On a sunny Sunday, we decided to take a cruise on a magical Inle Lake. Many consider it the most amazing place in Burma. Others warn that it’s also the most tourist and commercialised place with lots of traps for travellers and tourists.
In order to board the cruise, you have to rent a boat (a private one for 2-5 persons for approx. 20 dollars) with a guide who will show you around Inle and surrounding nooks. The best place to do it is one of the tourist agencies in Nyuang Shwe, a starting point for trips to Inle. That’s what we did. In the tourist office, we emphasise that we don’t want to see all the ‘fake attractions’ such as sewing workshops, little shops and other makeshift attractions that does not have much to do with the reality. ‘No problem, the boat is yours, you decide where you want to go’ they say at the agency. Our guide is also very cooperative. ‘Don’t want to see it? Ok, let’s move on’.
However, despite our cautious approach to attractions ‘tailored for tourists’ and significant experience in the field of travelling and encounters with all sorts of conmen, due to hunger, sun and beautiful landscapes we let our guard down for a moment and get conned, cheated, tricked and almost poisoned during lunch. During lunch time we let our guide choose the place. BIG MISTAKE! We end up in Shwe Yamin restaurant. Looks like everything on Inle – a little house on poles, a banner, plenty of tourists. Red light turns on when we go through the menu – NO PRICES! A classic. Best way to cheat on tourists. Rich tourists who won’t mind a few dollars more. We’re thinking about leaving for a few moments.. But what else can we do? Tell he guy to take us somewhere else? What if all restaurants are the same here? We’re hungry. Maks is hungry. We decide to stay.
This way, we are treated with the worst lunch EVER for the price that would easily buy us a tasty lunch in Warsaw! And we’re in Burma! The only things they did not fuck up was coke and chilli sauce! We pay 20 dollars for this ‘feast’! We leave. Feeling cheated and pissed off. We know that we’ve became victims of a well-known strategy that is still popular in countries where tourism is rapidly developing and everyone wants their share. Cheat, con, lie and take the money Because every tourist is a walking dollar! Let them leave as much money as possible! Whatever they think, satisfied with the service or not. Others will come! Next please!
Our history is quite typical – it’s a good example of cheating on an innocent tourist. There’s many ways to do it and it’s worth learning them so that you won’t become the next victim. Pay attention and remember about it!
– overpriced taxis, tuk tuks and all other means of transport – typical when you reach a place you don’t know. You will believe anything. Taxi drivers in Warsaw and Poznań do it, tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap do it, taxi drivers in India, Burma or wherever else do it too. A foreigner! He doesn’t know a thing about the city! Therefore you can make him believe that a taxi ride from the airport to the city centre in Warsaw costs PLN 50 (what’s 35 Euro for him!), charge twice the price for a taxi ride from the railway station in Poznań (my case, quite recent :/), give prices that are outrageous because the tourist doesn’t know how many bahts do things cost in Bangkok.
How to avoid it? If you don’t know the city, ask airport or railway staff or some locals how much should you pay for a taxi to a specific location. Usually they can at least tell you the average price.
Haggling often comes in handy. The drivers usually give prices which are a few times higher than the usual or at least twice the price. You give them half the price saying ‘It’s not my first time in Bangkok/Yangon/Warsaw‘ – that usually shows the sharpie that you’re a tough enemy.
– the more the merrier – in a shared taxi – a popular strategy among taxi drivers in Burma. You set the price with the taxi driver. He leads you to his car where you see 2-3 other people, also with luggage, also ready to go. You already know that the sharpie wants to charge everybody for one trip. Don’t go. Usually, you will find a new guy quickly, who will happily take you or get reasonable quick enough. Don’t let them make loser of you.
– I know better where you want to go – my favourite type! You mention a restaurant you want to eat in and the guy tells you that it’s closed but he knows a perfect place for you! That’s what happened to us when we were looking for Seafood Market and Restaurant during our first stay in Bangkok and didn’t know the precise address. Tuk tuk driver knew a better restaurant with seafood. Yes, yes, fish, fish. We ended up in a shabby joint by the train tracks with awful food and sky-high prices. How to avoid it? Always tell the driver PRECISE name and address! Don’t let him persuade you that the place is closed and your driver has a better option for you. HE DOES NOT.
–I’ll take you anywhere but first come and visit a shop with me – a normal thing in India. Taxi and rickshaw drivers will take you everywhere but after driving around shops with jewellery, clothes, carpets and marble figures. Marble, marble, beautiful my friend. If you don’t have time, be strict about it. We sometimes take a look at the shops to help the driver make more money. The driver gets his share from the shop owner for bringing ‘dollars’ (us!) to the shop. That’s one of this cons that’s not directly painful (you don’t have to buy anything!), but for a longer run it gets irritating!
