As more tourists from the West venture to Myanmar, a variety of accommodations are popping up throughout the country to help visitors see and experience Burmese culture up close.
In 2012, the number of visitors to the country surpassed the 1 million mark for the first time. The increase has led to new opportunities for people like Aye Aye Thant. Together with her husband, Thant runs Thahara Pindaya, a cozy farmhouse home stay that helps visitors navigate and make the most of their stay by offering package deals that include meals, excursions and relaxed solitude in an isolated, picturesque setting a few miles outside of Pindaya, a township in Myanmar's Shan state.
"Normally tourists come here just to see the caves [and] umbrella-making, [then] sleep and go back; they don't know about our scenery and beautiful rural life," Thant said of Pindaya, located about one hour by car from Heho Airport. "I want to give real hospitality and show our real life."
Thahara Pindaya, which had its soft opening in February, is part of the Thahara travel company, a startup founded by hotelier Yin Myo Su with the backing of Anthem Asia, an independent investment group. Thahara, which means friendship in the ancient language of Pali, focuses on providing all-inclusive yet authentic experiences that emphasize sustainability and personalized travel. In addition to Thahara Pindaya, the company includes Thahara Inle Heritage at Inle Lake and the Thahara Irrawaddy, a river cruise ship.
The kitchen area of Thahara Pindaya. Photo Credit: Kristi Eaton
The Pindaya property features five rooms equipped with coffee-making supplies and WiFi and offering stunning views of the countryside. Thant cooks the meals herself and focuses on offering local dishes such as fried noodles for breakfast or a lunch of chicken curry with potato crisps and a juicy mango for dessert. Guests have a variety of excursions to choose from during their stay, including a cooking demonstration, a lake picnic or a heritage visit to a nearby village.
During my stay, I selected a daylong trek and a visit to a rural village, both opportunities that enabled me to see and interact with friendly, kind and energetic locals eager to share their way of life and learn about mine.
Inle Lake luxury
Another new property is the ultraluxurious Sanctum Inle Resort at Inle Lake, also in Shan state. With a focus on appreciating the monastic life, the 96 rooms at Sanctum Inle feature minimalist design elements infused with comforts such as air conditioning and minibars.
Flanked by the famed Inle Lake — Myanmar's second-largest lake, known for stilted wooden homes — Sanctum Inle, which held its soft opening in May and opened officially this month, offers a variety of room options, from the Sanctuary Suite, with loft ceilings and a private terrace, to the Cloister Classic, showcasing garden views.
Visitors to the high-end resort can enjoy a hearty breakfast buffet or a Shan-inspired dinner at the Reflectory followed by a Myanmar-brewed beer at the Cloister Bar.
Soup prepared by host Aye Aye Thant. Photo Credit: Kristi Eaton
The Workshop Boutique sells handicrafts from artisans, while guests can rejuvenate at the Sanctuary Spa, whose signature treatment is a tamarind scrub.
Prices for Thahara Pindaya start at $75 for a one-night stay with breakfast during low season (April through September) and $100 in high season (October to March). Package A, which includes three nights' accommodations, meals and three activities, is $850 in the low season and $1,035 in the high season. See www.thahara.com.
Prices at the Sanctum Inle Resort start at $484 per night for the Cloister Classic and increase to $1,724 per night for the Sanctuary Suite. Visit www.sanctum-inle-resort.com.