Indawagyi Lake was amazing! It’s what I was looking to find in Myanmar, and found it.
Local people living life in a beautiful place.
@ Indawgyi Lake
Jack and I took a truck taxi from Lonton to Hopin, sharing with many local people. There was an older man who had some trouble getting into the vehicle, he was smoking what looked to be a rolled up newspaper. A man working the truck was hanging off the back and told us that he was smoking marijuana. We turned down his kind offer to try some.
A few local woman had tears from their eyes, initially Jack and I had thought it was the smoke that was bothering them. They were smelling limes, hacking and spitting out the side of the truck. It is a winding, uphill and downhill way; throughout the ride it became more likely that the woman in the truck were all experiencing motion sickness.
After arriving in Hopin we booked train tickets to Naba. We found some some coffee and pastries in town. After a few hours of the bumpy ride we arrived in Naba. We were bound for Katha but the train only goes as close as Naba so we had to take a taxi for an additional 45 minutes.
As we were leaving the train station a man asked us if we need a taxi. Katha is a popular destination from the Naba train station. The driver had managed to find many local people looking for a ride, the back of the truck was getting packed. A few of the local guys hopped onto the roof when space was running out. I wanted to ride up top with them so I climbed up. The driver had wanted me to get down but I assured him it wasn’t a problem.
It was a great ride on the roof watching the sunset over the mountains. The truck was swerving around corners and bumping along. It was fun exchanging a few words and laughs with the locals on the roof.
It was dark by the time we got into Katha. Jack and I made our way to a guesthouse and looked to find some information on the boat to Mandalay. We didn’t find much information about the government boat and the alternative ‘fast boat’ is 25,000 kyat ($27 Canadian). We wandered around town for a few hours; had dinner and a few beers at the Riverside Bar right on the Irrawaddy River.
We met some funny local people and had a ton of laughs. Littering seems to be an accepted norm nationwide. Watching the guys working at the restaurant, I was disappointed to see them take the trash off the table and throw it into the river rather than into the trash bin that is 2 meters away. We headed back to the guesthouse and called it an eary night.
After waking up in the morning Jack and I tried to find the price and time of the cheaper government ferry. Again finding any information in regards to this was tough, the woman said her manager was gone so she was unsure whether or not the boat would go the next day. The price for the slow government ferry was about half of the fast boat fare so we tried again later in the day for a thrid time, still unable to determine when the boat would go we just bought tickets for the ‘fast boat’. The guys working in the ticket office were really nice, we were joking and laughing with them for a few minutes. After chatting for a bit we ended up paying 20,000 kyat ($22) for the ferry rather than 25,000 kyat. It is scheduled to leave at 05:00 am.
We spent the afternoon wandering around the town. Not many people visit Katha, tourism doesn’t appear to be very popular here. We walked and saw George Orwell’s house where he lived and wrote the book Burmese Days. It has changed into what looked like a school. The back of the house gave a stunning view onto a body of water with houses all around.
We explored some local markets and chatted with some people. It was a great day, walking in the town seeing first-hand how the people go about life and dealing with the high levels of the Irrawaddy River. We met many smiling people saying ‘mingalaba’ and waving as we walked through different neighbourhoods.
Walking in Katha beside the Irrawaddy river, it quickly becomes obvious that it is like a bloodline for the people. It is used in such a large capacity, tap water is most often used in the western world for similar activities. Throughout the day I passed by the river many times as the guesthouse was located on it. Every single time there were always many people bathing, washing, doing laundry [and more things] when I walked by the river.
It was an early morning waking up at 04:30 am for the 05:00 am boat ferry. The morning sunrise brought a brilliant sunrise from the boat, the sky was showered with vibrant colours. It was nice to lay out at the front of the boat to catch a bit more sleep.
Irrawaddy River Adventure
Leaving Katha we picked up some more passengers at another port outside of Katha. As we were heading down the river many local people would leave their houses on the mainland and have a small boat take them to the ferry; the big boat would slow down and the boats would be parallel to each other. The man working on the boat would help the person get onto the ferry and assist them bringing their things aboard. This happened frequently throughout the trip, [mostly for ~ 150 kilometres from Katha].
