Ready for some Trekking
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.]