Just Back: Sanctum Inle Resort, Myanmar

The Sanctum Pool overlooks the Inle Lake. 

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Sanctum Inle Resort is on the shores of Lake Inle in Shan State, smack in the middle of Myanmar. The lake is one of the country’s top attractions with visitors flocking here to enjoy its stunning nature, fishing villages on stilts, floating gardens and colorful markets — and to marvel at the skill of the local fishermen who use just one leg to row their flat-bottomed boats. 

The nearest airport is Heho and it has regular one-hour flights from Yangon, which is Myanmar’s main point of entry (and just an hour’s flight from Bangkok and three from Singapore). The resort is a 45-minute drive from Heho Airport, but a more colorful way to make an entrance is to hop into the private long-tail boat in the town of Nyaung Shwe and get your first taste of Inle’s serene beauty before alighting at the resort’s private jetty.  

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Nestled under the Shan mountains, and with gardens sloping down to the lake, Sanctum Inle Resort (011-959-252-818-800) comes as a real surprise because, unlike the many lakeside properties with typical local thatched roofing, this sprawling property is a sophisticated mix of Mediterranean villa and medieval monastery. Think romantic loggias, brickwork arches and a shady cloister with a fountain.   

Our Provost Junior Suite, in one of the five two-suite villas in the mature gardens, was No. 410 and measured 710 square feet. With a comfortable sitting area on one side and a desk on the other, these suites have long bathrooms with dual sinks, a bathtub and a shower. Hidden under tall trees, these villas are beautifully secluded, yet they are just a short walk from the infinity pool and the facilities in the main building. 

For partial lake views ask for Villas 405 and 406, and there are two Provost Junior Suites in the main building with even better views of the lake. Families will like the 10 rooms connecting with Provost Junior Suites and the 10 connecting Cloister Rooms.

There are 78 standard Cloister Classic and, slightly larger, Cloister Deluxe rooms in the Cluster Buildings. The difference between the categories of rooms and the 15 suites lies in their size. They all have similar high ceilings with fans, minimalist natural dark wood floors and handsome furnishings designed by local craftsmen, with private terraces and arched windows adding a serene monastic ambiance.   

The Abbey Suite offers 1,076 square feet of space and has a stairway leading from the living room up to the king bedroom. 

The two Abbey Suites, Nos. 506 and 509, are in the main building and have stairs from the living area up to the main bedroom with wrap-around windows and expansive views of the lake. The largest suite is the Sanctuary measuring 1,615 square feet. It has garden and mountain views and two master bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. 

For guests who do not like to work in their rooms, the Chapter House is an inviting business center with the atmosphere of a cozy private club. With shelves of books and comfortable armchairs, it’s a real hideaway from the outside world. 

General Manager Baptiste Cabarry ([email protected]; 011-959-252-818-800) told us there are so many things to see and do on the lake that our three nights were not really going to be long enough, and that this is why many guests are repeat visitors.

Baptiste was right. Talking with hotel manager Ei Ei Thet ([email protected]; 011-959-252-818-800), whose team does all the things the best concierges do, we discovered the lake is very large and that getting around by boat takes time — which is, of course, the charm of Inle. 

Departing from the resort’s jetty in a long-tail boat — an extra-long canoe with an outboard motor and up to six comfortable armchairs — a day on the lake is spent visiting crafts workshops on stilts. It is fascinating to watch the villagers make cheroots, work silver and gold and weave beautiful textiles from the fibrous stems of the lotus flowers that grow in the lake. 

There is also time to meander along narrow canals around the floating tomato gardens that are anchored to the lake floor with long bamboo poles and see the Intha fishermen who row with one leg, thereby leaving their hands free to cast their conical nets. Good to know: At 2,900 feet above sea level, temperatures at the lake are cooler than in other parts of the country and, in January, can drop to the low 40s at night.

Rather than heading out, we decided to dine in-house at The Refectory. But first we headed for the Cloister Bar. It has a good selection of Myanmar-brewed beers and wines, and we enjoyed a glass of crispy white, which the barman told us was produced in a vineyard just up the road.

The Refectory spills out onto a wooden deck and also serves à la carte breakfasts. On the menu there were many Myanmar fish and meat curries, a fine choice of western entrées and organic vegetables and salads. We chose the most famous local dish, Shan Noodles smothered with a tomato and meat sauce, which was absolutely delicious — and the closest thing you will find to a Bolognese in Southeast Asia. 

The Cloister Bar has a range of Myanmar-brewed beers and wines.

Inspired by the local cuisine, we decided to find out more and Ei Ei suggested Min’s Cooking Class ([email protected]). Min and his wife May, who are former guides and speak excellent English, pick guests up at the resort’s jetty with their long-tail boat and take them across the lake to local markets to buy the ingredients for lunch.  

The classes for up to six people are in their picturesque little stilt house in a quiet spot on the lake. Lunch consists of up to 10 different dishes that the guests cook, under Min’s professional guidance in the small but efficient and spotless kitchen. The group then sits down to enjoy the food on the outdoor deck with its beautiful views of the lake and the Shan mountains. Note: Cooking ability is not required; some of the dishes are vegetarian and all are finger-licking delicious. 

There are many attractions around the resort. The Red Mountain winery is a short taxi ride away, or an uphill climb on one of the Sanctum’s bicycles. It serves red, white and rosé wines by the bottle and the glass as well as local dishes. Ei Ei and her team can arrange sunset cocktails on the lake and trekking excursions into the Shan mountains. There is horse riding not far away and, if your clients are history buffs, they should devote a day to the Kakku temple complex near the town of Taunggyi to admire the thousands of 16th-century Buddhist pagodas. 

To chill out, there is the Sanctum Spa ([email protected]) with a fitness center and six single and one couple’s treatment rooms. We had an invigorating Myanmar massage and were told they use 100 percent natural Azial and Natural Rendezvous products, and that the tamarind used for the signature Tamarind Scrub is harvested in the gardens. 

Cabarry told us the resort fills up fast for the Christmas and New Year period, and also for the October Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival and for the Fire Balloons Festival in November. Tip: To avoid disappointment, especially for these colorful traditional festivals, encourage your clients to plan their stay well in advance.  

Foodies will want to try out the many specialty restaurants in the area, and for genuine local cuisine Cabarry recommends The Great House (011-959-899-445-275) and The Bamboo Hut (011-959-263-304-121), which are a 10-minute drive from the resort. 

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