The ride was a smooth journey. Enjoying the views as the sun was shining. The effects of the monsoon were still shocking. Many of the houses that lined the Irrawaddy River were submerged under the river water with only the rooftops visible. When we came within 150 kilometres of Mandalay local people would individually move towards the front of the boat and indicate to the driver where they would be picked up by there family member or boat taxi. It was the reversed procedure as when people were coming onto the boat. Thankfully all the boats picking up people had a motor (except one) so things moved relatively quickly when people were getting off the boat.
Reports have come out that over half a million people in Myanmar have been displaced from the torrential rains and flooding.
It was an amazing journey, arriving around 04:00 pm, taking almost 12 hours. Jack and I both had a great time lounging on the boat watching the local people do as they do. We had packed enough food from Katha to eat well for the whole ride [ & local people came onto the boat selling food at different times of the ride].
Arriving in Mandalay we were offered a few taxis. The man wanted 10,000 kyat to drive us 1.5 kilometres. The price was ridiculous for such a short journey so we walked to the BBQ restaurant we had seen on maps.me. We ate some dinner and had a few cold Myanmar draft beer.
We found a reasonable taxi and headed to Dreamland Guesthouse. A guy we met at Indaw Mahar Guesthouse in Lonton had recommended it. It was a nice place offering music lessons and had many instruments free for guests to use. I played some guitar and ukulele throughout my stay there.
The two nights I spent in Mandalay went by quickly. Wandering around the city and trying different foods, I was feeling tired from all of the transit and travel. I was due for a few days of relaxation and wasn’t feeling too motivated to see more temples.
Hanging out and visiting the local markets was how I spent my last few days. Jack and I went out one night finding the only nightclub in town named Pioneer [same name as the nightclub in Yangon]. We were disappointed to find that entry for a foreigner required buying a bottle of alcohol. The cheapest on the menu was 65,000 kyat ($70 Canadian) while locals could get entry for 5,000 kyat ($5 Canadian). It is entirely unfair so we just went back to the guesthouse and had a few drinks with some friends.
I have spent almost a month in Myanmar and loved everyday, sometime in the future I would like to return to visit the coast (during the dry season) and parts of the country that aren’t yet open to tourism. I left Dreamland Hostel and took a shared taxi with two other people for a total of 10,000 kyat.
Flying out of Mandalay bound for Bangkok, Thailand. I will figure out where my journey will take me next once I get there.
After the boat ride over Inle Lake we arrived in Nyaung Shwe, I hopped off the boat and headed towards Princess Hotel. Ever Smile trekking brought the groups excess luggage there so I picked up my ukulele and things I didn’t want to carry on the hike. I made my way to Sounds of Music hostel. It was a great spot with clean showers, strong air conditioning and a nice rooftop. I was due for a rest and good shower after the hike. When I arrived there was a sign at the hostel for a winery tour in a few hours.
Nyaung Shwe is in a gorgeous spot sitting alongside Inle Lake. Almost everyone visits at some point when traveling through Myanmar. Local and western foods are readily available, many of which taste great. Some local foods can be found at a reasonable price but most food is priced much higher than the average in Myanmar. It is a city that attracts many foreigners and tourists so it is common to see foreigners walking in the streets of town.
I spent the afternoon taking a bike ride out to the winery with some people from the hostel. It wasn’t really a tour of the winery, more of a wine taste testing. I ran into some of my friends from the Bagan Biker Gang (who I saw in Kalaw and explored some temples with previously in Bagan). We sat, laughed and chatted while watching the sunset over Nyaung Shwe, the valley and Inle Lake. It was a beautiful night.
The group of us met up for dinner afterwards and then brought the party down to Chillax, a local bar just a minute up the road. There was a local band playing some great music. After a few drinks I ended up playing a few songs on the guitar and ukulele. It was a great night with live music at the bar (& staying open until 0100 am which is very late for Myanmar standards), and finished the night with a smooth bicycle ride back to the hostel.
