Nyaung Shwe, Myanmar

Mingalar Market in Nyaung Shwe

When making plans to visit Inle Lake in Myanmar, I debated whether to stay on an over-water bungalow on Inle Lake or in the town of Nyaung Shwe near the lake. Both had their appeal, and town is definitely cheaper. In the end, I opted for two nights at each. In retrospect, I’d skip Nyaung Shwe and spend three nights on the lake. Most tourists stay in Nyaung Shwe simply as a more economical base for exploring Inle Lake. Still, we enjoyed our time in Nyaung Shwe (except for some noise issues), and it was an interesting short stay, although lacking in any big must-sees other than Inle Lake.

Our regular boatman took us from Ann Heritage Lodge to Nyaung Shwe. We wondered when he docked at what appeared to be an empty building, but we were let in to wait for a tuk tuk that arrived to take us to Inle Cottage Boutique Hotel. I had asked the desk clerk at Ann Heritage Lodge to coordinate with Inle Cottage Boutique Hotel, so they arranged this hand-off. I knew the hotel was only blocks from the boat docks, but the streets in Nyaung Shwe are often unpaved and confusing to navigate. Besides, we definitely didn’t want to be rolling our suitcases on dirt roads in the heat.

Bustling Nyaung Shwe street in front of Inle Cottage Boutique Hotel

I chose Inle Cottage Boutique Hotel for our stay and the restaurant, garden and our bungalow room were all stylishly decorated with local goods, comfortable, and clean. The bungalows clustered around a lush central garden. The hotel had the added bonus of being run entirely by young women as part of a program to educate women and encourage them in business. The staff did a great job. Their attentiveness bordered on the excessive as, each time we crossed from the garden door through the small lobby to the main door or vice versa, a young woman would leap up from behind the counter and race to hold open the doors for us.

Inle Cottage Boutique Hotel and the Minthamee Bar & Bistro

My choice was a big hit with David when we realized signs pointing to a craft beer bar were directing us to the restaurant located above the lobby in our hotel. The beer on offer was from Burbrit, the first microbrewery in Myanmar. We’d been wanting to try it, and we were in luck!

On our first evening in Nyaung Shwe, we decided to walk to the nearby night market. Set up on one end of a large open square, the event consisted of some food trucks and souvenir stalls. The market was popular with locals and we enjoyed wandering through, but opted for dinner back at our hotel.

Our first night was not the tranquil stay I’d hoped for. A rooster or two at the house next door to our wooden-walled bungalow crowed all night, sounding as if he were in our bathroom. Then around 5am, someone began the sinus-clearing hacking so popular in this part of the world. Music began blaring next door at an insane hour. Then around 8:30am, a van drove slowly past our hotel, blasting Burmese over a loudspeaker. We learned later that the music and van were part of a wedding celebration happening next door. I hoped fervently that rooster would be on the wedding feast menu. Oh well, noise just seems to be a part of Burmese life so it was on me to adjust.

After a night of little sleep–Not my finest moment

Our second night was quieter and I recommend Inle Cottage Boutique Hotel. Just in case, though, I’d ask for one of the bungalows to the right as you exit the lobby into the central garden. Those cottages are on the opposite side from the neighbors with the rooster, and fellow guests in those units heard none of the crowing.

We retraced our path past the night market venue the next day, then turned off to visit a temple en route to the Mingalar Market (see top photo). This last is a real market, full of local goods and shoppers wearing clothes representing the many tribes in the area. Small shops around the covered, open air market, teemed with daily life. It’s definitely not something to miss when in Nyaung Shwe.

A barber shop by Mingalar Market

Leaving the market, we walked to Tharzi Pond by the closest entrance to the town. We’d seen a golden pagoda near there and were curious. The Shwe Baww Di Pagoda turned out to be new construction so we shucked our shoes and made the circuit of its interior before heading to a nearby café, Mann Mann, for a cold beer on a cute rooftop seating area overlooking the pagoda.

Shwe Baww Di Pagoda with Mann Mann Café on the left

Despite mixed reviews, we really enjoyed a visit to the Nyaung Shwe Cultural Museum, housed in the former haw (palace) of the last saopha (sky prince) of Nyaungshwe, Sao Shwe Thaike, who also served as the first president of independent Burma. The palace is an elegant if somewhat dilapidated brick and teak mansion with a multi-tiered pagoda-style roof and spacious, mostly empty rooms.

After paying 2000 kyats apiece (appx. $1.32) for our tickets, we headed upstairs to begin a self-guided wander through dusty rooms housing wooden “thrones,” beds, photographs, clothes and other items of varying interest. An old photo of a western looking (princess) caught my eye and I snapped a photo for later research and so learned about the Austrian-American woman, Inge Sargent, who lived through Nazi occupation as a child, then married a Burmese prince, the last Saopha of Hsipaw. Her husband was killed in prison and she was lucky to escape Burma following a coup. I later bought her Kindle book, Twilight over Burma, My Life as a Shan Princess. What a fascinating, and sometimes tragic, life story! The basement of the museum houses the old treasury and government offices, now in ruins.

Photo of the western woman (a “devi” or Burmese princess) that caught my eye

We ate dinner both nights at the restaurant in our hotel, Minthamee, finding the food to be very good and reasonably priced. Plus, there was the Burbrit beer. Ingredients are imported, but it’s always fun to see craft beer spreading to a new country. We found the Burbrit beersto be tasty and worth the above-normal-for-the-area prices (4500 kyats or about $3 for 330 ml).

Burbrit Beer at Minthamee Bar & Bistro, Inle Cottage Boutique Hotel

For those staying in Nyaung Shwe as opposed to the lake, there are lots of options for boat tours around the lake. The town does not sit directly on the lake, but rather down a long canal, so the lake is not visible from town. Group boats are very cheap, running about $6pp for a day tour. There are also bike tours to surrounding areas and a local winery. The local wine is decent, but we just weren’t interested in another excursion having thoroughly enjoyed our private boat tour around the lake and its villages while staying at Ann Heritage Lodge.

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