Majestic Myanmar – Inle Lake Food & Culture Tour
Once landed at Heho Airport, we could sense a certain peace and serenity in the air. Stepped directly onto the tarmac from the small propeller plane, we were swiftly ushered into a modest building consists of one large room and two makeshift immigration counters. It took no time to find our lovely host who was holding a big ‘Welcome’ sign with my name on it. I chose Khiri Travel Myanmar for this particular trip. It’s a tour company which prides itself on offering an authentic connections, flexibility and personalised travel experiences. It also participates in numerous eco-conscious activities and programmes which consistently gives back to the local communities.
The drive from the Heho Airport to our first lodging in Nyaungshwe took us about an hour. The Blue Vanda Lodge is a new lodge recently opened in early 2017 with ten beautiful garden villa bungalows and a large family bungalow. The entire area is cocooned in a lush garden with an array of exotic plants and flowers surrounding an organic garden where the freshest fruits and vegetables are plucked, prepared and served directly to the guests.
For the beautiful dinner experience, we were introduced to Nyaung Shwe’s most popular restaurant, the Viewpoint Ecolodge. This grandiose eco-clectic mix of woods and modern decor and furnishings offer a breathtaking view of the canal, rice paddies and the highest mountains in the Inle region. Make sure to arrive early if you want to witness the beauty of this place in full. The food is an eclectic mix of local Shan with contemporary adaptations. I can assure you it was absolutely delicious. If you’re not sure what to try, the English-speaking staff is more than happy to recommend the best dishes according to your tastes, and there is a variety of dishes to choose from.
In the mood for a nightcap? Chillax Bar is the answer. Designed to reminisce a large cabin with floor-to-ceiling wood panels and a spacious veranda. The owner, who has a penchant for creating new and exotic cocktails, can muster up a local food-storm. I recommend the local Shan avocado salad and the “lahpet thoke” or the unique recipe of Burmese fermented tea leaf salad. Practically a national treasure of a plate! And last but not least, I also had the best and freshest ginger tea, possibly the freshest I’ve ever had in my life!
My next stop was the Inle Sanctuary. It took us about two hours’ drive on a beautiful scenic route to Phayar Taung Village. We stopped at the Red Mountain Winery (http://www.redmountain-estate.com) which is one of the two Myanmar’s wineries both located in Shan state. This gorgeous hilltop winery and restaurant offer stunning views of the lake and valley below. Our Khiri guide took us on a private tour of the grounds, the winery distillery and the packing area.
Inle Lake Sanctuary:
An oasis like no other. The Inle Sanctuary is nestled in the middle of the serene Samkar lake. This six luxury stilt villas are built on a quaint pier offering majestic views of the three lakes in the embrace of low, rolling hills.
Furthermore, the ecolodge is 100% solar-powered, and all food is sourced locally. Both the Burmese dishes and the Western breakfast are exceptionally tasty and, without a doubt, fresh! What makes this place additionally adorable is the owner and host, Aung Min, who dedicates 10% of the hotel’s income to the Monastic school in the village. One common thread we have identified so far in Myanmar is the kindness, the hospitality and great big hearts. The Inle Sanctuary family is no exception.
Phayar Taung Monastery/School & Orphanage:
Once there, one must make time to visit the local Monastery close to the Inle Sanctuary. It is but the heart and soul of the area. Khiri Travel together with a Monastery volunteer showed us around the school’s ground. There are a variety of buildings such as the living facilities, cooking and cleaning stations, a library and even a modest computer station. This wonderful organisation is responsible for housing, education and preserving the health and well-being of the local underprivileged children, many of which are orphans. Seeing these children cook, clean, read books together, hear their laughter and see their smiles can make one’s heart grow warmer. There certainly is magic here. We would encourage any discerning travellers to visit, appreciate, share and even contribute to this initiative.
Samkar Lake/Hmawbi Pagoda:
After the tour of the Monastery, the Khiri longtail boat took us from the pier of Inle Sanctuary on a journey to Inle. It took an hour’s boat ride to reach the Hmawbi Pagoda.
The scenery is absolutely breathtaking! Levitated in the middle of the tranquil lake is a cluster of ancient Pagodas, a total of 273 stupas to be exact. Most of them have been restored to their mystical beauty. We spent some quiet time walking around and discovering the crafts before finally returning to the boat.
The lake continued to reveal its splendours. We were sitting on our cosy chairs shaded by Khiri umbrellas near the bank. We witnessed the charming stilt houses; we watched men herding the cattle, women preparing meals and washing clothes.
On the water, the local fishermen cruised by standing on the boat’s edge manoeuvring an oar with one leg while they fish. Then we wound through the tall grass and vast plantations of floating gardens before we reached the spectacular Inle Villa.
Villa Inle Resort & Spa:
This is a secluded lakeside boutique resort with 27 villas surrounded by palm trees and luscious gardens. However, the most breathtaking aspect of it was the view from the restaurant pier. This is easily the most luxurious resort so expect the pay the proper price to stay here. But it is oh, so worth it. The spacious villa is decked with paintings and sculptures from the Inle and Shan people. Offering spacious room and high ceilings with wide-windowed door opening into the patio, we continued to bask in the beauty of the lake anytime of day or night.
The room comes with a sofa, a working desk and a great big soaking tub, perfect for a relaxing dip with a Myanmar beer and tasty snacks from the mini bar which is all complimentary.
Bonus Foodies Activities:
For all the food lovers in the world, ask Khiri Travel Myanmar to take you to the Phaung Daw Oo Market, a bustling local market offering local produce and craft items like handmade woven scarfs, firewood and tobacco, an abundance of local fresh fruits, vegetables and spices.
The Khiri tour guide will help you pick out things to be cooked in the cooking class at Tin Tin Cooking Class run by a mother and daughter team who are generous at heart and passionate about making delicious local food.
Also if time permits, ask the Khiri tour guide to take you to Grandma’s Kitchen, a stilted family home with a converted upstairs into a local restaurant. Last (but not least, visit the Inle Heritage, a reputable non-profit institution supporting the local community and sustainability of the lake, is also a must. The institution has initiatives such as promoting growing natural vegetable gardens, cooking classes, fish and wildlife museum and even a Burmese cat village!
Looking to enjoy a similar trip to Myanmar and discover these off-the-beaten-track gems?
Contact Khiri Travel Myanmar (email@example.com) for a tailor-made proposal.