Published: July 19th 2012July 19th 2012
From Yangon I woke up early and took a local bus to the main bus station, it cost around 12 pence for a 45 minute journey to the station and the bus from there was around 10 pounds. It was an estimated 14 hour bus ride, at the beginning of the journey the driver handed out plastic bags and a bottle of water each. I thought to myself….result free water, I hadn’t considered what the bag was for…… sigh. There was a group of Americans on the bus, I was chatting to one of them for 4-5 hours before we stopped to get food. In all my time in Asia I think that Myanmar has the worst cuisine, the Indian and Chinese food in Yangon was tolerable because it was heavily influenced by other countries however traditional Burmese street food….the kind you find at a bus pit stop is by far the closest thing to in-edible that I have ever experienced. The curries are made up of around 20% curry paste, 10% meat and 70% pure unfiltered oil. What you are essentially eating is a bowl of flavoured vegetable oil.
This particular bus pit stop was the most bizarre place I have ever seen, the restaurant’s name was Pioneer FC…(food centre) however the logo for the restaurant was the same as the Chelsea FC logo, only Chelsea had been replaced with Pioneer. At this point I will point out that Myanmar people are possibly more football crazy than any other country I have ever been to, I avoided saying I was from England after a day because they were so persistent in their pursuit to talk about football. Not only was the restaurant named after Chelsea, the waiters and waitresses were all children dressed in Chelsea football uniform, right down to the football boots. There was not an adult in sight, I started to believe that the restaurant had been overrun by football crazy 10 yr olds, it was a surreal image, sitting down and being served by a 10yr old in a Chelsea shirt, but for some reason amidst the craziness of Asia this slotted into normality perfectly. If this was happening in the UK it would be on the national news, put it in Myanmar and nobody bats an eyelid.
After getting back on the bus the roads became a maze of twisting, turning, tire burning mountain passages, I have never once succumbed to motion sickness and I was confident that I wouldn’t be beaten today. But there was a dark force in my mind that kept reminding me of the oily curry and every time I thought of it the sickness grew. I started to sweat and every turn became dangerous, I knew there was no going back and I whipped off my jumper and threw up into it, splattering all over my face and legs, the Burmese man next to me looked horrified but I was in no condition to care. I wiped the sick away tied up my jumper and hid it in an overhead compartment as a present for the driver later. I then noticed the plastic bag and began fantasising about a time when I wasn’t a massive bellend and didn’t ruin a good jumper when I could have used a bag, but at least I was safe to use the bag for next time. Over the course of the journey I noticed more and more people throwing up and I was joining them, I threw up around five times, it was pure torture. What’s worse is that the driver missed my stop and dropped me at Inle lake, as a pose to Kalaw, thus meaning I could not do the trek I had originally planned.
At this point I was so depleted of energy that I accepted my fate without protest and checked into a ten dollar hotel. I spent the next two days barely leaving the room, eating one square meal of toast per day and watching Dexter on my laptop. In a perfect world I would have slept there for weeks but my schedule was limited and I rented out a bicycle for a dollar and drove toward the natural hot springs. The view on the way was amazing, the roads were all dirt tracked and the cars driving along them were ancient, in the distance you could see grass covered mountains with small communities living high up in bamboo huts. Every Burmese person I drove past said hello and helped with directions, I stopped to get a bun at a shop and tipped the owner 5 pence. After that he tried to give me a present worth 50 pence but I felt too dishonest to take it. The point was that the people in this town were friendly and didn’t mind sacrificing business to earn the friendship of a passing tourist.
When I got to the hot springs I was provided three options: Public bath, communal bath or private bath. The public bath was free but disgusting so I upgraded to the middle ground. I was given a towel, some shampoo and soap and sent into a swimming pool sized bath, the only other inhabitants were a few monks and some children. The water was ridiculously hot, back home I like to soak in a hot bath to the point of near fainting, but this was just insane, if there was potatoes and gravy in there I would have turned into a roast dinner. I relaxed lying down next to the water for a few hours and then headed back. The only positive was that I managed to smuggle the soap out, a soap which would represent my travel companion for the next 14 days.
The next day I took a long boat out into the lake and did the Inle lake tour, because I had been suffering in my room I had met no one and so did the tour alone, I took some Shan noodles onto the boat which was the first positive meal id experienced which was traditionally Burmese. The drive was about 1 hour to the other side of the lake, I saw the local fisherman practising traditional fishing techniques. You can google it, it’s very strange, they stand up wrap their leg around the paddle and use a net to dip in the water, all whilst balancing on one leg on the edge of a small raft. However the driver got close enough that I could say hello and get some pictures.
When we arrived at our first point of call ‘the floating village’ I was breath taken, literally there was hundreds of houses, restaurants, shops, post offices etc on stilts floating in the middle of a lake. People were commuting by boat as if it were the norm, some of the really big restaurants were perhaps 50 metres long and several floors high, all being held up by stilts. We stopped at a weaving factory and a local girl showed me how they make material, she claimed that this lake was the only place in the world to make scarves from the extracts of the lotus flower. An old woman sat rolling this lotus extract into a string, it looked similar to spider webbing but much wetter, the finished product was actually really good, and however the cost was proportionate to the time period it took to make the scarf, time period being one month, cost being 250 dollars.
After this we visited a cigar factory, I took a picture of an 86 yr old women who had been smoking since she was 16…..are we being lied to? The cigars smelt nice but I don’t smoke, the price was so cheap I almost started there and then. We went to have a look at the floating gardens, this was also mind blowing, the people had built up rows upon rows of algae which they planted crops in. The algae rows were so long I couldn’t see to the end, but I saw farmers in boats tending to them, this was madness, there were empty fields everywhere but these people had farmed on water, I wondered where this would end….floating trees? Floating bath tubs?
The last point of call was the jumping cat monastery, a Buddhist temple famed for having a plethora of cats trained to jump and do tricks, the reality was that there were fifty of the laziest cats I’ve ever met, swanning about getting mollycoddled by tourists. I like cats so I found it relaxing but very falsely advertised. I booked a bus to Bagan the next day and headed to bed. Final thoughts on Inle lake: Very chilled, seems a lot like Lake Toba in Indonesia, although the place had a feel like it was rapidly growing, tourism was definitely rising largely in this small sleepy town.