The flight to Heho from Rangoon was relatively uneventful. Apart from when I tried to take a photo of my travel companion in the airport as we waited for our flight. I was practically jumped on by a Police Officer. Ooops. And eeeek! Security is a big issue in Burma. No photography allowed in the airports at all. Suffice to say I did not make that mistake again.
Heho airport is rather small and outside there was a car park filled with taxis and tuk tuks waiting for custom. But, as I had expected, the prices touted for taking tourists to Inle Lake was really high. I kind of resent paying extortionate taxi fees because I am a tourist. There should be a standard rate for these kind of things. In Thailand, I can normally negotiate reasonably well with the decent tuk tuk drivers. But we were not getting anywhere fast here. Most of the other passengers from the flight had been taken by organised travel buses. We appeared to be the only independent travellers on this occasion. Until, after some time, a Singaporean couple emerged from the airport and agreed to travel together so we could split the cost.
We took an open air tuk tuk to Inle Lake. Oh my goodness. This was a scary, bumpy, dusty mistake for 20 miles.
Heho airport is rather high in the mountains. And the route to Inle Lake, or more specifically the small town of Nyaung Shwe, was a mountainous journey. I must mention, that I am not generally very good with heights. But worse with mountain roads and driving. Panic attack central.
Still, I managed the journey, and as we reached the plains I gazed out in awe of our surroundings. Local people waved. I felt good about this place.
There was a long thin track down to Nyaung Shwe. Either side we wide rice paddies, with water buffalo hiding in the shade. Occasionally I would see men pass by on bicycles. On young children walking with their friends. Women walking in pairs. The sun was midway towards the horizon. Somehow it was heading towards 5 o’clock, and we had nowhere to stay yet.
The entrance to Nyaung Shwe has a large set of gates and a ticket office. All tourists must pay a few dollars for entry to the town.
We passed through the gates and the driver took us to the first guesthouse I had circled in my Lonely Planet. They were full. We drove on to the next guesthouse. They were also full. This carried on for several guesthouses, and all of them were full for the night. There really was no room at the Inn. The sun was starting to get low in the sky and I was getting a little worried. What if we had nowhere to stay?
We visited a guesthouse situated on the river that feeds into Inle Lake. The room was nice enough and there was a balcony onto the river. But as it was dusk we noticed the giant legion of mosquitoes descending on the area. There is rustic charm and then there is being eaten alive by mozzies. As someone with particularly tasty blood to insects (I get carpeted in bites when I travel) I was a little apprehensive about this place.
Our tuk tuk driver offered to take us to a place no listed in our travel guide. Of course we were slightly suspicious, but went along with it anyway eager to escape the mozzie-doom.
We pulled up outside a plain but clean looking brick building further back from the river. Immediately one of the staff came out to greet us and walked us inside. They had room at this inn! Hoorah! We discussed rates, asked to see the room and immediately agreed to stay. They place was so clean, and spacious. When we came back downstairs to fill out the tourist form (all tourists must fill out these forms at every place they stay) there was a table laid out with hot tea and fresh fruit. Just for us, as a welcome. The owner was unbelievably friendly. They told us to sit down and relax and enjoy the tea. We could worry about the forms after. Wow! This was a lovely welcome.
My travel companion and I sat down to drink tea and several members of staff came to talk to us. I think they were especially pleased that we were English, and proceeded to discuss football with us. One of them liked Man United, the other like Liverpool.
And so, a warm friendly welcome was found at Nyaung Shwe, the town on the edge of Inle Lake. I showered as soon as I got the keys, grabbed my notebook and camera and sat on the balcony as the sun set. I had a feeling I was going to like this place.
Next time on Travel in Burma: I embark on a trip around Inle Lake, meeting the wonderful and interesting communities living there and discovering their incredible crafts.