Inle Lake

Day 13: Let's get down to the lake

Well the breakfast part is really bad at the Pindaya and a whole group tour of silly Swiss people arrived the night before (they where ALL sitting in their underwear in the sun at their balconies the day before...I saw many many many big white bra's and huge shinny panties), so we decided to grab a cup of coffee outside in the sun and hit the road as quickly as possible. Klaas made a fantastic deal with the cab driver who brought us to Pindaya to take us for 50.000K to Inle lake (another world wide highlight place in the world). But to be honest, it is crazy that we pay all together 100.000K for Heho-Pindaya/Pindaya-Inle Lake. It's a short distance and the roads are horrible and it took us back about 3,5 hours to get to Inle, but still, this amount is way over the top. 

Not only the price irritated me heavily, also the way the taxi driver drove and especially how many times he honked his horn. Every f&*^ second sounds his horn which, at a certain point, wanted me to kill him. Thank god for my iPod and headphones. What a shame that the government doesn't use their energy in a really good way and put a stop to this idiotic way of driving (this happens by the way all over Myanmar except for Yangon where honking the horn is forbidden!)

We arrived at the PYI1 guesthouse (near Inle Lake at the backpack district called Nyaung Shwe) around noon, our room wasn't ready yet. When we sat down for a coffee, we saw already many many backpackers hop from one guesthouse to the other to find a bed to sleep in. No chance, every bed is taken. It's ridiculous, but if you made no reservation, you are so screwed!
We briefly spoke to a German girl on her own with no room yet. I felt so sorry for her.

We walked into town (LOOOOOOOVE THIS LIVELY LITTLE TOWN!) to rent some bikes and met an old guy, Mr Win, on his motorbike. He asked if we were interested to be on a boat tour with him the next day. Straight away I felt good about the guy. This was actually a type of boatman I hoped to find around Inle Lake. After 15 minutes we agreed upon a price and most important the itinerary (more information later in this chapter) and came back one hour later at the PYI1 with bikes and a boat tour, YES!
I had a totally different idea of the PY1 (with such high Tripadvisor  recommendations).

I found the whole place not my cup of tea. Difficult to explain why I feel this way, but it's a really narrow place without any views, the bungalows are very simple and you can hear everything your neighbours whisper. Just for comparison, in Thailand this would cost maximum 20$ a night, here 45$. I know, it's not really fair to compare, but still. I paid 10$ for a nicer room, 8 years back. The shower has almost no pressure, so washing my hair took me ages! No wifi (you can use a computer of the owner though). Basic breakfast: yogurt, eggs, toast, fruit and instant coffee. There is no fridge. Just all very basic, but charming.

The owner, a pretty young guy, spontaneous type, lived in the UK for several years, but I just didn't like him. Sometimes there is just no click, instead alarm bells go off. So we are trying now to get into The Princess Garden (tried that already back in Holland several times, but all the time full already). We went by the place already twice, but it's all the time fully booked. The owner really wants to help us, so we call him again tomorrow to see if anybody cancelled his booking (this apparently happens quit often). This Princess Garden is awesome. It has a cute little swimming pool and the whole surrounding is so nice, very green and urban. Just a good vibe, felt it straight away.

The rest of the day we explored this lively town and had a great avocado salad with rice crackers, mjummie. We saw the German lady again and she told us, she found a dorm room for 9$. We asked her if she wanted to be with us on the boat the next day and she liked it, great! She showed me the dormitory. OMG! x 1000. I could never sleep with 8 people in one room on a cold floor on a thin mattress with only a cold shower outside. I just could not believe she was capable of doing this and calling it 'holiday'. She asked us if we wanted to join her for a wine tasting sunset afternoon at the vineyard about 2 miles out of town. Well if wine is involved and drinking, you don't have to ask us twice, so the vineyard it will be!

Later that afternoon, near the busy market, we saw Simon (we met back in Bagan). He was sitting in a trickshaw (lazy bastard!) exploring the city. He was happy to see us. He actually just dropped me an e-mail where to meet. It was Simon's lucky day and we had a full boat the next day. Germany, the UK and Holland in one boat, I say: good fun!

At 4.30pm we cycled together with Inga (Germany-Darmstad) to the Red Mountain vineyard. A fantastic 20 minute ride where we saw much rural live and traffic! The vineyard is on the top of a mountain and the views are breathtaking, we thought we were in France.

A bunch of travellers was sitting outside sipping wine, watching the sunset. Over the top romantic (if you want to propose to somebody, me, this is the place). We decided to do a wine tasting for 2.000K. They served us 4 different wines in tiny little glasses (not more then a sip).We all liked every single wine, but the Shiraz-Tempranillo was so outstanding that we quickly ordered a whole bottle of this divine grape juice. At 6pm the place closed and everybody cycled back to town. Not in a straight line though.

