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On his recent round-the-world trip, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen visited Myanmar for a week. He wrote about his tips for visiting Myanmar, his experiences in the country’s largest city, Yangon, how to book flights within Myanmar, his experience booking and staying at the Hotel at Tharabar Gate in Bagan, and what he did in Bagan as he explored its temples, sacred sites and cruised along the river. Today he fills us in on his next destination in Myanmar, Inle Lake.
After my time in muggy, metropolitan Yangon and dry, dusty Bagan, I was looking forward to my third destination in Myanmar, Inle Lake. Inle Lake is in the central/eastern part of the country that is home to the Shan ethnic group. The long, marshy lake is at about 3,000 feet elevation in a valley between two mountain ranges, so it tends to be cooler than other parts of the country.
Inle Lake is also home to a bygone way of life where the local Intha people live in traditional stilt houses, fish the waters of the lake, farm floating gardens and, now, welcome the influx of foreign tourists who now cruise along the reedy waterways. Before I got there, though, I had to book a hotel, and to do that, I enlisted the help of the business center at the Shangri-La Sule, my hotel in Yangon.
As with booking my hotel in Bagan, I relied on the help of my trusty new contact at the Shangri-La’s business center, Stella. She arranged my domestic air tickets for me as well, so she had the dates that I wanted to visit Inle Lake and looked into hotels and rates for me.
I looked into hotels on my own as well, but before I could let her know my preferences, she emailed me with rates for three hotels the Shangri-La recommends to guests: the Aureum Resort, the Inle Princess Resort and the View Point Lodge & Fine Cuisines (yes, that’s the name).
The Aureum’s basic room rates started at $205 per night, while the View Point’s were $115. I actually found out that the Inle Princess Resort, which a friend had recommended, was closed for the summer for renovations. I asked Stella to check into another hotel recommended by friends as well, the Pristine Lotus Spa Resort Inle. She got back to me the same day with rates from $140-$320 per night depending on villa type.
I just went for the basic Inle Lotus Villa for $140 a night and she confirmed booking it for me within 24 hours. Like my hotel in Bagan, I would pay for both the reservations in cash when I arrived in Yangon – so I had to factor this in when deciding how much US currency to bring into the country with me.
As with other destinations in Myanmar, the choice of accommodations ranges from the relatively expensive suggestions Stella had given me at the high end of the spectrum to much cheaper guest houses and even monasteries where rates can be as low as $10-$15 per night, so there are plenty of options.
The Pristine Lotus fit my needs, though, with rates within my budget and good reviews of its WiFi since I needed to get a bit of work done while I was there, so I was happy to book it.
If you are thinking of going to Inle Lake, just beware that the area has experienced a huge surge in tourism in the last couple of years while the number of hotels has not quite caught up (which is also why some can charge a premium). In fact, in 2013, there were reportedly so many tourists that many ended up having to sleep on the floor at the monasteries in the towns bordering the lake, so I would just book as far ahead as possible.
Arrival and Check-In
I arrived at the Heho airport at about 9:30 in the morning and was picked up by my guide from Tour Mandalay. Heho is about an hour away from Inle Lake along winding roads that take you through a mountain range and then down into the valley where Inle Lake lies. Along the way we stopped at a monastery and a winery (more on these in my next post!) and in the town of Nyaung Shwe to pay the $10 tourist entrance fee into the Inle Zone.
After all that, my guide Nemo took me to a dock in Nyaung Shwe to catch one of Tour Mandalay’s longboats to the resort. We cruised along the canals of Nyaung Shwe and then out into the lake itself. The waterways here are like reed-lined little streams along the borders of the lake, and then open water in the center of the lake itself, so there was a lot of scenery to take in. Every so often we would pass stilt houses and floating farms, as well as locals mucking up mud from the lake bottom to fertilize their plants.
The Pristine Lotus is on the northwest side of the lake and is actually along the main road that borders the body of water, so on my way back to the airport two days later, we just drove straight from the hotel to Heho. But coming by boat was a nice way to arrive and a good way to get a feel for the lake.
