Our plan for the following day was to visit Sankar, at the southern end of Inle Lake. Sankar (aka Sagar) is in Pa-O territory, formerly completely off limits to foreigners. The Pa-O are a local tribe who for years maintained their own army but they came to terms with the Myanmar government and the region has been open for nearly 10 years to tourists.
While its been open for years, it is still well off the beaten path. You really need to allocate a whole day to the trip, and most people don’t seem to have the time. But it’s well worth doing – in fact, a real highlight of the Inle region. The journey is what is so special – you cruise slowly through a beautiful rural landscape, as a spectator yes, but you do interact as well – people on the shore waved to us, kids laughed in glee, and everything was incredibly peaceful. It was hard to imagine that this area was fought over not so long ago. The route to Sankar is down a small side channel that extends from the main lake, so one is very close to shore – close enough in fact to hear the bells of grazing cows. A rural idyll, and life seems to have been this way for hundreds of years.
Once in Pa-O territory, one is allocated a local Pa-O guide, and finally you arrive at Sankar. Sankar is really a tiny village with a group of ruined stupas on the outskirts. In the late monsoon season the stupas are partially submerged making what is meant to be a very evocative sight, but we were there early on in the monsoon and the stupas were high on dry land. Still, we enjoyed our walk through the small village, a monastery and temple visit and we also visited a distillery of rice alcohol – ranging from 60 proof to pure spirits. Strong enough to power any longtail engine!
My fears that the kids would be bored by this long water journey were totally unfounded – they loved it – this was by far the best “cruise” they have ever done.
Returning to our hotel on the lake, we settled in for an evening of soccer on TV. Actually, we had to ask the hotel to find the channel for us – you see, the hotels decide what channels are available to the guests . They receive almost everything through satellite, but they then self censor what guests can see. I wonder if this is by instruction of the government.
Sankar is wonderful. It’s well worth staying an extra day to go there.
(PS: I am now custom-designing trips to Myanmar. For more details click here).