Inga suggested to have diner in a Nepali place so we went there and really enjoyed this food which was actually new to us. We went to bed early, Mr. Win is going to pick us up at 7.30am!

Day 14: More whiskey Mr. Win?

There he was, Mr. Win in disguise, 7.30am sharp. He was wearing a woollen hat all over his face, like he was about to robe a bank. We picked up Inga and Simon at their hotels and walked to the docking place. Many boats were about to leave. This here is big big tourist land, but still pretty doable. Mr. Win has it's own boat, The Inle Taxi. Five chairs with a pillow to sit on and blankets to deal with the morning cold. Great gear Mr. Win! Let's go.

See film:

I was sitting in the back so Mr. Win tapped on my shoulder all the time he wanted to explain about something. While his English was understandable most of the time, with the motor engine making quit a bit of noise, I often had no clue what he meant. Our first stop was the 5 day market (held in a different village every day).

It was amazing. So many people, so many vendors, so many items to buy. Mr. Win bought us all a coffee and delicious fried fresh split pea tofu and churros (Dutch: soort lange oliebollen).

What a treat. After the market we sailed to the part of Inle Lake that is opened to the public only a few years back. The people living here, lived in total poorness and without any knowledge what was going on in their own country. For example, the buddhist demonstrations, they had no idea. We stopped in a small village with a beautiful pagoda with shinny little things on the top. The village recently has a school and many kids from the whole region go there and sleep there too. You could say it's kind of a boarding school. Mr. Win was really proud about the progress Myanmar is going through, certainly here at this place. Every week there is a firewood market in this place that was going to take place the next day. many farmers and vendors were already putting their firewood on the land. Simon thought he landed in the middle of a medieval movie. It was indeed totally surreal.

We hit the water again and enjoyed every minute of it, certainly this southern part where we were the only tourist boat. We felt like being in the 'Apocalypse Now' movie. My only demand to Mr. Win was: no tourist boats and please keep away from the beaten path! And Mr. Win understood that perfectly. People kept on waving at us, which never gets boring, in contrary, it made me feel so happy.

Our next stop was another old village where we had tea with a family in their own home. This village makes pottery and sells in throughout the whole Shan region. It was again so surreal. They dig big holes in the ground, make fire in it, put the soft clay items in it, so they can dry. After that they paint the items.
Mr. Win is a very special guide. He knows everybody in every single village. His son is a monk and teacher and Mr. Win sometimes brings orphans from these small villages to his son's monastery. When we sat down with the family, had a green tea and Klaas suddenly was in a total culture shock. He realised that his life and theirs was 10000% different. The rest of the day he kept on telling me "Elles, this is all so much we see. Everything is so different from how we life."

When we said goodbye to the family, I pulled out a pair of nice Dutch earrings (I have a small gift bag with me for special occasions) and gave it to the child of the family. According to Klaas, the family appreciated this enormously. I was too nervous/shy to take a good look at them after giving the present. I always feel that way because I don't know if they appreciate my gesture.

After leaving the village we went back up the lake again. Mr. Win stopped at a brewery were they make, totally old skool, rice wine. Amazing how they do this. After that: rice wine tasting. Mmmmm good stuff. We all liked it a lot and I bought a bottle.

Simon decided that it tastes a bit like grappa. Klaas thought it was more a kind of sake. Anyway, whatever it tasted like, Mr. Win started to drink quit a bit of this cloudy white liquor. We paid the owner voluntary two dollars for the wine and finger bites; tea leaf salad and headed for a place to have lunch. It was already 2pm. The closer we got back on the northern part of the lake, the more touristy it got (but still so beautiful).

Mr. Win passed all the boats and stopped at a quiet restaurant on the water. Lovely place with a big terrace. We sat down (we were the only ones) and ordered a set Shan meal lunch. Mr. Win started to drink one whiskey after the other. Within a time laps of 40 minutes Mr. Win was totally pissed (which was not funny anymore). Simon comes from the UK and Mr. Win already mentioned a few times the tensions between the UK and Myanmar (because of the colonial times). Now after a couple of drinks he really started to bully Simon about it. Simon didn't appreciated this, and teased Mr. Win. At a certain point we said: Simon be the smartest of you two and don't respond to him and anymore, just ignore it and let's hit the water again.

We made sure Mr. Win ate his plate of food before we jumped in the boat. Inga wanted to see the longneck women. When we arrived at this wooden house on stilts two longneck's were weaving. The whole thing was a big tourist scam. The longnecks life 120 km further, so these women were put there just for our pleasure. Klaas and me did not enter the place and fortunately Simon and Inga turned around too. After this sad experience we sailed through the floating gardens where the farmers grow tomatoes. It was astonishing that this kind of agriculture was all on the water.

