Generally the words Myanmar and wifi do not co-exist together. Even with a 3G ready Burmese Sim card the only place you are likely to get decent wifi is Yangon and maybe Mandalay, and when I say decent I don’t really mean that, it will still drop all the time and run slower than a 2 legged dog.
But, as often happens when you travel, when you least expect it, lovely surprises can come out of the blue and it came in the form of wonderfully fast and stable internet connection paired with a gloriously tasting peanut and sesame brownie.
We randomly decided to treat ourselves to a ‘smoothie that won’t make us sick’ in a posh looking hotel called ‘ViewPoint Lodge’ over looking the bridge at Nyaung Shwe. There was genuine laughter as we asked for the free wifi password, not ever expecting it to connect as usual. Then a magical moment… it connected (hooray!) and I was inundated with Whatsapp and Facebook and email messages and Sky news reports. We didn’t want to risk watching a YouTube video but it was certainly fast enough for 2 appliances to be using it and be researching standard webpages with images.
The Viewpoint Lodge hotel has the best wifi that I found in the whole of Myanmar to date, so if you are desperate to catch up with the outside world and are in the area, go have an over-expensive smoothie (which for the record did not make either of us sick), and have a surf.
Apart from the expensive restaurant, ViewPoint Lodge hotel/restaurant also has a lovely chill out/roof top area with great views across the bridge and of the boatmen tending to their boats. It also can boast maybe the best public toilet I have come across in South East Asia (except for the one with heated seats in the Bangkok Centre Point Hotel). These toilets even had individual fluffy hand towels for drying your hands, luxury!
View toward Nyaung Shwe from the Viewpoint Lodge hotel
Fed and wifi’ed up, it was time to go haggling with a boatman for a ‘sunset tour’ on Inle Lake.
Time to get ripped off, twice!
We knew exactly how much it should cost for a sunset tour of the Lake, about 6000Kyat for the whole boat, and somehow, we got it! Hardly any haggling necessary! We strolled down to where there were quite a few boats parked, asked the first guy we saw if he would take us to one floating village plus to see the sunset for 6000kyat, he agreed, took our money, ushered us onto a boat where a driver gave us a smile and off we went!
Fake Fishermen on Inle Lake
Down the canal that leads from Nyaung Shwe onto the main lake. The mouth of the canal is the well-known spot for the fake fishermen to hand around. They grab you as you enter the lake, fooling you into a picture with them as they are the first ‘fishermen’ you see. DON’T TAKE A PHOTO! or even look interested in taking a photo. I say with sadness that I made that mistake. I should have known better, on the boat tour the day before we had all been warned and even in a bookshop in the main town I was told about these guys that dress up to look like the fishermen. They even carry a dead fish around with them all day to use as a prop. The best way to tell now if a fisherman is really a fisherman rather than an actor is if he isn’t wearing the traditional clothing of orange flared trousers. Also the real fishermen will not come right up to you and ask if you want a photo, those days are long gone. They aren’t curious of visitors anymore, mostly bored of them and want to just mind their own business and fish in peace.
Fake fisherman : Orange trousers and girl in boat
Real fisherman : still rows with one leg
Back to the story.. The fake fisherman came right up to our boat and even grabbed on to it (our driver did nothing), he had a young girl on his boat who then put her hand out for money, this was before we had even taken a photo! We told our driver ‘no’ and he moved us on quickly as the fisherman impostor shouted something we couldn’t understand before moving onto the next boat of foreigners.
After passing through the sea of fake fishermen we reached a quiet spot on the lake where the fisherman pulled up and stopped the boat in what seemed to be a floating bush. Lovely and serene, but after 5 minutes, we wondered why we were still just sat in a bush?
‘Sunset’ said the driver, pointing at the sun. Yes, sunset, we replied, but also floating village?
‘No’ replied the driver. What followed was a heated exchange between myself and the boat driver who refused to take us any further down the lake despite us having paid the extra to do just that. It went back and forth, with not much I could do being stuck on a boat in the middle of the lake, the exchange culminated in him calling the man we had made the initial deal with at the boat parking station, shouting down the phone, slamming down the phone and then huffily driving down to the floating village.
It was worth making a fuss over. The village was pretty, and interesting to see with the villagers going about their business, tending their floating gardens, just being normal. The highlight however was after we left the village, where we saw ‘real’ fishermen doing their thing, rowing with one leg as they cast their nets. They didn’t mind us taking photos and infact pretty much ignored us.
We found a quiet empty spot on the lake, and the sunset was nice, the view was great with the sun setting over the Kalaw mountains, and the lake was peaceful with only the odd boat going by and the sound of our boat driver playing and often losing at Candy Crush on his phone.
Inle Lake Sunset
Inle Lake Sunset
Inle Lake Sunset
As quickly as the sun set, the clouds came in and it started to rain. This was unplanned for! It was a lose lose situation as far as getting back, the quicker the boat went the heavier we got pelted with rain that was now torrential. By the time we got back to Nyaung Shwe we were soaked to the bone and I was freeeeezing! The bus to Bagan was leaving in a couple of hours and we needed to get back to the hotel to change and get our stuff, but the rain was brutal!
We waited under a sheltered area for the rain to stop, it just wouldn’t, and without the time to spare, we asked a bicycle rickshaw that came past how much it would cost to go the 5 minutes up the road to our hotel. Agreeing on 300kyat we sat getting even more wet in the bicycle side-cart, but at least we were getting back faster.
Relieved to be back, we gave the rickshaw driver his 300kyat and couldn’t wait to run inside, except the driver had now changed his mind, it was 3000kyat! So the haggling and heated exchange began AGAIN. Tired, wet, cold, and now with the awful hotel owner having come outside to translate I gave up and just gave the driver the 3000kyat. What an arsehole.
Moral of the story: Take a pen and paper everywhere with you, or even use your phone and write down the number so both you and the person you are dealing with can see it clearly. Although even then it may not work, so just stand your ground and hold on to your principles. Oh and take a jacket with you when you go out on the lake, even if it doesn’t rain, it can get a bit chilly when the wind is up.