Night bus from Hpa An to Kalaw is definitely an experience. It arrives 90 minutes late and takes about 3 hours more than scheduled. But they serve refreshments (dodgy-looking doughnuts with bright pink icing that would make Homer Simpson climax). At some point in the middle of the night the bus stops and all the locals disappear, while all the tourists are told to stay. Nothing is happening for a while, so I step out to check whats going on, and see the crew loading all the luggage on a tuk tuk. I make a minor fuss about it, unnecessary it turns out, but thoroughly comprehensible (imagine you see people who you don’t understand loading all your belongings and taking it away into the night). Basically: we are too heavy to be allowed through a toll gate, so they tell to all the locals to walk through it, and they unload all the luggage and carry it around on pick-ups. But as explaining this is way above the crews’ language skills, they prefer to keep the foreigners on the bus hoping the entire operation goes unnoticed. Not because they have any foul intention, but because they don’t know how to tell us. Obviously, when this exercise is over, we are still dangerously heavy for the road, but we avoided the toll.
We arrive to Kalaw, which could be a village somewhere in Austria (including a church and a cooler climate compared to Hpa An), in mid morning. Olga and Robin go to sleep hoping their stomach bug goes away and they renounce on trekking. They are excused on medical ground, but in my opinion, no one visiting Myanmar should miss the trekking, as it was by far the best and most rewarding experience in the country.
November 15 – 17
I booked my hike with Jungle King – 3 days 2 nights for 38.000 kyatts (an equivalent of 23 euro) all included (guide, food, and a boat ride across lake Inle at the end of the trek). We are a group of 8: me, a girl from the Netherlands, two Italian guys, two Canadians and a french couple, and we are very well matched. Everyone is nice and has something interesting to share with the group. In fact when we meet other tourists along the trek, we are the only group who stays out and chats until late at night. We have a great guide whose name sounds like Sew, or something similar, as no one is able to pronounce it to Sew’s satisfaction. He’s born just a few villages away, speaks very good english, and explains a lot of things during the trek: local habits, system of agriculture, legends, he shows us medicinal herbs and wild ginger and some plant that can be used as natural bubble blower. He knows every bit of the area, and even though Jungle King advertises that they use less touristic paths, I suspect that Sew improvises about which way he feels like going. It is not a difficult trek, but it is quite long (about 25 km a day) and except for the first day when the weather is miserable and we hike knee-high in red mud, it is also rather hot. The scenery is beautiful. We walk through fields of paddy rice, chillies, peanuts and ginger, sometimes literally through people’s back yards (but Sew knows everybody and no one seems to mind the intrusion). And the food is extraordinary. Curries prepared from freshly picked vegetables, wonderful salads spiced with wild mustard seeds, pickled tea leafs and crushed peanuts, fresh avocado and pancakes with local honey for breakfast. We spend the first night in the house of a local family – there is a buffalo sleeping downstairs that keeps farting for the entire night, thus maintaining the rural atmosphere. We sleep in a monastery on the second night. We arrive to the shores of Inle Lake from the southwestern side, and are taken to the village (on the northern point of the lake) by little boats after lunchtime, which is a nice touch. It is also all you really need to see from the life on the lake (don’t bother with additional day trip around the lake).