Sunday 25th March bus to Kalaw
The bus picked us up at 4am at the hotel in Bagan. We were the first people to board it. It then went all around, hotel after hotel, to pick up all travellers. Great VIP service! We were only tourists in this bus. The funny thing is that it was a real proper local bus, not one of the great tourist bus Burma has.
The ride was quite intense, as it was really hot, and the landscape was really dry.
There was a lot of the mountains burning. Alright, it is the hot and dry season so that’s why it is taking place in this month. But still, we saw so much of it, every single place where we went or passed that it sounded that much more than necessary was being burnt and deforested.
We arrived in Kalaw around 2.30pm. We checked in an hotel. We were told that today was the market day, taking place only once every 5 days, so we went to see it.
I bought some palm sugar and cane sugar sweets there, as well as some strawberries, lemon, grapes and other fruits. Burmese people are incredibly honest, they always tell you the local price, plus they are very generous. I wanted to buy 7 tomatoes, but the woman gave them to me for free and refused that I give her anything for them!
There were some women from different tribes there also. We could recognise them by the scarf they were wearing. I really love the laugh of this woman.
Apart from the market, the rest of the city looked quite impersonal around the main road. We didn’t explore further the little streets though, who knows…We looked around for treks and decided to join a group of 5 persons of our age staying also in the same hotel for a 2-days trek. After booking, we had a drink with them in the evening. There was Rosa and Tobias from Germany, Renate and Luit from Holland and Julie from France. There was also Michiel and Anne from Germany who were going on another trek.
Monday 26th March Kalaw to monastery
We left Kalaw around 9am with Jimmy, our guide for the 2 days. We started with an hour-ride in a taxi to the starting point of the walk. There were some incredibly beautiful trees with intense blue flowers but I missed taking their pictures, ma euh. We started our walk by passing a beautiful tree.
The landscape was quite nice, with some hills and a few fields and trees.
We passed some village but no one was around except these kids. The youngest who was brave at the beginning and saying from far to us “hello, hello” started crying once we were too close.
It is incredible the number of kids I have seen in South-East Asia who started crying when I approach them. They are definitely not used to see foreigners from too close. Or maybe they cry because they are told by their parents some ugly stories? Like “Be nice kid, or else the foreigner will come to take you and eat you!!!” Who knows…
On the way, we ate some wild yellow raspberries which were growing inside leaves.
We stopped for some tea at a house. Jimmy, our guide, was not happy that we had not brought candies or pens for the kids. He even asked us while we were inside “Maybe you could each give me 200 kyatts (0.25 dollars) and I go to buy some candies for them.” Julie answered that giving them sugar for their teeth was maybe not a good idea. On top of that, personally, I was shocked that a guide would ask that. While I find it good to give money to the head of a village who can potentially buy necessary goods for it or for its people, I am against giving anything when you pass a village for such a short period of time, because it then encourages children to beg tourists for pen, money, candies. “Hello pen”, “hello money” becomes then your name. “My name is not pen”, “My name is not money” becomes my answer. Plus these people lived very fine 200 years ago without us. Why would they suddenly need us? Alright, we are richer, that’s a fact. But creating in them the feeling that they depend on us, need us, is not helping. On the other hand, yes, we do come and take something out, we do take their pictures for example, without giving anything in return most of the time, true. I believe it is though more interesting to try to laugh with them, and share if possible a good moments together, and make them laugh or play with the kids, or for example hold the camera to a kid’s eye and make each take pictures with your camera, than give candies. But each time I went to a village, I saw different tourists behaviours, and had this discussion many times with many travellers. We all have different opinions about this, and it is not simple in any case to decide what is right and what is wrong, and what is best.
Still, I was happy to go on a 2-day trek in Phongsaly where we spent some time with Akha people without being asked neither by the guide, nor by them for money. One difference I saw though is that in Phongsaly, the price we paid for the trek included entry fees to villages that the guide each time gave to each village we passed. Smart way of making sure each tourist coming to a village gives something to it, even if it is just 10,000 kips (1.25 dollars). Also, the villagers in the evening were the ones cooking, so the guide paid them with the trek money for the food, while in Kalaw, a cook each time was coming to cook for us, so the locals hosting us in their house were getting less money than if they had cooked for us. Tiny difference, but still.
Anyway…After the tea break, we walked for 45 minutes and stopped in another village for lunch.
We then continued walking and passed the Great Canyon.
We saw a man with a beautiful smile and a local cheerooth in mouth carrying some wood.
We passed some young girls and kids from a tribe carrying some water and coming back to their village. We walked in the same direction as them for a bit.
We also passed some ox cart coming towards us.
The landscape on our way to the monastery where we were going to sleep was of an intense red.
We saw a woman working on a field in the way people no longer work anymore in Western Europe.
We arrived at the monastery where little monks were swiping the floor.
The dinner was delicious, the best food I had in Burma so far. After that we had some beers and chat for a while. The stars in the sky were beautiful, and there was few sounds around except some insects. We slept in one compartment of the monastery, on thin mattress put each close to the other. I couldn’t help thinking we looked like the seven dwarfs.
Tuesday 27th March
We were woken up by the 7 or 8 little monks singing from 5.30am to 6am beautiful little songs, and not too bad for so young kids. We had breakfast and started walking around 7.15am. Most of the start of the walk was on a new big road they started building a few months ago, not very nice.
The view over the valley was quite nice though.
We walked through what Jimmy called the jungle, although he was referring to the jungle that existed there twenty years ago as there was sadly no jungle anymore.
We finally arrived in a village, passing first some rice paddies where farmers were replanting the young plants in the water.
After that we took a small pirogue and took off to the Inle Lake. We passed some local houses.
We arrived in Nyaungshwe, checked in some hotels and went for some Burmese massage. They use some pressure points that when released send the blood out again quickly, which creates a sensation of warmth. Then we met later with our group of trekkers for dinner. We went for some pizza at a cool place owned by a Burmese guy who asked people to call him Mario. He was a fun guy and the pizzas were good and the capirinhas too. Mario invited us for a wedding taking place in his restaurant the next day, so with Michael at the guitar, the seven of us had a lot of fun for the rest of the evening, composing a song for the groom and bride, on the music of “By the river of Babylon”.
Tomorrow, attending a Burmese wedding, yeah!