Is 2015 going to be Myanmar’s year? After decades of not being on any positive list, much less a travel-wish list, this Southeast Asian country is emerging as one of the year’s hottest destinations. As democracy spreads throughout the country, hotels are being built, temples are being restored, and tourists have started to rush in. More than three million people are expected to visit the country formerly known as Burma this year. Will you be one of them?
Yangon (the former capital), Bagan (the ancient city), and Ngapali (a perfect beach) are all popular destinations for first-time visitors. Your sights are set on Inle Lake, though. The freshwater lake is the second-largest lake in Myanmar. It’s surrounded by small villages, where woven bamboo houses stand on stilts above the water. Rice paddies float atop the lake. Fisherman steer traditional boats by wrapping one leg around the oar. Hidden from view are fish not found anywhere else in the world: Lake Inle danios and silver-blue scaleless Sawbwa barbs. While the blue Shan Hills stand in the distance, and a resort welcomes guests along the eastern shore.
The Inle Princess Resort was built by a former political prisoner as a quiet and peaceful retreat. The resort’s architecture is based on the traditions of the Shan and Intha people who call the lake home. Its chalets have reclaimed hardwood, beds centered beneath high roofs, and outdoor showers decorated with stream stones. Spa treatments feature natural hot spring water. Tomatoes grow in the floating garden. Calming lake views are everywhere. Plus, excursions around the lake give you a glimpse at unchanged Burmese culture.
When you wake up in the morning, fog still hovers above the water. Except for some black-headed gulls, who are using the lake as a migratory stopover, everything is silent. Join the meditation class at the spa’s zayatt to focus on your breathing. Watch the sun peek above the hills during a yoga class. Then book a pedicure on the veranda for later in the afternoon.
Spend the rest of the day exploring the lake. Watch decorative paper being made by hand from the bark of a mulberry tree at an artisan’s village. Or silk being handwoven into intricate patterns at the Inn Paw Khon village. Pay your respects at the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda. Five 800-year-old Buddhas are found at the most-religious spot on the lake. Climb to the Main Tauk Village and Forest Monastery for panoramic views from the top of the hill. See ancient Buddha images, as well as jumping cats, at the Ngaphe Chaung Monastery. Then explore the Nyaung Shwe Cultural Museum, the former residence of a Shan chief, to see the Shan throne and royal family costumes from before the military coup.
On the boat ride back to the resort, you pass those rice paddies, impressive gardens, and perfectly balanced fisherman. You practically fall asleep during your foot massage. You eat hnapyan gyaw (twice-fried tofu) and nga hpein (lake fish) for dinner. The Rose d’Inle wine comes from nearby Red Mountain Estate Vineyards. And you watch the shadows overtake the lake after the sun sets. Despite Myanmar’s newfound popularity, there are still plenty of undiscovered spots to explore.