I no longer write as many accommodation reviews as I used to, but once in awhile, I hit upon a gem that I just need to tell the world about. My Inle Lake hostel, the Song of Travel, was (is!) such a gem. From the brilliant features to the quirky design, fresh food, and first-class staff – Song of Travel has it all.
Note: All opinions expressed in this post are my own, and I did not receive any discounts or freebies in exchange for my review; in fact, I only let the Song of Travel crew know I was a blogger two days before I left after a 10-day stay. However, the Booking.com links contained in this post are affiliate links helping me to finance visiting and finding more brilliant accommodation around the world (see footer for details).
Atmosphere & Guest types
From the moment I stepped into the Song of Travel the passion for travel of the hostel’s creators was palpable. This place belongs to the rare breed of hostel that is made by people who love traveling and know what travelers (not just backpackers) want.
The first thing you’ll notice as you approach the Song of Travel is the quirky design of the exterior: Owner Fiona has taken a nondescript box-shaped building and turned it into a black-and-silver boombox.
Continuing the theme on the inside, all beds are adorned with quotes from a song or by a singer. Mine quoted the song Live Forever by Oasis: “Maybe you’re the same as me – We see things they’ll never see – You and I are gonna live forever.”
The Song of Travel only has dorms. So guests are backpackers – from the barely-20 ones up to more seasoned travelers and small groups. Many hike to Nyaung Shwe from Kalaw; so there’s a fair amount of muddy shoes parked outside the main door (the hostel offers a shoe cleaning service if you don’t want to take care of the mess yourself).
There are also a few guests from other parts of Myanmar.
All in all, it’s the right, relaxed mix that makes it fun to interact and get to know fellow guests during joint activities.
The location is in a residential neighborhood on the outskirts of Nyaung Shwe. But that’s ok as it’s quiet and with the free bikes available it takes 10 minutes to get to the center of town with the market and restaurants such as the Sunflower, a favorite among hostel guests.
Nearby, you’ll find a bakery and a spa many of my roommates were raving about for days.
The Song of Travel only offers dorm accommodation. The dorms are fairly large (mine had about 20 beds), but I didn’t notice it at all. The beds are pod-style (3 walls, privacy curtain at the end), which offers both a fair bit of view and sound protection.
And there is enough space between the two rows of pods to store larger bags without having to scramble.
Honestly, most days I didn’t even realize how many people were staying in my dorm or the hostel as everything was so well organized.
The mattresses are extra-wide with space to the left and right of the mattress.
There is a light, a plug, hooks and a hanger, and a locker large enough for a carry-on bag underneath.
The air condition unit, a weak point in many large dorms, is strong enough to cool even the pods furthest away with the privacy curtain shut.
Note: In contrast to many other places in Southeast Asia, the Song of Travel is quite strict about the 2 pm check-in time. However, for a few dollars, you can get a bed in their “early-arrival dorm” to hang out/sleep before your actual dorm becomes available. Also, if you’re fresh off the trek from Kalaw (or simply need a fresh-up), you are free to use the showers at any time. I appreciated the strictness about the check-in as this meant that guests who are already staying aren’t disturbed, and the staff will seriously clean every bed top-to-bottom between stays.
Also, if you don’t want to pay for the early-arrival dorm, there are plenty of comfy corners around the common areas to hang out.
Bathrooms are split by gender and facilities are cleaned at least daily, if not several times a day.
There are two large common areas: one on the ground floor, covering most of the ground floor, and one on the roof.
The ground floor has different types of seating – table, bar, couches – with books, folders with info on traveling around Inle Lake and in Myanmar, games, and a laptop you can borrow from reception.
The roof also serves as the breakfast area. At night, there is a small bar for hostel guests and friends, and there is some sports equipment if you want to do yoga or calisthenics.
Most importantly (and 2016 reviews of the Song of Travel had me a bit worried): the Wifi at this Inle Lake hostel is excellent. It was probably the best WiFi I had among the nine properties I stayed at during my month in Myanmar.
While you are always welcome to ask the staff at reception (and will receive expert answers), the Song of Travel has compiled binders full of information so you can plan your explorations of Inle Lake and Myanmar at your leisure.
The hostel provides plenty of free bikes to head for a quick bite or go on a day trip around the lake.
Talking about free: Sheets are free and so is a fresh towel every four or five days (if you want a clean towel more often, you can pay).
Song of Travel organizes some tours exclusively for its guests (like boat tours – click here to read about my experience) but also sells tickets for buses and other tours. Just let them know what you want to do, and they will make it happen. The only thing that nobody in town seems to be able to make happen is train tickets; for those, you’ll have to head directly to the station.
Breakfast is included in the price. It is served on the roof and goes through a weakly roster that includes local specialties like Shan noodles as well as Western staples such as fried egg. While the portions are not huge, everything is prepared freshly and tastes delicious.
A small Lunch/dinner menu is available at the same prices you would pay at the local restaurants downtown.
Coffee and tea (along with biscuits and Myanmar cigars) are available for free all day long on the ground floor.
At night, there is a bar on the rooftop open to hostel guests and their friends but not the public.
The hostel organizes group activities throughout the week, some for a small fee, most for free, including walks to a sunset spot, market tours, joint dinners, and yoga.
Every afternoon at four, a (free) traditional Myanmar snack is served. And since they are prepared by staff at the rooftop kitchen, you sometimes get to watch and learn.
During my travels in Southeast Asia staff at my accommodations has almost always been friendly and courteous. But the people here do a stellar job to balance approachability with professionalism. Owner Fiona, Ana, and the other ladies at reception speak English fluently and are not only knowledgeable about Inle Lake and its surroundings but also travel in Myanmar in general.
So there you have it: if you don’t love this Inle Lake hostel after what you’ve just read, you need to book a flight and go see the Song of Travel for yourself. I promise: You will not regret it.
Other accommodation at Inle Lake I stayed at
- The Gypsy Inn ($8/dorm bed) is located right by the channel to Inle Lake and only a few steps from the main boat station on Strand Street. This means it is very noisy at all times of the day. The property is a lot larger than the name suggests but offers solid and low-price rooms and dorms. A big minus for me (apart from the noise) was the non-existing WiFi in the rooms and the lack of common areas.
- The Royal Nyaung Shwe Hotel was running a special that gave me a giant, modern private with a just as big bathroom and a large breakfast spread for $25/night. So I treated myself. The location – with views of Yadanar Man Aung Pagoda and about 15 minutes walking distance from the market – is convenient but also not very quiet.