The ride took about 30 minutes or so until we pulled into a side waterway that took us to the Pristine Lotus’s dock. The resort is actually expanding at the moment from 50 villas to over 80 in total. The original part of the resort is across the main road from the dock, while the new part has villas spaced out along the water on the lake side of the road (these are called the Floating Villas, and should now be open for bookings). That is where the jetty and a new reception area and dining area for this part of the resort is. However, my room was on the other side (the original side), so the hotel staff who met us at the jetty helped me out of the boat, grabbed my suitcase and escorted me across the road to the main resort.
The reception area here is just past the driveway and is an open-air pavilion. I was given a glass of fruit juice then told about the resort, the restaurant’s hours and the spa building and hot springs behind it. Then I was presented with my room key and shown to my villa.
I had chosen the lowest room category, so I was expecting something modest, but the villas here are pretty huge. Mine was a freestanding house with a living room right inside the front door including a desk, sofa, coffee table and an armoire containing a flatscreen TV (with CNN, BBC and a few movie channels via satellite, no less).
The living room has a sliding glass door that opens up onto a private deck with two lounge chairs, though I didn’t end up spending much time out there. The living room also had a spiral staircase in one corner that led to a raised loft with what pretty much looked like a futon cushion and some colorful pillows. It looked like a cute little place to relax, but it was actually pretty hot up there even with the air conditioning on, so I didn’t spend any time lounging up there.
The room had an open floor plan, so the bedroom area was just on a raised level up two stairs from the living room. Mine had a king-size bed, though there are villas with twins as well. The beds were beautiful, with large, wooden frames and hanging white mosquito-net canopies.
Next to the bed was a little minibar area with coffee and tea and a fridge stocked with soda, water and beer. The bathroom was behind the bedroom area, through a door to the left of the bed. While there is a door that you can close to have privacy, the wall between the bedroom and the bathroom does not extend all the way up to the peaked ceiling, so someone sitting in the main room will hear you shower, brush your teeth, etc.
The bathroom contained the closet area with luggage racks for two suitcases and an in-room safe. There was a single sink, a separate WC that you could close off, and then tucked in the corner was the bathing area with a sunken tub on one side and a shower on the other. Both were stocked with jars of shampoo and body wash. While nice enough, I wish the shower had been enclosed because each time I bathed, I ended up with a huge puddle on the bathroom floor.
Other than the physical amenities, my villa was close enough to the restaurant to get the WiFi signal, so I was actually able to connect in my room (for the most part – certain times of day there was no internet, but that seemed par for the course in Myanmar), and as I mentioned, the TV had a lot of channels, the air conditioning worked well, and I was really comfortable my whole stay.
Around the Resort
The resort included a restaurant that served breakfast (included in room rates), lunch and dinner and was open all day long. While the meals were fine, they weren’t really remarkable. My favorite was the first dinner I had of a typical local cucumber-tomato-peanut salad, and ginger chicken with onions and green peppers. Breakfast was also pretty good, starting with a plate of fresh fruit and a basket of pastries including toast and croissants with jelly, then a choice of eggs, pancakes and other western-style options.
The dining room was very pretty, with a large circular interior room with teak floors and a high ceiling, as well as a wraparound deck with tables and chairs on it if you felt like dining al fresco.
The resort’s spa is in the main building and includes a small hair and nail salon plus private treatment rooms for facials and massages, though I did not have anything done. Prices ranged from $20-220 depending on the treatment (the expensive ones were couple’s “rituals” that included several treatments like body wraps and massages). Out in back is a cute little area with a spa tub filled with water from an underground natural hot spring that hotel guests can use for free.
The resort also has bicycles you can rent for $2 an hour or $4 for the whole morning or afternoon. I peddled up the road to a hot spring spa (which was closed for renovations), and then down south to a couple villages along the lake that are known for making tofu from yellow beans. Other than that, there was not much to do on shore, so I relaxed for the rest of the afternoon and worked, so that I could be free for the whole following day to explore the lake with my guide.
I’ll get into that and my other activities in a later post, but all in all, my stay at the Pristine Lotus was really pleasant. The staff was courteous and attentive, and everyone I interacted with spoke English pretty well. The room was big and comfortable with nice amenities, and overall I had a very positive experience.
Have you been to Inle Lake? Where did you stay and how was it?