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Trip Report Authentic, intimate, gorgeous small hotel south of Inle Lake

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We just spent 3+ weeks in Myanmar, and I intend to write an extensive trip report on our trip, but first I want to try to spread the word about a fabulous new place we stayed near Inle Lake.

The Sanctuary, Phayartaung, Myanmar (near Inle Lake)

This was by far our favorite place during our three week stay in Myanmar (and it was also the least expensive). The Sanctuary is aptly named and was exactly the type of small, intimate, quality, locally-owned place we normally love to stay in but hadn’t been able to find during our Myanmar trip. If you want to visit an authentic, beautiful, un-touristed area, away from the crowds, be sure to book at least three nights here. We had three nights and wish we’d had one more.

In addition to just relaxing in this beautiful setting in an authentic village, there are lots of things to do. We did our Inle Lake area sightseeing on the boat trip down and back up. Even without any additional sightseeing stops the fascinating boat ride down through Inle Lake and the much narrower channel that joins it to Sagar lake (The Sanctuary is located in the middle of Sagar Lake) takes 3.5 hours from Nyaung Shwe. One day during our stay we also did a more local boat trip and spent about six or seven hours visiting other interesting spots in this more southerly location, (including the Sagar market) down at this end of the chain of lakes.

Another day we were lucky enough that the five day market was right here in the local village, not even a five minute walk from the lodging. The fact that you are not just stuck out in the middle of nowhere in your resort is another huge advantage of this place compared to other lakeside hotels we saw further up the lake towards Nyaung Shwe. Many of them seemed to be places where guests would be absolutely stuck in the resort with no opportunities to visit elsewhere on their own. Since there is the possibility to walk directly from the hotel into the local village and countryside, guests are not stuck and isolated. In addition to boat trips locally, car tours can also be arranged from here.

The same day as the market we also followed a map the owner drew for us and walked from the hotel around the beautiful local countryside and found a natural hot spring where local people were doing their laundry, watched a man who was hand splitting bamboo to make bamboo mats, and had glimpses of local farmers carrying on their everyday lives. There were no other tourists anywhere, and we felt that we had a very special opportunity to learn about life in a very friendly, remote rural village. This is an experience that would be nearly impossible to replicate elsewhere because these types of places just do not exist in most areas in a rapidly changing and developing world.

One evening we took a long walk through the village (it was much larger than we had realized when just looking at it from the lake) which is a mix of Itha and Pa O people. At the top of the village is a monastery that takes care of around a thousand children from ages three to sixteen. A few are true orphans but many have parents (single or couples) who are unable to care for them. It is an impressive operation that we were happy to have the opportunity to observe and that The Sanctuary helps to support. Many of the teens who live at the monastery orphanage also visit the hotel to learn about the hospitality trade and to practice their English with the hotel guests.

The setting of the cottages on stilts over the lake is gorgeous, the rooms are beautifully designed and furnished and they also have large very private balconies on the lake. Off of the bedroom area (which also has a couch) is a large dressing room with a sink and with lots of shelving to store things. On one end of the dressing room is a separate toilet room, and off the other is the very large shower room with head-high windows so guest can see the gorgeous lake while showering.

In this setting you are not just an isolated tourist on your own but are truly interacting with the owner and staff who are very welcoming, helpful and kind. Our first morning the cook was confused by what I meant when I requested hard fried eggs, so I went in the kitchen and cooked them to show him (and the owner) what I was referring to so the cook could make them in the future. When we arrived my husband was quite sick with food poisoning, and the owner immediately wanted to know if we needed a doctor. Even though we refused, the owner (on his own initiative) called the local doctor that evening and arranged with her that she’d be willing to come out to The Sanctuary at any time if we needed her. Before we left, I volunteered to correct English errors in the hotel’s brochure so revisions could be made before the next printing. These are examples of the types of interactions here, and if you are not comfortable with this lack of anonymity, perhaps the place isn’t for you.

All in all, this is a very special place if you are the right kind of guest. The local village does not have electricity so when you look out at the lakeside village at night it is nearly dark. Power is solar (as is hot water), and on two of our three nights the power supply in the batteries had been exhausted by 8:30 pm so we made do with our e-readers and headlamps until we went to bed. There is no AC, but you don’t need it anyway since there are refreshing breezes off the lake. The restaurant serves set meals (which are delicious and can accommodate any special dietary needs), but you have to be willing to accept the fact that you can’t just stroll into the restaurant and order whatever you want. If you need non-stop hand-holding with an English-speaker this also might not be for you. We went off two different times with a boatman who didn’t speak English, but we had no difficulties. We also went walking off on our own through the local village and took a countryside walk on our own. If the owner is free, he will often accompany guests through the village, but this is not a given.

Highly recommended for those who are seeking authentic Myanmar and who want to interact with Myanmar people.

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