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Pristine Lotus Lodge Inle Make Region, Myanamar

Our third and final stop in Myanmar was in the Inle Lake Region.  We flew from Bagan to Heho then drove 45 minutes through winding hilly roads and reach the hotel, which straddles the road and abuts the lake itself. Our rooms were across the road from the lake, near the reception area, the restaurant and the spa.  Getting to the lake took just a couple minutes – the road you must cross is no more than 4 meters wide.

As we pulled into the circular drive, the bell staff were ready and waiting to help with luggage.  We headed up to the reception area to collect our keys and we were given cold watermelon juice and cold towels to help us recover from the commute.  The weather was much warmer at Inle Lake than we had experienced throughout the rest of the trip, but it was still cooler than we had anticipated. It was in the mid to high 30s (95F) and the sun was intense.

We were assigned room 2003, which was just a 2 minute walk from the he reception area. We were driven in a golf cart and our luggage was taken in a separate cart. Completely unnecessary, but a nice gesture.

Each room was in a separate lodge – ours was the one on the right.

The room was large with two twin beds-again, our request as someone snores… There was also a lofted area with another bed, we didn’t use this one of course.  Each bed had their own mosquito net and the room did have air conditioning, which worked quite well and cooled the room down quickly.

View from the loft of our two twin beds complete with mosquito netting.

The third bed, in the lofted area of our room.

There was a sunken living areas with a somewhat uncomfortable couch and chair. The TV didn’t work, but the channel guide showed about a dozen news channels, just like we saw at Bagan Lodge.  It would have been nice to watch the news as the Internet was excruciatingly slow and it would drop connection frequently.  I just wanted to keep up on the ACA news back, the London Attack and the Russian Election Interference Probe.  It is good to disconnect a bit though.  I do wish, if the Internet was that slow, they just wouldn’t offer Internet, it just causes me frustration when it is exceedingly slow.

The sunken living room with a pretty uncomfortable sofa.

The sunken seating area – looking out upon the first floor balcony.

The desk in the sunken living area was not used by us – 100% vacation mode here.

Off the living area there was a deck that looked towards the lake, but no lake view. On the deck there were two chairs which we used both days to do some writing and quiet reflection.

The four piece bathroom had a segregated WC, a single sink, a separate sunken tub and an open shower. The closet was also in the bathroom area.

The single sink basin and vanity sat opposite of the closet area.

The amenities were wrapped in hotel branded linen sacks.

The price list for the decorative items in the room. Not my cup of tea.

The closet was situated in the bathroom, but had enough room to store both of our suitcases.

The sunken bathtub – I figured I would step back and break my neck!

The open shower had consistently hot water – no frozen showers here!

The amenities were fine – mostly unneeded for us (toothbrush, hair dryer, sewing kit), but needed to check the boxes for the various hotel rating agencies.  The shampoo, body wash and lotion were in ceramic vessels. I didn’t like this. One, it was hard to get the right amount of shampoo out – I felt I was wasting so much of it. Two, I was afraid it would fall, shattering when it hits the floor and then subsequently slicing my feet. I prefer individual plastic bottles. That’s my personal preference.

I took breakfast in the hotel one day, which was included in our rate. They opted not to set the buffet, but allowed us to choose from the a la carte menu. I had French Toast, which was a little bland and a bit under cooked- very eggy.  The breads that were served were good and half the fruit was great. The watermelon was at the peak of ripeness, while the pineapple was mostly core and at least a week from being ripe.

We ate dinner at the restaurant once and it was awful.  Like most of the trip, we ate family style. The chicken curry was flavorless, which was head and shoulders better than the beef. The beef tasted like it had turned. I couldn’t put my finger on it exactly, but something was definitely wrong.  I started with the Tom Yum Soup, which had great flavor, but the vegetables were so large, you couldn’t eat them – each vegetable was at least an inch and a half long, which makes it difficult to spoon.  We left not hungry, but saddened.

We decided to visit the spa during our stay too. The hotel was running a special on a 60 minute Thai massage for 34USD. Yes, I know we could have schlepped into the neighboring town and got a cheaper massage, but about a fifty cents a minute, I’ll pay for the convenience.