The last stop was at the jumping cat monastry. Inga liked to see it. No more jumping cats though. The buddhist decided that too many tourist are asking for this show, so it's not part of their routine anymore (which I totally understand).

Being back in the boat we said to each other that Inle Lake will probably be like Venice in a couple of years. We are so scared what will happen to this pristine authentic place once the tourism industry really explodes.

We said goodbye to Mr. Win who was pretty sober again. We told him we had a fantastic day on the lake, but that he should not drink while he's doing his work. He nodded, he knew. We gave him all a dollar tip. (The next day Klaas hooked him up with a few travellers. He was so happy with that. Klaas told him again: Mr. Win, keep away from the booze when you guide these people. He said -and I found that utterly cute-: I know, I am so angry with myself. So message understood. But I guess we were also part in his drinking. We encouraged him to pour out more and more rice wine, so in a way we were to blame too.

This was probably the best day we had so far. What a totally different atmosphere on the water.

The evening, the four of us had dinner together at Thoo Thoo. A romantic place that serves very tasty food. Avocado salad: 10 points, like the ginger salad. They served 'our' Tempranillo wine too, so we drank at least two bottles (12.000K each) while Inga told us her most embarrassing flight attendant stories! Red ears all over the place. Normally Simon, as a travel guide, is the one with the 'you won't believe this' stories, but Inga defeated him by far with a story about a passenger shitting before the toilet, because he thought there were not enough toilets on the plain. Really, yes really! And this story was only to warm us up :-).

We went to bed quit tipsy (and woke up pretty hang-overed but happy the next morning).

Day 15: You don't like my room, then go!

Inga decided to cycle to the village of Maing Thauk (half of it is on the land, the other on the water). She wanted to see the forest monastery. We agreed upon leaving at 7.30am. It took as about 70 minutes (!) by bike to get there. Unfortunately there was no river view because of the foggy air. We talked a lot about her life, which hasn't been that great lately. So we shared some emotional moments. I like Inga a lot and I hope she will have the courage to make some dramatic changes in her life.

When I came back at the hotel, Klaas didn't get a room at the Princess Garden ( I was soooo disappointed) so I went off to look for a different place. I didn't sleep well the past 2 nights and the whole vibe at PYI1 I hated. But what I basically already knew before starting my search: everything was full, full, full. When I came back I talked to the owner's wife about being unhappy with the water situation (no pressure-so basically no water) and the bad beds (hard and the linen to small for the beds). She referred me to her husband with whom I had a very unpleasant conversation. 

I thought I was very polite to him but he reacted totally infuriated. It made me so angry, he was not reasonable at all. We pay 45$, which is a lot of money for this place. Am I allowed to ask some kind of service. I think it works both ways, right? That my alarm bells went off, when I first saw him, didn't ring undeserved. Klaas tried to reason with him too, but it just didn't work out. So we decided to start looking again for another place. It wasn't easy but we found a true gem, a few minutes out of town. It has everything, even fast wifi, a hot shower, a fridge, a soft mattress, a lovely breakfast with cheese and avocado and a porch. Guess what, 'only' 40$ a night. Me happy, Klaas happy. We quickly packed our bags, paid for the 2 nights at PYI1 and went to our hidden treasure Aung Mingalar. A 3 minute ride 'out' of town.

The rest of the day we drank beers with Inga at a nice terrace next to the canal, we talked a lot and had a great pancake with avocado, garlic and onions. At 4pm we said goodbye to Inga, she was going to Yangon on a 20 hour bus ride...OMG! 
I really liked being with her. Saying goodbye on trips is something I am so not good at. 

Klaas and me took it easy the rest of the afternoon; reading books, writing blogs and having a great dinner at this upscale place called 'Green Chili'. A bit more expensive, but such a nice vibe and delicious food. Great quiet place, with outstanding service.

Day 16: Hot springs and SoeSoe

We slept great and were very surprised with our breakfast. A very appealing avocado, toasted bread, kind of cheese (or was it very old butter?), marmalade, eggs and a banana pancake. The only thing that a lot of the hotel staff in Myanmar do, and what in my opinion they really need to change is 'the hanging around the table'. The guy in our hotel kept on standing next to our table, watching us closely.

The moment my plate was empty, he took it away. Many people of the restaurant and hotel staff in Myanmar do this. I guess they think we appreciate it; that it's some kind of great service, but for us personally, we get really nervous by this behaviour.

We have a nice porch so I did some girly things like polishing my nails and plucking my eye brows.

