The challenge was to trek from Kalaw to Lake Inle – a 60 kilometer distance – over three days. The guide books and websites say this is an easy walk – 4 or 5 hours a day – through picturesque landscapes and colorful villages. Photo ops!! The descriptions were all true—except for the hours!!!
After a solid breakfast, our Burmese guide Thêt introduced us to our trek guide Mr. Hti, and the 4 of us set off in a cloud of mosquito spray. Kalaw is a former colonial hill station – with a mixed population. Roads are narrow with oxcarts, Chinese trucks, motorcycles, Japanese cars all zipping around. Traffic drives on the right, but most cars have steering wheels on the right… Military vehicles move fast, and have the right of way – and this woman moved over a little too much to avoid one. Our guides helped her get her front wheel out of the ditch, and we walked on.
Many houses from the colonial period remain… the British preferred to spend the hot summer season here in the cooler mountain region.
This colonial era house was occupied by the Japanese during WW2. Our guide Thêt detected hostile ghosts here, and refused to approach.
Kalaw train station, on the line from Yangon to Mandaly. Switching is done manually.
Along the path, we see many of these water stations. Earthenware jugs, with lids, that always contain fresh water for travelers.
Onward! Heading east.
Discussions and cultural exchanges with the guides along the way – life stories, experiences etc.
The guides consulted their cell phones regularly, and Thêt’s ring tone was Don MacClean’s song Starry, Starry Night. Coudn’t get that tune out of our heads all day….
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze, Swirling clouds in violet haze,
Colors changing hue, morning field of amber grain
You never know what will come around the corner ahead…..
Always an opportunity to take a selfie with a new friend.
Around noon, we came to a one-room school. The children were seated in circles on the floor eating their lunches. No adults were around.
The blackboard listed some English verbs: Running, walking, cutting etc. The kids repeated them after me and this made them laugh a lot!
At the entrance to villages, there is often a water station under a huge banyan tree (sort of ficus). Houses are constructed of woven bamboo panels – often with no windows, and just one door. This keeps the sun out of the interior, so the house is cooler. Corrugated metal roof – or thatch.
Solar panel on one pole, and TV antenna on another. This corner store has everything you need!
The village houses are made of bamboo, but the monasteries are more solidly constructed – and we saw many, many monasteries being built. People generously donate money or their time to earn merit – useful for future re-incarnations. These women were mixing concrete for bricks – the names of other donors were listed on the walls.
As we came to the Taung Gyi Chay village, we noticed a wedding celebration in progress! A small booth had been set up in front of the bride’s house, and friends were gathering the gifts brought by guests.
We added a small contribution too, good luck for the new couple!
At last we came to the lunch stop…we were already running pretty late on our schedule. Mr. Hti prepared our lunch in the local kitchen: a clear soup and fried rice with an egg. Also some fried tofu with a fiery dipping sauce. Myanmar beer! We were HUNGRY!
Mr Hti and Thêt investigate (and document) Annie’s iPhone 6 plus – rare!
So, OK, ready to visit the Buddha grotto in Myin Ma Hti, an underground complex of tunnels and caves, chock full of statues of Buddha.
This is a holy place (as always when Buddhas are present) so no shoes allowed. Green plastic mats are on the floor, preventing slips on the dripping surfaces. There are dozens of buddha statues in the different grotto rooms (also some bats). Our guide Thêt sits us down within a circle of Buddhas for a meditation lesson….
It was pretty late after the grotto visit – about half an hour from sundown – and we still had quite a way to go to get to our overnight destination. Our guides rustled up some young men with small motorcycles that were willing to give us a ride. Let me just say that straddling a moped in a trekking skirt is a challenge – there are videos of this … no further comment.
Just as the sun was setting, we arrived at the village of Lamine where we were to spend the night with a local family.
They served us a delicious meal on a high table between their woven-bamboo kitchen and the two-story house (also made of woven bamboo).
The couple in their 70s had 3 sons and 5 daughters, 4 of which were still living in the village. Their granddaughter was studying to be a teacher, and was happy to try her English on us! The house had just been wired with electricity a few weeks before, so there was a small TV set with 3 Burmese channels.
The “bathroom” facilities were basic, but we slept very well, and the breakfast was wonderful!
Trek day 2 to be continued….