Samkar- reached by a long boat ride
The boat ride from Nyaungshwe to Samkar is long--- three hours in each direction. You may feel a little sore from sitting in your small boat seat without a good stretch for that time. You may also notice that the town is connected to others now by a road, perhaps making the boat journey superfluous.
Yet, the scenery you take in and the surprises that even a short visit to Samkar serves up make it well worth a visit.
Without the many stops to merchandising villages-on-stilts that the usual day boat journey around Inle Lake entails, this is more a chance to see the varied lakeside landscape and ethnic enclaves on the shoreline without distraction.
Samkar is actually not on Inle Lake proper, but along a smaller connecting lake with stretches of vegetation overgrown canals and many narrow locks that your boat somehow manages to navigate with ease, though you may have difficulty imagining how it can.
Tip: Leave for Samkar as early as you can
Leaving very early in the morning, our boat arrived at Samkar before any other tourist boats did, such that we had the (temporary) notion that we’d be the sole Westerners to visit that day, a thought dispelled an hour or so later when other boats sailed in to the itsy pier.
Magical water covered stupas
And what a pier it is! Crumbling stupas that in other times when there is no drought are half-covered in water greet you, with colors and postures that seem to announce you have arrived in a special place.
Incongruously, the very next thing you see is the rare white table cloth Inle Lake restaurant, which opened just a few months ago and serves up the most delectable fare we tasted in all of Myanmar.
This restaurant is the serious hobby of a young physician who had moved to Samkar several years ago to run the town’s hospital. Thinking he needed a new project, he talked some of the town’s young adults into giving this high-end restaurant in Samkar idea a go. When we arrived, several of the staff were busily folding napkins and stretching out white tablecloths for what we learned was an expected tour group coming for lunch later that day. With gourmet fare made from local foods—e.g. a frangipani flower (a.k.a. “samkar” in Burmese) salad—and a view overlooking the crumbling stupas on the shore—you can’t help but feel the magic.
Exploring the town
Fueled with good food your explorations of the town can begin and be concluded in about an hour. There is a feeling of prosperity here.
Signs of prosperity
Most of the homes have their own pigs, chickens, and garden plots. Many have colorful exterior paint decorations speaking to mindsets focused on aesthetics.
If you equate abject poverty with remoteness a visit to Samkar will make you edit that bias.
Tip: If you are looking for a place to plant in Myanmar that allows you lots of private time and fewer intrusions by fellow tourists, make a mental note that there is at least one hotel in the town.
Across the lake from Samkar
Just across the lake another world swirls into view.
First you see stupas popping out from the landscape. Nestled in the cluster is a temple that seems to draw worshippers and pilgrims from far and wide to hear lectures by Buddhist monks.
Not far from this religious center there is also a fourth generation “jungle rum” distillery where they take a break from their work to do table top wine and rum tasting akin to those you sample in Italian or French vineyards.
The three hour journey back in the boat is welcomed time to process all that you’ve seen and let it sink in.