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Published: June 15th 2016
After the amazing adventure in Bagan, wandering around all the beautiful temples and experiencing the local and ancient culture I was keen to see more of Myanmar. Having looked online at travel blogs it seemed the common trek to do was from Kalaw to Inle Lake, but wanting to get off the beaten track and see “real” Myanmar, I followed the advice of heading a little further north to Hsipaw (pronounced see po). The travel blogs and the guide book both said that it's easy to get off the beaten path there, see a rural village and see traditional clothing etc.
We got the “12 hour” bus from Bagan which actually took 14 hours! Believe me, sitting on one of those buses for 14 hours wasn't a pleasant experience. There's literally no way to get comfortable.
Anyway, we'd already booked the hotel which is the best way to get cheap accommodation here. But the check in times are usually around midday, if you're lucky like we had been in Bagan then they'll let you check in early...if you're not so lucky what happened in Hsipaw happens.
We were told before we left that the bus would arrive at 5AM. Perfect, we don't have to pay for a nights accommodation...until we actually arrive at 3AM and virtually everything except a tea shop is closed.
As we get off the bus Dave jokingly says “the hotels there”...a quick glance at google maps and it was literally the building next to it! The chances! Fortunately we got dropped off right near where we were staying. The next challenge is trying to get in, the outer gate is locked and we've got no credit to call the hotel. A quick circle of the building told us that there was only one way in. Great.
I ran over to the tea shop and managed to use a locals phone...no answer.
As me and Dave stared at fort knox, street dogs barking at us, we realised one of us was going to have to climb the fence. The fence with anti vandal spikes on top!
So up and over I go, knock on the front door and there's an answer.
Out pops the grumpiest Burmese man I'd met and ever did end up meeting...although I wouldn't be too happy if I was woken up in the middle of the night.
We'd paid 13,000 Kyat (I can't convert it, this currency baffles me) online for the room...but this wasn't online and the guy wanted 18,000! No way! I managed to get him down to 15,000, but once we got into the room he told us breakfast wasn't included in that! Are you mental mate?! We don't even eat breakfast because we're late risers, but on principal we left the moment we could.
The day after I set off on a trek to a village, in the hope of getting to see “real” Myanmar. After the lonely planet and the travel blogs bigged up the trek I was quite disappointed. While there was some nice views it was hardly the special cultural experience I’d be lead to believe I was in for. The trek literally followed a road past some farms, if you knew the way and had a bike it would be a much better experience. I don't even like walking, trekking is an adventure, but this was just a walk!. The village we stayed in was situated on top of the hills, but there wasn't much of a view. Once we got to the villages we didn't get shown around or anything. To be honest, the village in Bagan had way more to offer.
The best thing about the trek was getting to see some soldiers from the civil war, which really opened my eyes to just how close to the fighting we were.
The second day, and last thankfully, was the decent back down the mountain. With it being rainy season I don't know why I wasn't expecting rain. All night it had rained, keeping me awake because of the sound on the corrugated iron roof, and all morning until around 9.30 when we eventually set off.
Upon my arrival back to Hsipaw I met back up with Dave and went for a few beers before the evening “VIP” bus to Inle lake. This was the second so called VIP bus we'd got tickets for and again it was a massive let down. At first it looked quite plush, with leather seats and a blanket provided...the A/C on the buses is way too cold at night, there's no reason for it to be on at all!
Right in the middle of the backrest, what I can only describe as too high lumbar support was sticking right into our backs. Lovely.
We arrived at Inle, another place the Lonely Planet had massively bigged up (If I ever see those writers they'll be getting a belt). Again we'd pre booked our accommodation, despite the reviews.
“Friday Inn guest house” - awful. The worst place we stayed in Burma by far! There was ants everywhere, the sheets were damp...to be honest everything in the room was damp, even our tshirts when left out. I'm pretty sure the sheets hadn't even been cleaned.
The whole time we were there it torrential down-poured. We decided to brave it and get a boat on the lake one day...a complete waste of time. I'm sure the views would be quite nice had it not been raining, but it was. The boat driver also managed to get us stuck on some weeds.
The “lake” was covered in vegetation, it was more like a swamp in most places. Granted there was the odd bit of open water, but by and large we felt let down by the guide book once again. Even other travellers had told us it was nice...for me it was too busy a town for it to be a place to come to chill. Most of the other activities were all trekking through the local hills, or riding a bike around the lake, things it was far too wet to bother doing.
One of the days we decided we wanted to change hotel for one with TV so we could watch the England match. After walking around the town for about an hour and a half we eventually found one with the correct channel, which was far nicer than where we were already staying and only cost an extra £1 each per night.
Despite having already paid for the night at the first place we checked in anyway. That night we watched the match with another English lad who happened to be walking into the same hotel at the same time to find out if they had the channel.
Overall I thought both of these stops were a waste of time. Whether it was just the wrong time of year to visit, or the tourist infrastructure just isn't good enough yet I don't know. But I'd avoid going to these places if you're visiting Myanmar.
After all this, and the fact my mate Swinny is in Aus now and might not be there again, I've decided to cut this Asia trip short and go to Aus and start my working holiday year.
We've booked flights to leave to Bangkok in the morning where we'll spend three nights, then fly to Krabi to spend a week at the beach and hopefully do some more diving before I leave. Asia has been fun, but it's just wearing me out now. I'm keen to return in the future, but maybe spend more time in one place, all this moving around after a few days isn't for me. And neither is the rain, I can get that at home!
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