Yangon was a rather sad start to our trip, and we were beginning to wish we had listened to some of our friends who said what the hell were we thinking of, going to Myanmar. However things pick up considerably from here, and we have what turns out to be a fascinating trip. The country is almost entirely devoid of tourists and we often feel we are the only two in town!
We stay in some wonderful hotels which are virtually deserted, we eat in upscale restaurants often without other diners, we visit wonderful sites and have them to ourselves, we take a river cruise on a ship designed to carry 48 people and find just two other people on board. It is a poignant comment on the tyranny of the Burmese government. The Burmese people live with an underlying current of unbelievable political repression, but somehow, while they suffer horrendous hardships, they still keep smiling. They are a wonderful and graceful people and they welcome us everywhere we go.
From Yangon, we fly to Heho, a name that seems destined to be turned into a joke. But all thoughts of humour are thrown out of the window by a rather stern looking woman who meets us at the airport, and tells us that her name is Rosa. We try hard not to think of Rosa Klebb, from an early James Bond movie. She is to be our guide for the next four days, an altogether daunting thought. She is the complete antithesis to Paris.
We offer her what we hope is a winning smile, and settle into what proves to be a very interesting few days.
We drive to Inle Lake , which is to be our destination for the next three nights. Inle Lake is a large and very beautiful lake that is not always on the main tourist route. It is an hour’s drive from Heho. Rosa soon warms up and we discover she is a fascinating and intelligent woman who is completely open in her discussion of, and disgust for, the current regime. She starts by telling us that part of the road we will be driving on is in excellent condition, and part of the road is very poor. She also explains that part of the road is privately owned, while part of the road is owned by the government. When Gordon surmises that the good road is the government road, she laughs derisively, and tells him he is wrong. In fact the first part of the road is privately owned and is a two lane road in good condition. Just as the road deteriorates into a single uneven lane full of potholes and no sidewalk, we are stopped and have to pay a toll to travel any further. It is amazing what payment of a few dollars to the government can fail to do.