I sent a message to my English friend Jack [who I met on the train from Yangon to Bagan] and we met up at French Touch Cafe. Very nice but expensive. I explained to him my plans to go to Myitkyina, the most northerly part of Myanmar that can be visited without a permit. He was all in for the plans to see another part of Myanmar and leave the tourist towns behind. We both has plenty of time with our visas so that shouldn’t be an issue.
I have loved my time in Myanmar so far. Yangon was great, the temples in Bagan were breathtaking, the hike from Kalaw to Inle lake was phenomenal and the people have been great. I came to this country seeking my own adventure off the tourist trail, so I am going out to find it.
We picked up tickets for the overnight bus to Mandalay that night. Uncertain of when the train would leave Mandalay for Myitkyina it was best to arrive early. After a quick lunch and packing up my things I sat on the rooftop enjoying the evening breeze. I could start feeling a buzz of anticipation with the thought of heading into some areas of Myanmar that are much less traveled .
Jack met at Song of Travel hostel and a bus picked us up at 0630 pm. It was a VIP bus that cost 15,000 kyat, we arrived in Mandalay around 0400 am. I had finally fallen asleep on the bus and I then I was awoken. “Mandalay, MANDALAY! Anyone else need to get off in Mandalay?! Next stop Pyin Oo Lwin!” I woke up drowsy hearing this man yelling that it was my stop to get off. Being partially startled and half asleep I rushed to quickly gather my luggage and my bag from the compartment under the bus.
Jack and I took a taxi directly to the train station unsure of the train schedule as it is often not up to date online. There was a train scheduled Mandalay to Myitkina at 0515 am, the timing was great but there are no sleeper beds on the 0515 am train. There was no benefit to waiting around half the day for the 0130 pm sleeper so we booked tickets on the 24 hour long train for 12,500 kyat in first class seats. The seats reclined and had cushion that were generously padded for Myanmar standards.
Shit! I exclaimed out loud only now realizing that I left my ukulele on the upper storage compartment of the bus. It was well on its way to Hsipaw and I was about to get on a train heading more than 700 kilometers north of Mandalay. Not much I could do about it so there was no need to worry about it. Jack and I went to an ATM and had a coffee before heading back to the train station for the long ride ahead.
The train ride was similar to the ride from Yangon to Bagan. Bumping and buzzing, swinging back and forth, just seeming to avoid derailment. The seats were padded but after a certain number of hours riding and banging around in the seat it was exhausting.
The monsoon seems to be in full effect in the north, massive flooding is noticed everywhere I look out the train window. Rice fields looking like big lakes, massive bodies of water moving through fields, houses underwater and roads flooded; I could barely believe my eyes. Unfortunately because of the flooding of the train tracks we were delayed 4.5 additional hours. A kind policeman came around and gave us an update after waiting for 2 hours.
The train finally started moving again so Jack went to another carriage to find a couple open seats to sleep on. Within ten minutes we stopped at another station. A local woman came on the train selling food so I bought some leches and deep fried tofu to try. I thought I’d be nice and offer Jack some but he was completely asleep by the time I found where he was sitting. He did mention that he loves trains and took the trans-Siberian-Mongolian train; looks like he had done the impossible and became conditioned to riding the train in Myanmar. I only managed a few minutes of sleep at a time throughout the ride, smashing my head on the window or arm rest anytime I seemed to find a good spot.
The train had no air conditioner and the windows were all open. Many bugs, Mosquitos and insects were flying inside of the carriage. Throughout the ride I couldn’t believe my eyes seeing all of the flooding in the north. The people, community, environment and economy must be gravely impacted from the flooding brought on by the monsoon.
This was one of the longest journeys I have taken to date. The train was scheduled to arrive at 0515 am a full 24 hours after leaving Mandalay. Arriving in Myitkyina around 0945 am because of the delay we were in transit for nearly 40 hours since leaving Nyaung Shwe two days prior.