I had a special massage (not like that!). I was escorted to the treatment room, which had a queen sized bed, no massage table, just a big bed.  I was given thin sweatpants and a t-shirt that was at least 3 sizes too small. The massuese was very small, but she was strong and used every portion of that bed.  She used physics to contort me into positions I hadn’t been in since I was in college!  At one point as she’s holding both my legs straight up in the air, I thought she was trying to get better TV reception – I was her antenna and she couldn’t get Judge Judy to come in clearly. After about five minutes of playing human windmill, she got back to the traditional Thai massage techniques.  She did a great job.

The hotel has a pool, which is across the street from the rest of the hotel amenities. We used the pool for a few minutes, but there weren’t enough umbrellas nor was there a bar, so it got hot and sober pretty quickly. We did spent a bit of time in the hot tub, which is filled daily from local hot springs. The first day they failed to fill it. The second day we spent about 45 minutes relaxing in the hot tub, with a cocktail. The hot tub is near a stagnant lagoon (at least when we were there), so it was very buggy.

The pool needed more umbrellas and a bar – or at least bar service from across the street.

The dock allowing guests access to Inle Lake via motorized long boat.

The bar had a standard drink menu, with a focus on local fruit drinks as well as classic cocktails (Negroni, Old Fashioned, etc.) and we’re priced at standard Myanmar Hotel Bar prices – between 4-5USD each.

While we didn’t choose this hotel ourselves, it was selected by our tour operator, I would definitely stay here again. The rooms are nicely appointed and comfortable, the amenities are higher end and the service was a bit slow, but genuine. Just don’t eat at the restaurant for dinner.

Have you been to Inle Lake? Where did you stay? What do you look for in a hotel on a Trekking vacation, like this? What amenities and a must have?

Bagan Lodge

Our tour guide had booked us for two nights at the Bagan Lodge without any real guidance from us.  We were excited about this property when we first received the initial itinerary as the photos and reviews were stellar.

I love open air hotel experiences. Being in an area where the weather allows for a reception and dining area open to the elements just amazes me. I’ve never lived in and place like this, so I still get excited whenever I can experience it.

As we pull into the driveway, we are greeted by several hotel staff members welcoming us. Some grab our bags, others hand us cold towels to help refresh us after our travels, another brings out a tray of watermelon juice and the rest stand off to the side with enormous smiles.

This interesting art piece was a showcase in the lobby/reception area. Watch out for those sharp teeth.

The reception area had a pool table, a bar and ample seating, which we saw no one use during our stay.

We don’t check in. Our guide tells us that our rooms are ready but we need to wait a moment for the hotels driver to pick us up in the golf cart. I wasn’t too keen on staying at such a sprawling property where a golf cart is really the best option to get around. We loaded ourselves into the cart (sans luggage) and got a bit of a tour of the grounds. We drove past the spa that was adjacent to the reception area. We saw two pools, one of which is next to the restaurant, bar and reception area, while the second was area little farther afield. Both were beautiful and were definitely calling my name. As we continued our tour the driver tells us not to worry that our rooms are are nearby…we arrive at our rooms (57 & 58), which were less than a minute walk from the reception desk. We were given a tour of the property while our luggage was delivered to our rooms, which was a nice surprise.

The rooms are separated into a couple dozen buildings, each building housing two rooms. As we toured the property by cart, I thought the rooms had tent like canvas roofs, which can be quaint, but it can also be an utter pain.  The tent roofs are not the main roof for the rooms, a proper ceiling and roof is under the white tent. Sometimes with tent roofs you can run into heating/cooling issues and more bugs that you’d expect. Neither of those were issues here.

The rooms do have a connecting door, which is a pet peeve of mine, but we heard no noise from our friends who were in the room next door.

We opted for two twin beds this time (Mike can snore and I am and light sleeper, so a little space can allow me to get some better rest).  Our room was really well appointed. I likes the dark wood finishes – although the floor was polished to the extreme and was very slippery in sock feet.

Like Fred and Ethel, we had our comfortable twin beds waiting for us. It worked out, since my was sick that night.

The room was spacious, but those floors are as slippery as they look.