Although I am not vain during travelling, there is a certain limit to my backpack look. All shinny and new, we took our bikes to explore the hot springs a few miles out of town. Along the way we found a coffee house that also makes churro's and had a quick stop over for these tasteful calorie bombs and a coffee.

The road to the hotsprings is really terrible. Dusty with many pebbles and rocks. Every time a truck or motorbikes passed, we were eating dust for at least 15 minutes. But we liked it. Ha ha ha..adventure, right? After 50 minutes of heavy sweating we arrived at the hotsprings. The building looks really good, see their website here.

The ladies at the reception were lovely, they let us take a look at the private pool (men and women together, read: the tourist pool) and the separate pools. It looked totally different then what we've expected. It's really small and I think the water in the pools is very dirty. It's not a water flowing kind of pool. The price was just ridiculous: 8$ pp. We were standing there with our mouths open...what? 8$, really? Yes really! The bible quoted 5$, so this fast prices are raising. Ridiculous.

'Tata' we said (Myanmar language for 'bye bye') and left. The road back to our hotel was of course bumpy again, but the scenery is beautiful. So all together it was definitely worthwhile going there.

We stopped at Min Min (the cocktail bar in town) and had a fresh lime juice. Great for a thirsty throat. We decided to come back for diner. We did, (after freshening up at home) and had a few pina colada's. They are plentiful with rum and they put fresh lime in it too. Wow, for 1.500K a fantastic pina colada. Min Min and his wife run the place and they have a daughter named SoeSoe. Next door of Min Min is a school:

Cute kids:

SoeSoe is more of a boy then a girl, her mother explains to us. At school SoeSoe always stands in row with the guys and she refuses to wear longys (long skirts) and she wears her hair short. SoeSoe wanted to sit on my lap and the rest of the evening she stayed there playing Angry Birds on our iPhones. She was so sweet. We ate a good home made pasta with pesto (we wanted to do this at the restaurant the bible suggests, but this place was packed with group tour tourists,..argghhh. After bringing our bikes back to the rental place, walking back hand in hand to our hotel, we looked at each other: HAPPY!

Traveller facts: Make a reservation for a hotel at Inle Lake. This is a serious warning! We never saw so many frustrated travellers with nowhere to go - who really slept in the streets! Hotels are priced way over the top in this town. Certainly not enough value for money, but in this situation, they can ask whatever they want. A shame, but happening! Expect to pay at least 50$ per night (2 persons). Boat - short tour: 15.000K. Long tour all the way to the south: 25.000. We paid Mr. Win 30.000 because he's a guide so we paid a little more for him and the boatman and a full day on the water. A bargain, I say! Hotspings 5$ public bath/8$ semi private bath (read tourist bath). Beer like everywhere 1.800/2.000K. Food very reasonable, most dishes 1.500/2.000K. Cocktails: 1.500K. Home made pasta around 3.500K. Taxi back to Heho airport: 15/18.000. Bikes: 1.000K a day. Entrance fee for Inle Lake 5$.


Fabiola said...

Beste Elles,

Ik ben op jouw blog verzeild geraakt omdat we samen met onze school, een basisschool, centen willen inzamelen voor Artsen zonder Grenzen in Myanmar. We zijn namelijk op zoek naar meer info, foto's, filmpjes en nog ander beeldmateriaal om ons project meer vulling te kunnen geven. Vermits ik merk dat u en je vriend, ginder al een maand vertoeft hebben, merk ik dat ik zeker aan het juiste adres zit. Misschien kan u ons nog meer info bezorgen of eventueel attributen of foto's ervan...
Als u het ziet zitten nodigen wij je ook graag uit om wat te komen vertellen aan ons, de leerkrachten en/of de kinderen van onze school.
Onze kinderen hebben de leeftijd van 6 tot 12 jaar. We zijn wel een school gelegen in Belgiƫ, maar vermits je toch graag reist, lukt dat misschien nog wel. Ik verplicht je tot niets, maar het zou wel leuk zijn moest ik van jou een (positieve) reactie horen.

Vele groeten,

Meyvis Fabiola
leekracht Basisschool De Eenhoorn

Fredrik said...

I stumbled over your blog in the end of last year as I was planning my own trip to Myanmar. Yesterday I went through some old pictures and begun to think of my journey. I just wanted to let you know that your blog posts was of great help to, both informative and inspiring. Now when I read your blog again I really relate to some of your experiences over there. I have even started to write about my own trip here:


Whatelles said...

What a fantastic comment Frederik!
Thank you so much, Elles

Myanmar Tours said...

Simply it's amazing!

Nepal Footprint Holiday said...

Thank you so much for sharing your experience with detail information. Next year i am planing to traveling to there. It really help me lots for my trip planning.