The accommodation options were scarce inb Myitkyina. We stayed at the YMCA as it was one of the only places that was allowed to provide accommodation for foreigners. It cost $10 USD/ night for a pretty run-down building.
After dropping off our things we went for a wander on the town. I was surprised we weren’t the only ones having a beer at the Riverside Bar at 1000 am, there were quite a few locals having a morning pint. The restaurant is set on the Irrawaddy River, it flows all the way from the north to the south of Myanmar. It is the biggest river within the country, used for many commercial purposes, bathing, washing, laundry, drinking; just about everything you can imagine.
The afternoon continued to drizzle rain so we decided to get massages; the lady working the reception at the YMCA recommended a ‘blind massage’ parlour. It took a while to find the place in the rain but was worth it. We each got a massage by a blind person for 6000 kyat. The place was full of customers, blind massage therapists and the other people working to keep the business flowing. The massage was well done, more of a muscular massage than traditional Burmese massage. It was really nice to see the business doing well and providing opportunies for the blind to work.
The people in Myitkina were kind and friendly with us. While Jack and I walked down the street the local people kept about doing their daily business. Many waved and some girls would giggle as my long haired English friend Jack and me with my burly beard walked by. We didn’t find much in Myitkina but the smiles we received when walking around the market and local areas were priceless.
As the rain continued throughout the day Jack and I decided we would move on the following day as it rains less frequently a bit more south. We picked up some tickets from the train station. Despite a long time in transit; the trip north has been beyond my expectations and rewarding. It is challenging to describe the people, the cues and the cultural differences but they were certainly apparent compared the people in the south.
Eating dinner at the restaurant next door to the YMCA we met an interesting English guy named Henry. He had spent the past year in Turkey for school and has hitchhiked around many parts of Europe and Asia. Currently hitching around Myanmar he had many stories about troubles and unique experiences along his way from sleeping in the temples in Bagan to drinking whiskey with the police on the train. He was also staying at the YMCA and decided to head to Hopin on the train in the morning with Jack and I.
We stopped in at the bakery for the second time in two days on the way to the train station. I had some Indian pizza and cookies. Definitely the best baked goods I have had since the Kalaw bakery.
Arriving at the train station at 0810 am for our 0820 am train we ran into Henry. Heavy rains, flooding and other problems have caused a delay. In no rush with no idea when the train was coming I took out my chinloo ball and we kicked it around playing keep-up for a while. The locals seemed amused as a larger crowd gathered around us curious to see whether we could keep the ball in the air. Eventually someone came over to us and signaled that the train was coming shortly, we finally left the station at 0945 am.
We found our way to our seats and spent about 4.5 hours on the train arriving in Hopin around 0230 pm. Riding first class we had a thick cushion for our ass. Henry was in ordinary class with wooden seats and no cushion. He joined us for most of the ride and no one was bothered.
Windows fully open, travelling slow, it was easy to take in and enjoy the landscapes of rice fields and communities. The train is bumpy but it provides an amazing local perspective of the people. The three of us guys were the only foreigners on the train. I’ve loved the train travel and wouldn’t trade any of my rides for busses ride or flights.
The train pulled into the train station at Hopin and as we walked off a few local people came to us and asked where we were heading. After stating that we were going to Lonton on Indwagyi Lake we were quoted 5,000 kyat for the ride to town. We were able to bargain the price down to 4,000 kyat but the truck taxi wouldn’t go down any further. Henry decided that he would save the money and hitchhike to town, it was mid-afternoon and the journey was about 45 minutes driving so it was a curious decision because a walk to town wouldn’t be do-able by dark and the sky was filled with dark clouds.
We sat on the top of the back of the truck and drove off. Thinking that we were headed straight to Lonton we took a left hand turn into a subdivision and the two men from the truck signaled us to stay in the back. We sat and waited for 30 minutes unsure of what the guys were doing, they eventually returned. They went back to the house and brought out loads of things filling up the back of the truck. Finally we were on the move again and turned down another street, and then took a left hand turn into the police station. We were getting a bit anxious riding in the top of the truck. The guys spoke with the police, they wanted to see our passports and asked a few questions. It didn’t take long and then we were back on our way.
