Setting Foot in Burma: Living like a King in Heho (Inle Lake)

First entry of my Burma trip can be read here.

One of my favourite places to visit when I was in Burma was Heho, the gateway to the famous Inle Lake. From Yangon, I was supposed to take a non-stop flight to Heho, but the flight was cancelled about two weeks before my visit to Burma.

So my awesome travel agent Annie from Compliance Success Travel & Tours immediately informed me and changed my flight to a direct one, which stopped at two locations before reaching Heho.

Upon arrival, I was welcomed and pleasantly surprised by the chilly weather at Heho – it must have been just slightly above 20 degree Celsius, and the wind was blowing strong. It was rather cloudy but didn’t rain.

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It was only when I was about to leave Heho on the second day that I found out the place is actually sitting some 3,800 feet above the sea level!

I shall talk about the hotel that was arranged to me first. Well… MY JAW DROPPED, when I arrived at the Golden Empress Hotel situated in the  humble town of Nyaung Shwe – about 45 minutes away from Heho:

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I had no idea what I did to deserve such fantastic treatment, but I had never expected anything like this from my tour. It was so nice of Annie to have arranged me this fantabulous hotel!

I don’t generally fancy the commercial, modern-looking types of hotels; something to the likes of the Golden Empress Hotel explains my taste perfectly and is good to make me go hoo-ha.

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My room could accommodate 3 persons with one big bed and another small bed, but then there was just me monopolising the big one, and of course the whole room! There was no air-con available because apparently Heho/Nyaung Shwe is known for its cool weather.

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The dining hall where breakfast would be served:

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During my stay in Burma, most meals I had in hotels and restaurants were served in a big portion – sometimes to the extent that I couldn’t finish the food and would feel guilty about it.

Below was my breakfast at the Golden Empress Hotel:

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The staff at the Golden Empress Hotel were also super hospitable – they would greet me with a smile every time I came back or bumped into one of them.

I remember being escorted to my own hotel room on the first day upon arrival while they helped carry my backpack. I was a little uneasy about letting especially the female workers carry my heavy backpack, and politely told them I could do it on my own, but they were very professional and insisted on carrying it for me.

Alright, abrupt end of the hotel story to focus on the main highlight in the town of Nyaung Shwe – the Shwe Yan Pyay Pagoda.

I didn’t get to photograph the exterior of the pagoda but here are some views from the inside:

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I was told there were literally hundreds of statues in this pagoda. Unfortunately I can’t remember the exact number now but I think it was around 500.

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And beside the pagoda is a wooden monastery built in the early 19th century. If you are curious as to what a monastery is and its difference from a pagoda, basically a monastery is where the monks or nuns stay and a pagoda is a place of worship.

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The Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery. Image credit to inlelake-myanmar.com.

In Myanmar, it is a tradition for the men to go through, at least once in their lifetime, a short period of monkhood at the monasteries in order to earn merit in their afterlife.

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At the Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery, one can spot a cohort of monks as young as maybe 10 living together. During the daytime, they would recite prayers together in the main hall, before a huge statue of Buddha. It is like a primary school, except that children are ordained as novice monks and taught Buddhist lessons and values.

The next important highlight in Nyaung Shwe would be the famous Inle Lake.

In my humble opinion the Inle Lake was far better in view and more enjoyable than the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia, although the latter is actually much grander and also the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia.

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One of the greatest things about travelling alone is that you get your personal driver, tour guide, boat operator, or whatever during your entire journey. Therefore no annoying passengers!

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As I was brought to explore the Inle Lake, there was just me, my guide, and the boat operator.

The Inle Lake is famous for a few things. Firstly, fishermen use a distinctive style of rolling the boat – leg rolling. Instead of using the conventional style, they stand at the stern on only one leg, wrap the other around the oar, and paddle about.

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I think I may have been trolled though – because every time I saw a fisherman rolling the boat with his leg and wanted to take a picture, he would change it to the conventional rolling style once he noticed me holding up my camera!

But then again they may not like to be photographed, so that’s totally fine with me.

As usual floating villages were seen on the Inle Lake. As I had seen similar ones in the Tonle Sap Lake and Halong Bay before, they therefore didn’t surprise me too much. But what really impressed me were the large gardens that floated on the surface of the water.

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Garden beds on the Inle Lake.

My guide said it isn’t easy to create garden beds, as it involves a lot of manual labour and time, like maybe years!

And the locals are actually very skilful and creative – they grow paddy, vegetables, fruits, and tomatoes in the floating gardens. Apparently the Inle Lake is the main producer of tomatoes, which are supplied to all over Burma.

After witnessing this scenario, it totally reminded me that nothing is impossible!

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At noontime, I was transported to this restaurant, where I got to experience the scenic view of the lake while enjoying my lunch:

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My lunch was superbly scrumptious – fresh fish from the lake cooked in the traditional Intha way (Intha being the largest ethnic group on the Inle Lake) and fresh pineapple juice.

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I didn’t order other dishes as there was just me (my guide was kind of shy to join me for lunch) and the portion of the fish dish was more than enough for a person. The meal cost only about RM15, which was actually really, really reasonable!




On the way back we passed by this resort that was erected in the middle of the lake. Easily one of the distinct resorts I have seen!

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As we sailed past this luxurious-looking resort it made me really desperate to go back for a second time and stay in it!

At a souvenir shop, I came across a few Padaung ladies (aka “long neck” ladies), who caught my attention immediately. At first I was confused as to why there are “long neck” ladies in Burma – because the last time I checked they were supposed to be found in Northern Thailand!

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After coming back I tried looking up the origin of this ethnic group on the Internet and discovered the fact; an excerpt from this article reads:

There have been hill tribe people living in the northern border areas of Thailand for about two hundred years but their origins go back about two thousand years to Tibet from where their nomadic lifestyle took them to the Yunnan area of southern China and from there through Myanmar (Burma) and Laos into Thailand itself.

Personally I feel the Inle Lake is a place NOT to ever skip when visiting Burma. I almost wanted to ask Annie to exclude this spot in my itinerary as I didn’t want my schedule to be too packed but I’m glad I never did!

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Besides the Inle Lake, the humble backpacker town of Nyaung Shwe had been so much fun as well. It was such a shame that I only got to stay there for a day and a half, which I think is hardly enough and wish I had stayed longer.

Up next: Wearing a Peso (Sarong) for the First Time