There was a small TV in the corner that had about a dozen news channels (France24, DW, BBC, CNN, MiTV and a couple others). The small seating area wasn’t all that comfortable, but it was nice to have a spot to sit and chat that wasn’t the bed. The desk was under the TV and while on the small side, would allow you to get a bit of work done. Speaking of work, the hotel’s WiFi was very fast – surprisingly fast, especially considering what we had heard before we left and what we were expecting.

The not-so-comfortable seating area in our lodge.

The bathroom had two vanities, separated by a large bathtub, which we didn’t use. On one end of the room you’d find the WC and the other was the shower.

In general I don’t like these sinks — it’s too hard to shave without using a ton of water, but aesthetically it’s beautiful.

The lodge branded bath products were perfectly fine – but a little too much packaging for my taste.

The shower had an outdoor, rustic feel, but it was great. Hot water and great pressure whenever we needed it.

Why do so many hotels have to leave the toilet seat up after they clean?

We ate dinner at the restaurant the first night and the food was perfectly fine. The Myanmar selection tasted like the other Myanmar food we had eaten. Not spicy, not a wide range of flavors, nothing outstanding, but perfectly acceptable food, which met our needs. The restaurant closed at 22h00 and we popped over at 21h15 for dinner to find that most of the tables had been reset for breakfast and the staff was a little put off that we wanted to have dinner at that hour. They got over their initial shock and frustration pretty quickly and provided good service throughout that dining process.

We used the pool bar a couple of times. The service reminded me of EVA Airlines. You didn’t really see the servers, but once you asked for help they leapt into service. I ended up spending a few hours in the pool our last night as Mike was a bit sick and I had been looking forward to the pool since I first laid eyes on it.  Our first day, we tested out the water and it was warm and utterly luxurious. The next day, the water was quite frigid – it was a big shock getting into the pool.

A trumpeting elephant flanked the beautiful pool.

A view from reception to the pool, the bar and the restaurant.

The pool lounge area and the bar in the background.

The restaurant was pool adjacent.

We decided to visit the spa one day and of all things at the Bagan Lodge, this is the one that needs some work.  We were able to get on-demand massages (no need to book ahead) at all the places we stayed in Myanmar.  This property was a little strange – there was no spa music, so you’d hear the staff members chatting, you’d hear other guests getting their massages and sounds from the nearby bar.  It wasn’t all that relaxing of an experience.  We were required to put on the disposable spa underwear, which burst into thousands of small underwear pieces as I brought it up to my knees.  Evidently my 6′ 185lbs frame is too much for the disposable underoos.  My friend had the exact same experience – except he was given just a couple of seconds to change before the masseuse came back into the room – catching him in all his glory as he loudly proclaims ‘I’m not ready…not ready…NOT READY.”  I heard this interaction loud and clear, since there was no music in the facility – and I nearly died laughing.

The Bagan Lodge was a great base for all of our exploring in and around Bagan. The hotel staff provided better than expected service.  The property was stunning and I wouldn’t hesitate to return again.

Where did you stay in Bagan?  Did you go higher end like our guides picked out for us, or did you choose to stay in a more modest traveler hotel?

Sights and Sites of Yangon

Our trip to Myanmar started in Yangon with a couple days of touring, eating and meeting people. We were picked up at the Sule Shangri-La Hotel and headed immediately to the Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT). The YHT is an independent organization that advocates and promotes understanding and appreciation of Yangon’s historic architecture with a focus on integrating these buildings into the 21st century vision of Yangon.  While the YHT has  no policy making authority, they do put forth recommendations, educational sessions, tours and even help in the restoration of historic buildings.

The YHT wasn’t technically open during our visit, but they were kind enough to provide a special tour for our small group.  The tour started at the YHT offices and then headed out into the street to see the buildings and explore the work done throughout the area by YHT.  We even saw some new buildings that were being built recently and much to the chagrin of both YHT and us, some of these buildings are just awful, devoid of any real architectural character.

Colonial Architecture we discovered with the Yangon Heritage Trust.

Colonial Architecture we discovered with the Yangon Heritage Trust.

Colonial Architecture we discovered with the Yangon Heritage Trust.

Colonial Architecture we discovered with the Yangon Heritage Trust.

Colonial Architecture we discovered with the Yangon Heritage Trust.

