Sign, the Chinese looking dude at the reception of The Good Will Hotel spoke amazingly great English. Just what we needed after a three day trek from Kalow. He only had two, two bedroom rooms for the six of us.cAgain, the art of persuasion saw Sign smile and laugh before managing to squeeze us all in. Two beds and two mattresses filled the room to bursting. Legend.
We said our goodbyes to Mulan, our faithful and totally hilarious tour guide. We were exhausted from three days of trekking. Filthy. Physically ruined. The sun was setting and the cold creeping into the air. The shower was hot. There have been rare moments a hot shower has been called for on my travels. This was one of them. And boy did they deliver. They even had a separate hot and cold mixer tap so you can adjust the temperature to suit. Ecstasy. I spent a long time in that shower.
With the bus to Mandalay booked for the following night I only had 24 hours to enjoy Naunshye and Inle Lake. The place was crawling with old, rich tourists who love to spend big. 24 hours was more than enough.
Clean and invigorated we hit the town in search of some fine Myanmar food and a drink or two. The normal selection of tea shops and bars were available with a dusting of new tourist friendly restaurants, charging top whack to eat the ‘traditional’ food the cheaper places also sold. Apart from the price, the only other difference is the amount of oil used. Local restaurants use buckets of the stuff while tourist restaurants go easy. That night we ate good over priced food with old white people.
Needing our dose of culture, we hit a local bar. We sit on the usual child size stools and order a beer. The usual complicated ‘run-over-the-road-to-the-alcohol-shop’ trick later and a rather cold looking couple of beers arrived. As the smiling lady pours the beer, it is apparent that the beer is so cold it has frozen. Instead of stopping, the lady continues to pour in the frozen beer to the chilled glass. She seemed a little confused as to why we didn’t want the beer and restarted her attempts at pouring the beer into another glass. Our laughter confused the poor lady. We had to get up and walk out. Clearly our service and quality expectations differ in the UK.
That night, we drank beer and sank some Myanmar rum. Lots of it. In fact, we got plastered watching several games of FA Cup football. The bar we were in, fed us samosas, cakes and alcohol until pretty much everyone had gone home. A noticeable memory of the night was the dodgy uneven bamboo floor. Several holes were in place to test how drunk we were and we even created some of our own when our child sized stools pierced the flooring and sent each one of us flying. Priceless.
The entire bar felt like it was close to collapse. every step sent the entire bar, which wasn’t small, wobbling and creaking. The route to and from the toilet was especially dangerous.
However, this night was when the three of us Nordes, Guy and that good looking blond fella bonded. Man to man bonding session, with beer and football. Yeah. Boozed up Brits abroad. It dawned on me at this very moment, that sharing my Myanmar adventure with these guys was pretty special. Our discovery. I’ll never forget this journey. Or these guys.
The football crazy Burmese love English football. I love watching them watch football. They sit in friendship groups, silently, occasionally sipping free green tea and nibbling at a cake or pastry. Only when a talking point in the game arises, such as a penalty decision or goal do they become animated, often laughing, joking and poking fun at their friends. The silence indicates a serious and dedicated concentration of the game, the players and the tactics. They are fascinated and want to learn. While most Burmese people are in bed this group of hardcore devoted football fans stay up, in the cold, to watch their favourite football teams. Premier League teams.
Unfortunately for us drunk brits at the back of the tea shop, we didn’t practise such dedication. Breaking the bamboo floor with our stools, talking loudly and celebrating goals with noisy cheering was our way of showing the quiet Burmese how the British do football. Guy even managed to persuade the locals into believing he was Oxlade Chamberlain’s cousin. The link between Guy’s Sri Lankan decent and Oxlade’s Afro Caribbean parents not sending any doubts into the believing locals minds. Boozed up Brits abroad. Shameful antics.
Walking back through the silent, dark and cold streets we returned to our hotel room and turned on the heating. That’s right folks, heating. During our trek, the nights were cold and long, a first for a long time. In fact, this was the first time I’d needed or even wanted such an invention such as heating since leaving Kent back in October of 2012. So happy to have this luxury we maxed up the temperature and fell asleep in what can only be described as sauna heat.
I awoke to a sore throat again. OK I was drinking alcohol last night but this is something that was a daily occurrence. During the day my throat was dry, during the night it was painfully sore. Is it the dust? Maybe the pollution from the black smoke being pumped out of ancient rust bucket vehicle type machines. Or was it the temperature drop at night? We all suffered. The mystery of the Burmese throat swell. Can anyone shed light on this strange phenomena? Answers on a postcard please.
Yet another complimentary breakfast of egg, toast and bananas was sunk before heading off to the local market. Even here in Myanmar, Manchester United and that fella Wayne Rooney have an influence. Our trekking group still in tact as a six-some, we ordered some one gear bikes for a days exploration of Inle’s hot spa and winery.
Riding our bikes down dusty mud roads, past floating and non floating villages and farmers was nice. Proper nice. Surreal. The sun was out and on form. Overtaking one another we mimicked commentary from the Olympics, Nourdes declaring, ‘Morocco take poll position, easing past Denmark on the outside’. The bikes were ancient beasts you see grannies riding in Europe, no where near cool enough for our British streets, but on that day, we made them look cool. The seat not good enough to protect my arse from the beating the uneven and bumpy road was giving it and the squeal of my brakes surprising even the locals, I still enjoyed every minute of it. Smiling locals, staring children and vans with happy, waving workmen passed us by. Sweat inducing fun.
The natural hot spring spa was not exactly what we thought it would be. We pictured a spa carved out of the mountain rock. A natural spa we envisaged. Instead we paid $8 for three very nice jacuzzi’s without the bubbles. It reminded me of a gym spa, outside. Nothing natural about it, it was clearly man made. However, the spa area was luxury. Sun loungers freely available and a bar serving ice cold drinks. Us dirty packers lived it up with the elite elder package tourist holiday folk for the day. They even gave us a free towel and soap. Touch.
The locals spa was a little cheaper but the spa was separated by gender. As we had a mixed group we opted for the foreigner only mixed gender spa. It sounded a lot livelier in the natives spa and children could be heard playing. Our pool was quiet, tranquil, typically polite and British.
While tanning the top of my unhealthily white thighs and listening to Hospital Records finest podcast mystro, London Electricity, I manage to sit down and write this funny and witty blog, After a roasting, I decided to leave my pedigree chums and ride my beast of a bike back through Naunshye and up into the Red Mountain vineyard and winery for an afternoon of wine tasting.
As the sun started its decent, I sipped wine, logged onto the wifi and enjoyed the view of Inle Lake. WiFi that actually worked too. A rare specimen in these parts. Today was not the usual back packing experience Myanmar offers. A rare and expensive treat. I enjoyed it. Rather.
That night I resumed my back packer duties and started another bus journey, This time to Mandalay. Inle was nice but I avoided the tourist hole excursions and quit early, a wise decision. Personally I’m not into being lead around to places designed for tourists, where the locals who are employed see hundreds of tourists everyday. This area is naturally beautiful but has been exposed to far too many wealthy travelers for poor ‘real’ culture seeking back packers to stay any longer than a couple of days. Harsh as it may sound, I say as I see it. Myanmar so far, has shown me a land untouched by tourism and the inflated prices that come with it. Inle Lake doesn’t fall into that category.