The road was winding left and right, up and down. It started to rain, and then it started to pour, getting soaked riding on the roof there was nothing to do but laugh and enjoy the ride. We stopped before heading up a portion of the road that went up a massive hill, the guy driving and his assistant poured water on the engine trying to cool it down. Getting closer to Lonton we made two additional stops in different towns making deliveries that the guys had loaded up.
The rain had eased up, Jack and I were enjoying the adventure the ride was bringing. All of a sudden…
Tsssss, psssssh, crack, thud!! “Uh oh, that didn’t sound good”, I said as I looked over to Jack. An older man had tried to pass the truck with his motorbike on the road and got taken out by the truck we were driving. To give some context; the whole width of the road is about the same as one lane by Canadian standards. People don’t usually pass unless they honk their horn a few times. People in Myanmar drive on the right side of the road and the drivers seat in on the right hand side of the vehicle so everyone has a big blind spot.
It wasn’t a good scene, though we couldn’t see much, our driver and the driver of the motorbike were yelling. Things were heating up quickly between the two of them, soon they were yelling. I was bending in an awkward position trying to see the scene unfold but couldn’t see much and didn’t see a purpose in getting out of the truck. It turned into a full-on fist fight between the two men. The driver of the motorbike ended up with a bloody nose and a broken up motorbike. For Jack and I the worst part of the incident may have been all of the local people driving past the truck waving excitedly seeing two white men travelling on the roof of a truck in an area they don’t usually see, then us waving back… and then driving past the vehicle and seeing that there was a collision on the other side.
It was all sorted out, well sort of anyways and we again started to drive. The man driving turned around and signaled to us that the guy driving the motorbike was crazy. Jack and I both agreed with the driver that it must have been the crazy guy on the motorbike’s fault. We kept driving along and must have seen three or four different people fixing their motorbikes on the side of the road. In this part of Myanmar we were getting the ‘double look’ from many people. Riding on the roof we would be passing a guy working on his motorbike he would look up casually to see who is passing by, turn back to keep fixing his bike, and then again turn back and stare at the two of us sitting atop the truck.
When we arrived in Lonton there was a policeman signaling the truck to pull over to the side of the road. Uh oh, the man from the motorbike accident must had called and reported the issue to the police. The police officer had taken the two men from the front of the truck to the station and I mentioned to him that I need to go to the washroom. His answer wasn’t clear on what I should do about it but they went up to the station. Jack and I quickly hopped out of the back of the truck and headed by foot into town, we couldn’t see the incident and the accident had nothing to do with us anyway. Lonton is a very small rural village so it was only a couple minutes walk.
As we walked in town we saw someone walking towards us. No way, yes way, it was Henry. He managed to beat us into town getting a few rides and hitchhiking right into Lonton shortly after he started walking from Hopin. We spoke with him for a few minutes and we saw the policeman drive his motorbike into town and then back out passing us two times.
Indawgyi lake is the biggest lake in Myanmar and one of the biggest in Southeast Asia. No one talks much about it, I read a lonely planet guide from a few years prior and it didn’t even mention the lake. Lonton is the only town that foreigners are allowed to stay in on Indawgyi Lake. Within this town the only place to stay was Indaw Mahar Guesthouse. As we walked in we met the owner who was a friendly man but didn’t speak much english. The first thing he did was walk us to the back of the guesthouse and open the balcony doors, he had a big smile on his face, we looked out and so did we. It was beautiful, sitting right on the lake with a 180 degree view, it could not have been any better. It was Jack and I, and only four other people staying in the guesthouse (the few of us were the only ones staying in Lonton and on the lake). This environment provided a very local and peaceful atmosphere.
I loved this place, it is stunning visually and culturally. It is a good place to hang out, and do some activities. Renting bicycles are available to ride through the local villages around the lake. I spent a couple days hanging out, swimming in the lake. I brought my chinloo ball out and played on the road for a few hours a couple different days. A couple local guys came out and joined in with us, we were able to keep the caneball up more than 50 times. It was a ton of fun.
