Looking for an escape from Yangon’s hefty rain? What about staying by a lake with no other hotels around and no motorboat sounds in the distance. Wake up with the herons and sleep with the fireflies. Observe, first-hand, a fishing village in the transition to farming, the Samkar Lake.
Get to Inle Lake the way you prefer, by a comfortable overnight bus or catch a flight to Heho or Loikaw, and from there—the journey begins. Traveling by car and motorboat, crossing between lakes and as you leave the Inle Area, the channels narrow, and you will find yourself in a meandering network of vegetation with hills in the distance on both banks, bamboo forests, buffaloes plowing the fields, a few wooden houses on stilts, villagers drying their noodles out in the sun for the upcoming seasons, some women taking a shower with a sarong while they do the laundry and the children enjoy the bath. A countryside where time seems to have paused not letting the speed of individuality enter.
There are plenty of pagoda complexes on the way to wander, where treetops appear to be competing with the pagoda’s crowns for light and whispers of bell rings in the distance accompany the rays of lights in between them. Samkar ruins are one of the many but each one has its own story. If you are not a boat person you can also do this route by car from Nyaung Shwe which will take 2 hours and stop at the pagoda of your interest.
After the pleasant boat ride, you arrive in Phayartaung village: a few houses by the lake, a small hill with a monastery on the top, and a wooden bridge decorated with flowers luring you to stay at the Inle Sanctuary. Take a breath at your private balcony overlooking the lake and the Shan Hills of your cozy solar-ran stilt lodge. This 6 bungalow boutique hideaway is attended to by the owners, a very charismatic couple who believes in supporting the local communities and sharing the benefits of tourism. All their supplies come from the village and they donate a part of their income to the monastery, known in the region for sponsoring the education of over one thousand children from the neighboring villages.
After catching your breath, there are many activities to keep you busy on the Shan Western Hills and your hosts will help set them up for you: trekking, cycling, horse riding, learning how to row with one leg, fishing, or even a trip to a close-by hot spring. Don’t worry about the rain because the clouds keep on moving; a drizzle will only last a short while, and it won’t hinder your activities.
Also, you can get closer to the community and the many tribes that live close by, predominantly the Pa-O, in their dark dresses and contrasting bright turbans, and also smaller minorities like the Lisu Tribe who sport multi-colored outfits. Walk around the sandy paths of the village and see the diverse fishing methods previously used as fishing has decreased due to the low water level in the area as a consequence of the construction of the damp. Now, the villagers in their house with pigs are also getting into farming ways.
The Samkar Lake hosts the famous 5-day rotating market coming from Inle Lake, a colorful and lively meeting point. Unlike the Inle Lake markets, Samkar sees no tourists and touts asking for your kyat – visit as a guest rather than a potential consumer. If luck is on your side and you stay over a market day, the bustle is just a stone’s throw from the resort, along the edges of the lake. If you are looking for a longer stay you can even volunteer at the monastery or simply drop in for a visit and they will be happy to practice their English with you.
And when it comes to food, the meals will be home-cooked finger-licking recipes taken in their open restaurant. Don’t forget to finish your stay with a cup of Shan green tea and laughter with the owner. No need to look any further to have a peaceful retreat.
Monica Hernandez is the Sales & Communications Manager of Khiri Travel Myanmar and has shared her experience traveling within Myanmar in a monthly column.
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