This week we chat to Cathy from Mummy Travels about her favourite family holiday in Asia – Inle Lake, Burma. Have you considered travelling to Inle Lake with kids?
This is a place we travelled to 5 years ago (pre-kids) and I remember thinking at the time how difficult it would be to travel around Burma with young kids in tow. Surely the lack of infrastructure would make it too challenging? I remember a lot of long waits at bus stops (sometimes 4 hours) and terrible road and rail conditions. It’s very much a cultural destination with few beach resorts and obvious kids entertainment. And is it just too off the beaten track?
So I was intrigued to hear from Cathy when she agreed to this interview. Burma (Myanmar) is changing rapidly since it opened it’s doors to tourism in 2012 and she has made me realise that Burma is indeed a wonderful destination for adventurous families!
1. Tell us a bit about yourselves. Where are you from and how often do you travel as a family? How old are your children?
My name’s Cathy and I’m a travel addict! I’m an award-winning travel writer who didn’t want to stop seeing the world when my daughter was born, so have spent the past five years working out just where you can travel with kids (spoiler, basically everywhere). We travel somewhere every month, sometimes days out in the UK including London where we live, plus a couple of bigger trips during the year including at least one long-haul. My daughter is now five.
2. How many times have you travelled to Asia and why do you love travelling there?
I’ve travelled to Asia about half a dozen times, twice with my daughter – to Burma (Myanmar) when she was three and most recently to Cambodia. I’ve found it’s such a family-friendly place, that kids are the centre of attention which makes it so much easier to travel there. And I love the experience, the bright colours, the wonderful food, the long long culture and seeing how the history is part of life today, as well as discovering all the fascinating traditions.
3. Why is Inle Lake your favourite destination?
Burma is somewhere I’ve wanted to travel to for years – my sister-in-law is from the country, and I’d had to cancel a planned trip when I was pregnant as I couldn’t take malaria tablets. Since then, I’d been dying to get back and see it for myself: partly as somewhere which has only recently opened up to tourism, but also for its wonderful mix of sites – busy Yangon with the huge Shwedagon Pagoda, the endless temples of Bagan, the colonial hill town of Pyin Oo Lwin not far from Mandalay and the amazing coast at Ngapali Beach. Perhaps my favourite of all was Inle Lake though, taking a boat around the lake to discover the different villages with their traditional crafts, seeing the floating gardens, stilt houses and the famous leg-rowing fishermen.
4. What were your top 3 things to at Inle Lake with kids?
I discovered that while I was happy to soak up the views of this huge silvery mirror-flat lake, watching the boats and the reflections, at three my daughter did not have the same appreciation of the scenery! I made the most of the fact that she kept falling asleep in the boat to enjoy it, and broke up the day with some stops.
My favourites were In Dein, which felt like discovering a lost city – you travel up one of the tributaries off the lake and then arrive to see overgrown stupas and carvings, some painted bright white, others stripped back to the red and brown bricks, topped with gold and bells which tinkled in the wind. We had it almost to ourselves, just a couple of women wearing the traditional dress of Shan state wandering through. Really magical.
She also loved the Burmese cat breeding progamme at Inthar Heritage house – prized by kings, there were almost none of the cats left in the country by the early 20th century, so these pampered pusses are part of a programme to return them to Burma.
Lastly, it was fascinating to meet the Padaung women – better known as the long-necked women. Each village around the lake has its own specialist craft, from paper to silver to weaving, which this tribe specialises in. With their rings and rings of brass around the neck, we discovered a bit more about the origins of the tradition and it gave my daughter a glimpse of a very very dfferent culture.
5. Where did you stay and do you recommend it?
We stayed at the Aureum Palace Inle Resort, set on the lake itself – the water level was relatively low when we arrived, but you still had amazing views, a lovely pool to chill out in at the end of the day (the sun is very strong here) and a huge room to retreat to. Because you have to take a boat to get anywhere, it’s good to have a hotel with all the facilities too.
6. What did your daughter eat?
My daughter can be a picky eater, and while she’ll happily have noodles at home, we did struggle a bit in Burma – she lived mostly on rice and fruit, although there are western options on the menu in a lot of the bigger hotels, so we also managed to find pizza and pasta along the way.
7. How did you suggest getting around Burma and Inle Lake with kids?
We covered a lot of ground in our trip, so took quite a few internal flights – it would have meant very long car journeys on not always good roads otherwise. The flights themselves were all very easy, and then we’d arranged a guide at Bagan and Inle Lake with a driver for transfers and exploring. Pyin Oo Lwin, Yangon and Ngapali we did independently, but the hotels usually sorted out transfers from the airport, or it was easy to get a taxi to get around.
8. What is your top tip for families travelling to Burma?
Go! It feels very off the beaten track still but is actually easy to explore, and kids are the centre of attention (they might get a bit fed up with the photo requests) – a hotel with a pool and a few days at the beach at the end was really helpful to stop my daughter getting too overwhelmed by the days out as well.
9. What item could you not have done without in Burma?
We had an inflatable booster seat, called the Bubblebum, as I knew it would be tricky to get car seats – this made the journeys we did have a lot more comfortable for her.
10. Where are you off to next?
I don’t have anything booked at the moment, but am already craving a bit of winter sun! We had some amazing travels this year, including a fantastic two weeks in Cambodia, so I’m wondering how 2018 can top that. My dream destination at the moment would be Japan: It’s over a decade since I was there, and I’d love to go back with my daughter – who has already asked to see the snow monkeys..
Where would we be without our trusted Lonely Planet?