There are only a few restaurant options in Lonton, four of which seemed to be the places to eat. It was very well priced simple local food that tasted great. There isn’t much of a party culture in Myanmar, non-existent in this town. Despite this the whiskey is readily available for a very cheap price. On a rainy day, Jack and I went to the restuarant and had some lunch along with a bottle of whiskey, we sat and relaxed having a fun afternoon getting tipsy with another English friend we had met. With the 26 ounce bottle of whisky available for $2.50 Canadian it barely had an impact on my budget. We went back to the guesthouse and met up with a few other friends and spent the afternoon on the patio overlooking the lake. Watching the fisherman and local people passing by in boats, having a few more drinks. We all made our way down to the restaurant and bought a few more bottles of whisky. The night was a ton of fun, we played some games and somehow ended up in the lake just off the balcony. After travelling together for so long Jack and I were due for a good drinking night.
On an overcast day we rented some kayaks and went over to Shwe Myitzu Pagoda, it is a floating pagoda sitting atop of the water. Because the walking path to the pagoda was flooded people coming from the mainland required a boat. The kayaking took us longer than expected, the lake is massive but it was great to see the pagoda. We decided that we would head to Hepu, a small town on the other side of the lake. It was indicated to have a ‘Bakery and Treats’ in the town so we spent a while paddling over. Unsure of where the town was exactly located we headed towards the area that looked the closest to the map. We seemed to paddling forever and not getting any closer to the land. Hunger was starting to catch up with us, our hopes for the bakery in the village grew as we neared. A man was fishing from his boat and signaled to us where the trail was to get into the town.
We parked our kayaks and walked through the muddy waters finding our way to the main street of town. As we walked down the dirt road it was an amazing experience, the kids from the houses ran towards the road waving and yelling ‘mingalaba’ and laughing as we walked through the town. The older people in the town also waved as we walked by, it was obvious that very few foreigners make it into this town.
We were having trouble finding the bakery, with no english in the town, nothing noting of a bakery or baked good or even a tea shop. Eventually an old man stopped us and we were able to communicate to him that we were looking for tea and something to eat. He signaled us to follow him across the street and then stopped halfway across. He seemed to have changed his mind and again signaled us to follow him towards his shop/house. We walked through the front shop and through into the back. His whole family appeared to be sitting there chatting. The woman was making dozens and dozens of coconut dumplings. We had a seat, my friend was able to communicate a few simple sentences with the family but most of the communication was non-verbal. Smiling and laughing we had a really nice time with them hanging out. They offered us some tea and fresh coconut dumplings, then offered us more, and again some more dumplings. It was going to be dark soon so we had to leave to kayak back to the other side of the lake. The man and family would not take any money from us for the treats, we shook their hands and said goodbye. Thankfully we were able to make it back with the kayaks just as the sun had set.
After extending our stay twice in Lonton we were due to move on so we organized a truck taxi to drive us the following morning. We had a tasty breakfast, packed our things and got into the back of the truck bound for Hopin.
I heard the night before that the busses are typically late. Despite this; the bus arrived promptly at 0630 am so I was rushing to finish packing my things and had breakfast packed up for me to go. We drove around Bagan for an hour until we had filled every seat on the bus, plus piling in an additional six local woman who were getting a ride to work near the bus stop. I booked the VIP bus at the station and it cost me 11,000 kyat ($12.50 Canadian). The ride took all morning, some of the afternoon and arrived in Kalaw at 01:30 pm.
I walked briefly around town, searching for a place to drop off my bags I ended up getting a room at the Golden Kalaw. It was $10 USD per night so ~12,000 kyat. Pretty expensive for a sub-par private room with no washroom. Tourism is still developing in Myanmar, I have heard from other travelers and read online that accommodation prices are higher in comparison with other parts of Asia.
