and I only arrived at the lodge, when daylight ran out. Being on the water at sunset was spectacular, but the wind turned from refreshing to icy, so be prepared.
Note: Long tail boats are noisy, but the wind in one’s hair, and the amazing scenery balances it out nicely.
Video: Follow the link to catch a glimpse at my transfer by boat.
Visited: November 2017