The Thahara Pindaya feels like the perfect accompaniment to a stay at the Shan hill country of Pindaya in Myanmar. This backcountry feels like it’s no place for a hotel – instead, you want a cozy home waiting for you, one that has soul in place of three to five stars.
A two-storey farmhouse bed-and-breakfast standing in the middle of Pindaya’s groundnut and sunflower plantations, the Thahara Pindaya elevates the customary hospitality of the area with its capacious interiors, warm décor, and above all the attentive care of the property’s owner and host, Ms. Aye.
The property is, after all, her own home, rebuilt for the purpose of welcoming visitors to her hometown.
Getting to Thahara Pindaya
There are no signs marking out the Thahara Pindaya, and it is just as well: with only five bedrooms, the property is ill-equipped to handle surprise guests of the walk-in type. Instead you have to seek out the property, either by visiting the website or by following word of mouth from fellow Pindaya travelers.
It’s fair to say Pindaya is an off-the-beaten-path town, in a country that is itself well off the beaten path. To get to Pindaya, you’ll need to fly in from Yangon or Bagan into Heho Airport, about 24km from the property; on this occasion I was picked up at Heho by Ms. Aye’s husband in a rental car, then driven 30 minutes down a narrow tarmac road up the hill that the Thahara Pindaya stands upon.
Other travelers reach Pindaya after a three-day trek from Kalaw – the town is a little off the path from the trail leading to Nyaung Shwe and Inle Lake, but hikers tolerate the detour anyway to go see the Pindaya Caves and its vast collection of Buddha figures.
The Thahara Pindaya’s Common Room
The farmhouse is a concrete-and-wood affair, sturdy and surprisingly airy. A single staircase leads up from the gravel driveway to the second-storey common room, a capacious area with massive windows overlooking the farmlands around the Shan Hills – you can make out Pindaya town and the entrance to the caves in the far distance.
The common room is a magical place to sit at during the “golden hours” in the mornings and late afternoons, thanks to the warm tint the sunlight brings into the room. Games, magazines, and books can be found on a corner table for visitors’ use.
And the meals – traditional Shan favorites cooked by Ms. Aye herself – suit the setting perfectly: mohinga noodles for breakfast, a type of Shan grilled pork with rice for lunch, and a light repast of Shan noodles for dinner. If requested, Ms. Aye leads cooking classes to introduce guests to Shan cooking traditions and techniques.
Accommodations at the Thahara Pindaya
Your correspondent checked into one of the Thahara Pindaya’s upstairs bedrooms: a 26-square-meter space with its own verandah overlooking the Shan Hills. Heavy teak furniture and fluffy high-thread-count beddings feel uncommonly luxurious given Pindaya’s rural vibe, but the overall effect is still more cozy than ostentatious.
The private bathroom comes with modern fixtures, toiletries and hot-and-cold running water. The Thahara Pindaya’s fresh water supply is brought in by truck and stored in an on-site tank, so guests may want to lay off on the long, hot showers.
Electricity and WiFi were constantly available at the Thahara, though not consistently: power and WiFi outages occurred, but never for too long.
Exploring the Rest of Pindaya from the Thahara
As tempting as it is to stay in the rooms for the duration of one’ stay at the Thahara Pindaya, the rest of the area calls, and Ms. Aye is happy to suggest an itinerary for guests with a few days to kill in Pindaya.
Using a locally rented car, Ms. Aye or her husband may accompany you to selected spots around the Shan Hills – the Pindaya Caves overlooking the town, where a collection of thousands of Buddha images have accumulated for over 300 years; a Shan cultural center in Pindaya town proper, where villagers make traditional Shan mulberry paper and turn them into umbrellas, fans and lantern shades; and a hundred-year-old house that belonged to colonial-era administrator Sao San Mya (his daughter now lives there, a retired history professor who is always happy to welcome visitors).
The countryside seems tailor-made for bikers and hikers, and Ms. Aye is ready to help in that department, too – about 20 trails around Pindaya have been mapped out for hikers, and travelers looking to hit those trails with wheels can borrow a mountain bike from Ms. Aye.
A Win-Win-Win Situation
The whole hotel is quite simply an extension of Ms. Aye – it is her home, after all, expanded to accommodate guests in comfort. After a long career working for Yin Myo Suu’s Princess Inle Resort and related properties, she thought back to her hometown and what she could do there after retirement.
As Ms. Aye tendered her resignation, “Misuu” (as she prefers to be called) asked about her future plans. “My dream is [to be a] hotel owner… But I can’t,” Ms. Aye recalls telling her employer. “Misuu said, ‘How much have you saved? The rest can come from me.'”
Misuu’s partnership allows Ms. Aye’s humble property to fall under the Thahara name brand, where Misuu markets boutique properties that also give back to the local community. “The Thahara concept for me, it goes back to what my parents started in 1976 with five bedrooms,” Misuu later tells me. “The art of hospitality, to me, is to have time to share with the clients, remember their names, their faces, what they like and dislike.”
The Thahara fulfills an advocacy that is near and dear to Misuu’s heart: entrepreneurship. “I really believe that small-to-medium enterprises have to be strongly established in a country like ours,” Misuu tells me. “It’s a win-win-win situation – a win for [Ms. Aye], a win for me too – I don’t worry for her family to be financially sustainable for the long term.
“It’s also a win for the destination, and a win for the guests,” says Misuu. “We are talking about real people who are looking for authentic experiences, that’s what we [at Thahara] do better.”
The Thahara Pindaya at a Glance
Location: Pindaya, Shan State, Myanmar. Getting here requires a thirty-minute drive from Heho Airport (HEH) to the property, itself located a ten-minute drive from Pindaya town proper. Location of Thahara Pindaya (Google Maps)
Rooms: five bedrooms, each equipped with choice of queen-sized or twin beds, and bathroom en suite with hot and cold running water. Toiletries and slippers provided. No air-conditioning – in the cool Shan Hills climate, this is unnecessary. Upstairs rooms have verandah looking out to the hills.
Amenities: Free WiFi access throughout the property. Home-cooked Shan meals. Shan cooking classes, mountain bike rentals, and tours of Pindaya available upon request.
Contact Details: booking office tel: +95 1 441 3410, www.thahara.com