I look at these balconies and wonder about the people who cooled themselves in warm summer days. Who were they? What did they do in Yangon? Who lives there now?

New Construction in Yangon. Devoid of any real character. Without consistent plans and teeth to regulations the beautiful city can be razed and this put in its place.

Our final stop with the YHT was at the Ministers’ Building – formerly known as the Secretariat.  This building was the former Administrative Building of the Colonial British Government.  We weren’t able to enter the gates nor could we get a tour.  This property opens to the public just once a year — or if you provide substantial donations to the renovation process, you can get private tours too — we weren’t here during the public opening nor did we write a big check to get in.  Both the buildings and grounds need some repair work, but luckily this building is actually getting renovated and is not slated to be torn down.  It is a beautiful building and if you happen to get the opportunity to walk the grounds or get a tour inside the building, please let me know – I’d love to hear the details and see you photos!

The Secretariat was the former administrative seat of British Burma.

The Secretariat is closed to the public and undergoing a slow restoration process.

As the YHT has a plan for the future of Yangon – blending ancient temples and pagodas, the colonial building and modern structures, they put together a vision of the future.  Take a look at this vision of a blending Yangon — does anything look familiar?  For those of you not from the Windy City — the skyline in the background is actually Chicago. You can see the Willis (f/k/a Sears) Tower, the Aon Center and the red CNA Tower.

The mock up what Yangon could be — notice anything familiar?

We visited the Reclining Buddha in Yangon, which is the largest in Yangon and one of the largest in the world.  There weren’t many tourists when we visited, but we did see many monks and what I presume to be locals at the Buddha praying.

The Reclining Buddha – Yangon.

The Reclining Buddha – Yangon

Me and Mike at the Reclining Buddha – Yangon.

Buddhist praying at the base of the Reclining Buddha.

We visited a Buddhist convent shortly after their lunch.  At the convent these nuns eat just two meals a day. Breakfast is served before sunrise and lunch is served between 10h30-11h30 each day.  We arrived around 11h00 and found the nuns and the novices cleaning up from their lunch.  This cute young novice had just finished doing the lunch dishes during our tour.

A young nun (about 8 years old) finishing the dishes after their early lunch.

We took a break from touring in Yangon and visited the historic hotel, The Strand.  This beautifully renovated hotel was a wonderful place to relax, cool off and enjoy a cocktail.

The bar at the Strand Hotel – Yangon

The beautiful lobby at the Strand Hotel – Yangon.

My first ever Pegu Club – Loved it!

After a cocktail break, we continued on exploring the two main temples in Yangon.  We were pleased we opted to hire a guide for our trek not only through Yangon but Myanmar in general.  While we were stuck in traffic, the vehicle we were in was comfortable and we didn’t have to worry about trying to provide proper directions or ensuring that our driver really knew were we were trying to go.

Traffic in the afternoon as we walk to the Sule Pagoda.

The Sule Pagoda was just a couple hundred meters from the Sule Shangri-La Hotel, our home base while in Yangon.  The Sule Pagoda is the center of the city with the roads radiating from the Pagoda itself.  We didn’t enter the Pagoda, as we were told the interior had just a bunch of low quality tourist shops.

Sule Pagoda – just meters from our hotel, beautifully lit at night.

Our final major site in Yangon was the Shwedagon Pagoda.  We decided to visit this site at dusk and spent about an hour walking around the Pagoda, watching Buddhists praying, dodging children running wild and even jumping out of the way of a small rat scurrying across our path

Shwedagon Pagoda – Yangon.

Shwedagon Pagoda – Yangon.

We decided to splurge on dinner and visited a French restaurant which was about a 30 minute drive from our hotel.  Le Planteur has a beautiful outdoor dining area right on a small lake and near the US Embassy.  It was too dark to take any real photos of our food, but we enjoyed our selections.  The beef was a little gamey and despite the fact that there were a few ducks walking around our feet, the duck was removed from the menu.  The meal was quite expensive for Yangon — actually it was pretty expensive period.  The space itself was stunning and I spent more time than I should just imagining the old parties held at that property during British Colonial Rule.

The Terrace at Le Planteur – Yangon.

Le Planteur – Yangon.

The lawn dining space near the lake at Le Planteur – Yangon.