It rained throughout the afternoon but I explored the city anyhow. I booked a 2 night/3 day tour with Ever Smile Trekking as my friends Hannah and Marina had suggested in Bagan. They had MoMo as their guide and loved him, I was happy to find out he was to be my guide as well. I had some traditional Shan noodles, the typical dish of the Shan state Kalaw resides in. I walked down the street, bought a massive bag of peanuts for the hike and got my hair cut and a moustache trim for 3,000 kyat (~$3.50 Canadian). The barber was a young Nepalese man who seemed to be training under a man from India.
I ran into my friends from Bagan [Bagan Biker Gang] and had a beer to escape the afternoon down pouring of rain. In the evening I had a bite to eat and played some ukulele on the balcony of the hotel. There was a local guy who must have heard me from his house because he started to play his acoustic guitar shortly after I started playing. I sat and listened to him cover different Western and Myanmar music. I played intermittently and he seemed to be listening from the top floor of his neighboring house. Heading to bed early I was hoping for some good weather for the trek starting in the morning.
I awoke in the morning and headed to the bakery after breakfast. I thought it best to bring a few snacks as I was unsure how the food would taste. I regretted not bringing more snacks with me when I hiked Mount Rinjani on Lombok island in Indonesia and I didn’t want to make the same mistake again.
Trekking Kalaw to Inle Lake
On arrival at Ever Smile there was a large group of people around. I was worried that we would have a very large trekking group and we may be stuck with some slow hikers. We were lucky and most people had only booked the 2day/1 night trek. Our group consisted of 6 of us; a young Dutch couple (Jelle and Nadia), me, two girls from Belgium and a girl from France. We are all in our mid-twenties so it was a fun mix of people. Our guide MoMo didn’t take long before he had everyone laughing.
We set off from Kalaw on foot shortly after introductions and having our luggage we weren’t carrying loaded onto a truck that would bring it to Nyaung Shwe. It has rained heavily through the night but had eased off by morning. The hazy sky lingered but no rain was falling.
We walked for hours through more rice fields than I could count. Passing by army men working in some fields and local people planting, picking and working the fields. Men using ox to pull plows aerating the land. The water was deep in many areas passing over sticks and bridges, thankfully no one fell in.
We made it to the lunch spot and had a gorgeous view-point. Seeing the valleys and fields all around, all of the land has a purpose here and is worked meticulously. I had eaten through all of the candies I bought at the bakery by lunch time on day one. I was relieved to see the delicious lunch made up of Indian chappatis, vegetables, soup and tea. Seconds were served liberally and everyone enjoyed the meal.
In the afternoon we climbed to 1500 meters, the highest peak we would reach throughout the trek. The viewpoint didn’t rival that of the lunch spot because the clouds and rain had made the sky hazy ruining the visibility. We passed a local tribe group, one lady was drying out tea and there were some children studying to be monks at the monastery. I asked a few of the children if they would mind being in a photo with me, they all ran away except for one who agreed to a photo. It was funny, MoMo told me that they didn’t agree to the photo because they didn’t understand what I was asking.
Moving along we trekked through thick mud, slipping and sliding along. It was thick and made suction sounds as we stepped through. We walked along some train tracks for an hour and saw many local people about doing their usual work. Stopping for tea it was a relief to hear we were almost at the local families house we would stay at for the night.
I learned so much about Myanmar on this day, MoMo would answer any question or query we had about the country. Everything from marriage to religion, history of the country, the past and current political state. It was enlightening to learn so much; my understanding of Myanmar developed a great deal throughout the day. There weren’t many moments of silence walking along as MoMo offered stories and stories. The group of us seemed to spend much of the first day chatting or laughing.
We made it to the house and MoMo and I played some chinloo. A traditional sport game in Myanmar, I bought a wicker ball in Bagan with the hopes to play it with friends and locals along my travels. He showed me a few new tricks to work on and then we ate dinner. After a tasty dinner we played a few games of ’31.’ I taught most of the group how to play because I have played it many times in Canada. We slept on thin mattresses on the upper level of the house. It was comfortable enough to get some rest. It rained heavily throughout the night, luckily there were no holes in the roof.