– restaurants for tourists that stick to the ‘NEXT!!!’ rule – there’s plenty of them in Poland as well, mainly in tourist locations such as Zakopane or Baltic seaside. In these places, the ‘cheat, steal and spit out’ strategy is still quite popular. Pop thrash, food sold by weight and constantly declining quality of everything on Krupówki street, frozen cods with more batter than fish on Długi Targ street in Gdańsk, French fries fried in old oil and plenty of tricks which I don’t even want to think about cause they make me sick. Greediness, lack of respect or the tourist, traveller or guest. The taste is not important, the impression is not important as long as the money’s right. There will always be others! Regardless of the country. If you find yourself in such place, speak up! Make them pay for it!
– restaurants recommended by the drivers – you already know about those: drivers never give you good recommendations and instead drive you to a place where they have a deal with the owner. If it’s a trip around a country, you can’t do much about it since you usually don’t know much about the neighbourhood. You land in a tourist restaurant where prices are far from proportional to the food quality. Factory-style. Group trips. If you manage to find a place that’s worth visiting (online, on some blog or friends recommend it) tell the driver the precise location.
– white menu – in most countries we consider exotic, we are considered exotic too, and we can’t change the colour of our skin and darken our eyes. Different menus, different prices. A typical move which is hard to fight unless you’re visiting with a local.
– menu with missing prices – convenient – you don’t have to print different menus for locals and tourists. You can also flexibly increase the prices if the client looks particularly wealthy. It’s best not to fight with it – just leave the place. Unless you’re in the middle of the lake – like we were 😉
3) TRIPS BOOKED IN TOURIST AGENCIES
In many places, that’s the only way to see something we’re interested in. You won’t be able to go and see Inle Lake in Burma without the help of the tourist agency, same goes for floating villages on Tonle Sap in Cambodia. It’s going to be hard to organise a trip around Mandalay, since renting a car is pretty expensive. In such cases you are bound to use services of an agency of some kind. Most of them specialise in cheating on tourists! What can you do to stay on top?
– haggle! The price can be lower almost every time!
– ask other tourists or friends who already been there, read comments online – which agencies are good, which are not and how much should it cost? – after yesterday, we strongly discourage you from a ‘trekking’ around Inle Lake 😉
– be strict and say no when someone wants you to see a 30th ‘workshop’ which is just a cover up for a shop willing to pack as many expensive souvenirs into your bag as possible
– find your own places for lunch instead of making use of the ones recommended in the trip agenda
– if it’s a trip around the city or the neighbourhood read the guides, blogs and Internet thoroughly, have your own plan so that you know what you want to see and what to demand from the driver
– different prices for tickets for locals and tourists are something common and same as with different prices in menus, you can’t really fight it. But the smarter ones have one more way to trick you: they sell you two tickets, but give you just one – one ticket for two. As simple as that! The tourist doesn’t know how a ticket should look like. Maybe they have double tickets? Usually not. Usually the guy at the desk takes half of the money with him. Not much of a difference for you, but if you don’t like this kind of tricks, always ask for one ticket for each of you.
Burma is not different than other countries when it comes to all the above-mentioned problems. It’s not a virginal and spotless land that looks like Thailand 50 years ago. It’s the long-awaited paradise, where honest people will welcome you with a smile and hospitality, happy to be the host for an exotic-wanting traveller or tourist. Like everywhere: you’ll find honest and helpful people here, but you will also find conmen and sharpies. Tourism is still in development here and it’s not civilised yet like in Thailand for instance (even though you can get cheated there as well). Therefore in many places in Burma the common strategy is to cheat, get rich and earn as many dollars as a wealthy white tourist can spend.
And it’s not only a problem of countries that are considered poor and developing.It’s the same in tourist areas in Poland and other countries.
We absolutely despise such moves and will never cease to fight them. We will speak and write what to avoid and how to do it. Put restaurants on a black list. It’s the same as with making a list of places worth visiting. A list with places where we got cheated on and lied to can also come in handy. Let the world know!
We won’t let the owners of this devilish joints stand and look at us laughing. We won’t give them this satisfaction. We’re not just another bunch of losers. Let’s warn others and make this joints known for how bad they are. Let’s not tell ourselves that ‘it’s just one lunch, one taxi ride, whatever… PLN 50, 100, 150 is not a fortune, 20 dollars is not a fortune’. Don’t be quiet about it. Even though our advice may be useful to 1, 2 or 3 people.
Let’s not omit the bad things in our reports. The ugly face of tourism. Burma is beautiful and magical, but it also has its flaws. Like any place in the world…
PS. This unpleasant situation didn’t make the trip to Inle Lake any less beautiful. We still recommend it 🙂 We’ll write more about the lake soon!
PS2. If you also met conmen and sharpies on your trips – tell us about what you’ve been through and ideas to avoid this kind of situations! Don’t let them cheat on you! 🙂