What were your favorite parts of Yangon?  Did you find a small, off the beaten path, place that just made your trip?  What must see places did you visit, but realize weren’t must see?

Magnificent Myanmar: Introduction

We usually take one big trip a year, and by big I don’t mean expensive, I mean our longer trip. Historically our big trips have been to places like Southern AfricaVietnam/Cambodia and Peru. This year, we decided to return to southeast Asia and visit Myanmar.  We chose Myanmar because it wasn’t that long ago that Americans couldn’t tour the area an many Americans aren’t visiting now.  We wanted to visit before the country was overrun with western chain restaurants and before the photos of the beautiful temples would be spoiled by a Gap or a Starbucks.

Shwedagon Pagoda – Yangon Myanmar

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be writing about our trip, including the following:

If you see that I missed something, or want a little more detail on an aspect of the trip, just let me know.

Final Thoughts on Myanmar

I sit here at the end of our trip to Myanmar (I’m actualy writing this from the Yangon Airport – we were to supposed to have access to the lounge through the Priority Pass from the Citi Prestige Card,  but they wouldn’t let us in as they said they no longer take credit cards…my attempts at negotiation failed. Our next stop is Bangkok for a day or two of proper relaxing. As I sit here in horribly uncomfortable chairs with birds flying around, I reflect on the past week. How were my expectations exceeded, met or not.

The Weather
The weather was much cooler than we anticipated. It was supposed to be 40C each day, but the hottest it got was around 37C and most of the time it was in the low 30s. At night it cooled off very quickly just before the sun set, making walking around in the evening a breeze. You definitely didn’t need a jacket though.

The Food
I thought the food would be a nice blend between Indian and Thai, but it wasn’t. The food was quite bland, actually.  We tried to visit local places and if we pushed we could get extra chilies to had additional heat to the meal. Our best meal was the last night in Myanmar, in the Inle Lake Region. I love Shan Noodles. I now need to find them in the US. Speaking of, what is your favorite Burmese / Myanmar restaurant in the US? Exactly…you can’t think of one, can you? The food was fine in Myanmar, but nothing to write home about. You likely won’t see a big uptick in Myanmar restaurants now that relations are better with the US.

Shan Noodles from a tiny restaurant in a village near Inle Lake.

The Infrastructure
We were told of rolling black outs in the cities, no access to ATMs and how every transaction was cash only (except hotels) – credit card use was almost unheard of.  We had no power issues, in fact a the outlets we encountered had hybrid plugs – you could use your UK, US or mainland Europe electrical plugs. ATMs weren’t as ubiquitous in Myanmar as they are in the US, but we had no problem finding cash. The only issue I had was at the Airport where the machine just didn’t communicate with the outside world. Credit cards weren’t taken everywhere, but many bars and restaurants did take cards. We took out about 100USD and used that for meals where cards weren’t taken and for souvenirs.  You should still plan on bringing crisp, clean, new USD – in $100 increments, but expect to be redepositing most of what you took out upon your return.

A beautiful detail outside of a damaged temple near Inle Lake.

The People
Everyone we met was so nice and genuinely helpful. I didn’t feel that anyone was trying to scam you. Yes, the vendors are trying to get the best price, but they weren’t picking your pockets or blatantly lying to you. Everyone we interacted with spoke at least some English and were very excited to show it off. Most people had a good command of the language and with proper hand gestures  (or a calculator to show prices) you could get by without a problem.

This woman was lovely, she looks angry…maybe I got too good of a deal on some souvenirs.

Myanmar was much less “off the grid” than I expected. It can be done without a guide, but there are lots of little things that would make a guideless trip a lot more work and less relaxing. I’d recommend hiring a guide.

Our guide knew where we could get fun photos like this. Hire a guide.

The Animals
There were tons of cats and dogs running around Myanmar and they are all better behaved than all the wild dogs in the US and many of the pets here too.  The Burmese Cat Village was a home for dozens or beautiful Burmese Cats.

Lunch time at the Burmese Cat Village near Inle Lake, Myanmar.

More details on our trip including airline, hotel and site reviews will be coming out in the next few weeks. If you want to know anything about the trip, let me know and if you want help planning your trip just email!