It was an early morning waking up at 0625 am for breakfast at 0630 am. We all packed our things and were again trekking by about 0800 am. We walked for about an hour and fifteen minutes and made it to a main street where four more members were dropped off to join our group. A girl from Argentina, an older man from Germany and two Americans Nikki and Evan. Everyone was in good spirits and the rain had held off again until this point today. The newcomers to the group had signed up for the two day/ one night trek.
It was a great day of hiking, mud just below the ankles, slipping and sliding trying to keep balance. Everyone in the group made it through without any major wipeouts. We spent the day passing ginger fields, rice fields, having simple chats with local people and local tribes that we passed on the way.
We made it to a gorgeous lookout point. It looked as though we may be trapped through the mountains. As we sat there and took a break, a group of local woman who looked to have worked a full day in the rice fields passed by. They were smiling and joking, I was snacking on the peanuts I brought so I hopped to my feet and offered them some. They graciously accepted so filled each of their hands with peanuts. The bag of peanuts I bought in the market in Kalaw still seemed full.
MoMo showed us the trail that passed through the mountains. As we were walking Evan had a speaker attacked to his backpack, a young woman and her daughter passed by and were surprised at the sounds coming from his bag. We were then following a group of local woman who seemed both amused and amazed by his speaker playing some catchy electronic music – specifically Caribou – Can’t Do Without You. The rest of the hike was fairly flat before we arrived at our final destination for the day. It was a small area with a few cabins. We sat around a table, having a few beer to drink and laughing about stories from the day. The group got along really well together and the hike was beautiful.
All of the food on the hike was great, the last dinner was definitely one of my favourites. It including rice, chicken, many vegetables and even some fresh-cut up potatoes; making for some delicious fries. Momo brought out a guitar and played some local songs after dinner. It was hard to believe how many Myanmar songs have the same melodies copied from western songs just with different words. Momo sang us Shaggy’s ‘It Wasn’t Me.’ He explained the words afterwards and it turned out the song was a love song about a guy romantically with a girl. We then explained to him the original lyrics and he was shocked. I pitched in and played a few songs on the guitar. Afterwards we sat around chatting for a few hours before heading to bed.
We slept on thin mattresses (similar to the previous night) in a raised cabin shared by the group. With no leaks in the roof everyone seemed to sleep well after the previous long day of hiking.
‘Bzzzzz’ ‘bzzzzzz‘ ‘bzzzzzzz’ bzzzzz‘What the fuck? I thought to myself as was awaken by my phone vibrating in the early morning around 0430 am. It wasn’t good news, I was half asleep reading that my brother was not happy about my cat Dewy still living with him. Followed up with him telling me that I had to get him out of his house or he was destined for the animal shelter. I was trying to sort out who I could possibly house Dewy with; firing off messages to whomever I thought may be able to take him in until 0530 am. The worries drifted off and I passed out again but missed the wakeup at 0630 am. I didn’t make it out of bed until MoMo nudged me and told me it was 0800 am and breakfast was served on the table. Despite this, I still ate and packed my things quickly (as I have become accustomed to doing) and was not the last one ready to head out on the hike around 0840 am.
The last day of trekking still had clouds lingering but the sun was shining for a while. We passed through beautiful landscapes and rice fields. The time went by quickly chatting with other group members; we had all become friends sharing stories of our travels and daily lives back home. MoMo had mentioned that it was lucky that we were doing the trek in the monsoon/off-season because during high season it can be difficult to get space away from other trekking groups.
We made it to the town outside of Inle Lake and stopped for our last lunch. We had a group photo and then we took boats on Inle Lake that brought us to the town Nyaung Shwe on the other side of Inle Lake. The boat ride lasted 45 minutes, we passed some of the Burma’s balancing fisherman. It is magical how they are able to stand on one leg, wrap the paddle with the other leg and propel the boat; while fishing for carp.
[For any curious cat lovers; my cat Dewy is currently under the care of my Dad but he travels frequently for work which makes taking care of him a challenge. If anyone is looking to adopt or take care of my fun cat Dewy until April 2017 please send me a message.]