Day 24 | Downtime in rural Inle Lake

We woke up too early to have breakfast today! We had to catch our first domestic flight in Myanmar, going from Yangon International Airport to Heho airport which is the closest airport to Inle Lake, the next destination on our trip. After checking out from Hotel Accord, we got a taxi to the airport. The traffic to the airport was bad but we had planned for extra time just to be safe.

When we arrived to the airport, we checked in at the domestic terminal. Our experience there was very different from arriving at the international terminal a few days earlier. The domestic terminal is much older looking and going through security and immigration was more chaotic. Yes, we did have to go through immigration even though we were about to board a domestic flight. We speculate the Myanmar government uses this as an easy way to survey foreign tourists, perhaps so that they can better allocate marketing campaigns targeting specific countries.

After taking a shuttle bus and walking on the tarmac, we boarded flight Air KBZ 266 going from Yangon to Mandalay with a stop in Heho (our destination).

Airplane for our Air KBZ flight to Heho

The airplane had a fairly balanced mix of Burmese citizens and foreign tourists. We took off on schedule around 8:40am.

As with the short domestic flights we took in Thailand, despite the short fly time, the flight attendants distributed light meals to all passengers. The flight was without any turbulence and I managed to record some beautiful clips flying right above the cotton candy clouds.

As we landed, we saw many land parcels of crops and very few roads or buildings. Heho itself is quite a small town and the entire region is extremely rural.

Heho airport may be the tiniest airport we have ever seen. After landing, we exited the plane using the builtin ladder that is attached to the aircraft’s door and then proceeded to walk right on the tarmac to the terminal.

Walking on the tarmac in Heho airport

And this is the inside of the terminal. Here too, we had to present our passports to the immigration officer who just asked where we were from and noted USA on a notebook.

Inside Heho airport's only terminal

As we exited the airport, a horde of young men accosted us, all asking if we needed a taxi. A minute later we were on our way to Nyaung Shwe, the town north of Inle Lake that has the most hotels and other accommodations for tourists. Even though the distance between Heho airport and the town is less than 30 kilometers, our taxi ride was still longer than the flight! In addition to the cab which costed us 25,000 Kyats, we also had to pay a one-time fee for visiting the Inle Lake protected region of 12,500 Kyats per person ($10).

We arrived to our guest house, the Zawgi Inn shortly after noon.

Front gate of the Zawgi Inn hotel

It’s a very small bed and breakfast (I counted nine rooms only), apparently owned and operated by a single family. In the now well-established yolomimo tradition of sharing short clips featuring our hotel rooms, here is room 106.

We unpacked and immediately went to book a boat tour over the lake for the next day. We came all the way here to see the lake and in particular its infamous leg rowing fishermen. After that, we decided to take it easy and nap/rest for the afternoon. Not that we didn’t want to explore Nyaung Shwe, but Mimi started having more acute abdominal pain caused by her food poisoning from eating ice cream yesterday in Yangon.

When we woke up from our nap, it was around 5pm and the temperature had cooled down quite a lot. Unlike Yangon, the air temperature around Inle Lake actually decreases noticeably once the sun sets. For that reason, many hotels in the area don’t even have air-conditioning and indeed we did not need it during our stay at the Zawgi Inn. We left the room to explore the town and grab dinner.

We liked Nyaung Shwe from the very beginning. It’s a really small town with what we thought would be a “Burmese Wild West” feel if such a thing existed. It has quick boat access to Inle Lake via the Nyaung Shwe Canal which is what allowed it to become a hub for tourists visiting the area. Walking in the streets, we saw many restaurants and hotels with English only signs and tourism seems to be the largest source of income for most residents. Yet we did not get this feeling of being in a town that is overcrowded with too many tourists (unlike the Ko Tao and Ko Phi Phi islands we visited in Thailand). In general it has been our consistent observation in Myanmar so far: even places that are the most touristy are not yet packed with foreigners. We passed by some well decorated canals with nice bridges and hotels overlooking them.

A side canal in Nyaung Shwe

We also passed by a temple / monastery complex next to the main canal that we could not visit but offered us a beautiful sunset photo opportunity.

Sunset over temple in Nyaung Shwe

Behind its closed gates, a dozen or so young monks were playing soccer. We stayed there for a few minutes watching them. They were playing pretty seriously!

We kept walking a bit until we reached the main canal. This is where all the boats going south to Inle Lake stop.

Nyaung Shwe Canal

When we passed back in front of the temple about half an hour later, the monks were still not done with their soccer game. For us, it was time to find a place for dinner. Mimi had read restaurant reviews on Trip Advisor and we decided to try Sin Yaw. On our way there, we saw a handful of cows slowly walking on the streets, with cars and motorbikes patiently waiting for them to clear the way. There was no honking to be heard.

Food at Sin Yaw was excellent. Unfortunately, we realized only later that Mimi really should have stuck with white rice that night. We came back to the hotel around 8pm and decided to call it a night.

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