Guys bathing their buffalo's!
People i met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), John (Myanmar)
As our boat weaved its way down the narrow tributary that led from Indein to Inle Lake, it was fascinating to watch the local men bathing not only themselves, but also their water buffalo's. It felt like been transfered back in time and it was moments like these in Myanmar that often made you stop and wonder what century you were in! Rather than garages for cars, the water way was filled with garages for boats, the most popular form of transport in this area. Already it was becoming clear that people living here lived a different kind of existence from most other people in the World.
Soon the boat navigated its way into a residential area, with houses built on stilts and the only mode of transport from one house to another been by canoe.
Going down a street on Inle Lake
It was strange to be driving down a waterway that was actually a road, with boats passing you rather than cars! It was all so picturesque and nothing like i'd expected it to be. We passed through the floating gardens of Kela, where a range of crops were been grown on the lake and eventually came to Nga Pha Chaung Monastery, otherwise known as the jumping cat monastery. When there are enough tourists, the monks normally make the cats perform tricks like jumping through hoops to get their food. As Julia, myself and 2 other Westerners were currently the only ones there, neither the monks nor the cats could be bothered to rise from their slumber. To be honest i wasn't too bothered.
Passing out of the narrow 'roads' that were in this area, we eventually came out onto the Lake proper and it looked stunning with scenic mountains making a beautiful backdrop.
Stupas situated on Inle Lake
Soon we got our first taste of the local fishing scene, as we stopped to watch a couple of guys trying their luck. The boats are steered using their legs to move a single oar, whilst they drop nets or baskets down to try and make their catches. It was fascinating to watch for a short time, but the boat man seemed in a hurry and soon began to drive off. We passed quite a few other fishermen on the Lake and it seemed a pretty ideal little place to be plying your trade. I'm sure the realisms would be far different if you actually looked into it, with stinking wages and draining days out in the sun. Its funny how you come to places like these and think how wonderful and romantic they are and yet the locals proabably have a completely different perspective on it all.
Paddling home after a busy days work
Around 4pm the boat docked in the town of Nyaungshwe and we disembarked at a hotel where John had sent our bags to. It had always been agreed that the bags would be sent here but we didn't have to stay there if we didn't want to. After having a look at the rooms, we decided that we would like to look at a few other places before we made our final choice, which is the normal plan of action everywhere that we go. In fairness the room was pretty nice, but it was about 50% more than we had been paying elsewhere in Myanmar. After what had been a wonderful trip, it all started to turn a little bit sour. I'd already given John a pretty healthy tip and told him that i would be recommending his services to any other travellers heading this way, but that wasn't enough.
Houses on Inle Lake
He kept trying to persuade us to stay at least one night and it was clear that it was so he would get a commission and had nothing to do with our best interests. This upset me a little as i thought we had become friends, but i was now starting to question the sincerity of this.
Finally we chose a different hotel (50% cheaper) and said our goodbyes, a little peeved but still happy with the overall service. After showering we went out and got some food at a nice little place called the Century restaurant, where we also tried to get online, but the connection was non existent. Still, it gave me the opportunity to burn a photo CD and the lady who served us was very friendly and accomodating. After Dinner it was agreed that an early night was called for and it felt great to have a mattress to sleep on again!
The following day we had a pretty poor hotel breakfast and a cold shower as they hadn't sorted out their 'hot water problem'.
2 kids transporting goods around Inle Lake
More like they didn't want to spend money fixing it. Walking into town, which was only a couple of streets away, i was excited to see if it resembled any of the areas that we had seen the previous day, but i was disappointed that there was nothing of the sort. It was just a dirty little concrete town, lacking in both character and charm. Lunch was taken at the Lonely Planet recommended Big Drum, who had hiked their prices up 3 fold since the book was published and surely must have changed chefs, beause the food was diabolical.
By 2pm it was a question of how we could kill the rest of the day and we were regretting not having caught the afternoon bus out of there. After shopping around a little, we picked up our bus ticket to Bago for the following day and decided to ask out of curiosity how much Lake tours were, which we had taken yesterday.
The 'jumping' cats... maybe it should be called fat lazy sleeping cat monastery!!
I was shocked to hear them start at $10, without even beginning to negotiate, as John had made us pay $15 and told us it was a 'special price' that he had arranged for us and would normally cost more. If the guy had been that desperate for an extra $5 i'd rather he had asked me than pull a fast one like this. Coupled with what he had done regarding the hotel, I now felt quite cross with him. My estimations of the Burmese were slowly sinking from 'wonderful, friendly, kind people' into one of 'kniving, scammers'. This was reinforced when we went back to Century Restaurant and they tried to charge us more than we had paid the previous day, for exactly the same dishes!
Heading back to the hotel to try and calm down, all I could think of was the day when I'd leave the country.
Fishermen plying their trade on Inle Lake
My opinion of the people had done a 180 degree turn and the final straw came back at the hotel that evening. Not only did they once again not switch on the hot water that they kept promising, but the manager was on a rampage and smashing up the hotel for some reason. I have no clue why, but it wasn't very pleasant and we kept ourselves locked in the room. To end his fit, he switched the hotels generator off at 10pm, pitching us into complete darkness, cheers!
Checking out the following day other members of staff muttered some apologies, but it was too little, too late. Taking our bags to the pick up station, I couldn't wait to get out of the place. We sat on the pick up for over an hour waiting for other passengers, before finally the driver told us that they weren't going to go anywhere because there weren't enough people.
Fisherman plying his trade on Inle Lake
But if the 6 Westerners on board all payed double then we could leave now and not miss our connecting bus. It all sounded a little too convenient, so we suggested that if we paid double and thus made up his quota of people to 20, then he wouldn't pick anyone else up along the way, as we'd already paid for the seats. This was met with a "No", but he then dropped the price to just 50% extra. At this point a Korean woman told him where to go and that we would all get on another pick up and all of a sudden the price was back to the normal fare! Within 2 minutes he had shouted they were about to leave and the pick up was now choc-a-bloc! It was one thing after another. We caught the bus at the junction around 12.30, delighted that we were leaving this place behind us!