Mingalaba Kalaw to Inle Lake!August 2, 2018 in Myanmar
Lea, David and I arrived in Kalaw at around 5am after a very restless bus journey, all pretty shattered. We walked the long ten minute slog to our budget hotel (kalaw doesn’t seem to do hostels) and checked in. Some people told us in Hsipaw that they were able to check straight into their rooms when they arrived so effectively getting 1.5 nights for the price of one. And we were so glad they were right. Lea and I checked into a very nice twin room with an en suite and were so shattered we went straight to bed to top up our near lack of sleep from the bus. We finally got up for the day at around 11 and headed into town to book our trek with Ever Smile trekkers. Lea had researched all the trekking companies and felt that they were the best, and as they were slightly away from the Main Street they didn’t have the hard sell attitude as you walk by. We met one of the guides and she went through the tour itinerary and packing list and arranged for our pick up in the morning. With the tour organised we went for lunch at the Sprouting Seeds cafe (recommended by two girls I met in Halong Bay.... basically my Myanmar trip is based of their itinerary - I can’t remember their names but thanks girls!) where we met David who had gone to book his tour with another company as he’d promised a friend already he go with them. The cafe is a social enterprise where’re owners teach local young girls to cook the food and learn English. The food was great and the relaxed atmosphere was nice to chill out in. After lunch we headed back to our hotel to spend the rest of the day relaxing, preparing ourselves for the next three days hiking. We did go out again for dinner and ran into a couple Lea had met earlier in her trip in a small Indian restaurant so we joined them for dinner and they recounted their last year of travels on a minimal budget. A very cool couple. After dinner it was back to the hotel for an early night. We were going to need all the rest we could get!
We were picked up at 7:30am the next morning and headed to the office where we met our guide Mow Mow and the rest of our group, Bas and Susannah a couple from the Netherlands. With our group complete and our main bags on their way to our hostels in Nyuang Shwe where we’d stay after our trek (thank for we only had to carry our day packs) it was time to start our trek. With Mow Mow leading the way we headed out of the town and into the countryside. The start of the trek was fairly easygoing and we were able to chat easily and get to know each other. After a while we entered a wooded area and it was single file for a bit with Mow Mow telling is where to place our feet when needed. Eventually we made to our first rest stop at the side of a giant reservoir. A nice reward for a mornings exertions. After a quick snack and water break it was time to push on. Up until this point the trek had been reasonable flat but now we had a 400m climb through the woods to the view point and our lunch spot. Although that may not sound like a lot, when you’re navigating narrow muddy paths, avoiding trees and bushes it got tiring pretty quickly. Finally we saw the clearing through the trees and reached the view point of the valley. After taking in the view and having a few photo ops we pushed on for the last ten minutes to the hill top cafe for lunch. The rustic cafe with round tables under little gazebos looking out at the view was very nice. Plus we made it just in time before the rain started. The restaurant was Nepalese so we had a buffet style lunch of various curries and salads. After lunch we continued our trek. Thankfully we were finished with the woods for the moment and our journey continued on the dirt roads passing through various villages. After a couple of hours we reached a train track and Mow Mow led us along the tracks. We continued along the tracks for about an hour, having to move aside half way down for a (very slow) passing train, waving at the passengers as it passed, all the while I felt like i was in the movie Stand By Me. Much to Susannah’s relief we finally reached the end of our time on the tracks (the concrete blocks were more uncomfortable than the road paths) and had a brief tea break at the train station before making the final push along the road to our homestay. Finally we Madeira to our homestay, not quite before dark, where we were warmly greeted by our hosts and shown to our communal room. A very simple set up of four thin mattresses on the floor with a few blankets, but we were all thankful for somewhere to sleep after our long day. Before bed we had another feast of a meal for dinner. They seem to like doing multiple dishes with a huge portion of rice. We wolfed it all down gladly. Once we were sufficiently full we all decided to head straight to bed knowing we had another full day ahead of us.
We were all up and dressed by 7:30 the next morning sitting down to another great meal, this time pancakes with a variety of fruits. We all fuelled up and were off and out the door by 8:15 waving goodbye to our hosts. As Mow Mow has warned us, the first hour and a half of our trek was pretty tough going. The road we were walking on was a wide dirt road that had been used to transport cattle from the villages and as a result the mud was covered with divots from their hooves. Each step we made was carefully placed so that we didn’t fall over. Finally we made it to the top of the road where we had the briefest of breaks before pushing on. We were due to meet another traveller on the main road (the 2day/1night people start on our second day) and we were already 30 minutes late. The next part of the journey was only marginally easier so by the time we reached he main road, an hour later we were all knackered. It didn’t help that we were meeting someone who was rested and full of energy (I don’t care if he had to wait for an hour and a half for us). Lorenzo was not meeting us at our best or perkiest. We had a welcome tea break for 15 minutes, where we tried to explain to our new team member just how bad the first part was, before continuing on, now equipped with some much needed walking sticks (where were these on day two hours ago Mow Mow?!). The second part of the day was much easier and more enjoyable, thanks to the more stable terrain, our walking aids and Lorenzo’s youthful energy. We passed through fields and crossed rivers until we finally reached our lunch spot for the day. Unfortunately this spot was inside, which although protected from the imminent rain it meant we had to take our shoes off, and I wasn’t convinced of be able to get them back on again. Sitting comfortably inside around the table we tucked into the lunch feast, too exhausted to talk. Lunch ended all too quickly though and it was sadly back on with the shoes and on our way. As it was now spitting with rain the paths were getting harder and harder to navigate. Lorenzo was the first casualty and fell not long after lunch, but picked himself up quickly. We passed through many more fields and across hills, and I as I looked around I was surprisingly reminded of the Devon countryside, with the red soil and the surrounding fields and trees. After another couple of hours walking we reached another village and had a tea break with an old lady as she hand wove a scarf (apparently the last of her tribe to still use the skill). Bad and susannah even bought a blanket she had made (sadly I couldn’t justify carrying it around for the next 9 months). After tea we were all eager to get going again, desperate to get to our homestay for the night. The final part of the day was worse than any part we have done so far. As it had been raining the track was treacherously slippy and sadly on the way down a small hill i slipped and fell over. Overcome with exhaustion I say on the floor crying until susannah pulled me up and Lea brushed off the mud. The only real casualty was my stick with broke in the fall. Mow Mow kindly have me his and we continued on. We finally made it to the main road into the village which was similar to the road on the beginning of the day, unfortunately though as it had been raining a lot since then so it was near impossible to cross. If we stayed too long in one spot our feet would sink into the mud. Mow Mow tried to take us on a detour through wooded area on the edge of the road but this turned out to be more dangerous as there were rocks and trees in the way and we were sipping all over the place. We quickly got back onto the main road. All the villagers were making there way back from the fields and were walking with easy through the mud with their wellies. Eventually we found that walking/running as quickly as possible through the mud was the easiest way not to get stuck. After almost an hour of slogging through ankle deep mud we finally made it to our homestay. We were warmly welcomed and shown to our practically palatial bamboo hut where we’d stay for the night. Desperate to get out of our muddy clothes we all changed into pyjamas before dinner. Dinner was once again an array of many dishes and we ate hurriedly before admitting defeat and heading to bed.
Once again we were all up and dressed and having breakfast before 8am. I decided not to wash my shoes like Lea and Lorenzo the night before hoping that the mud would dry overnight and I could just scrape it off. Unfortunately my shoes were still wet and unlike leas she’s with here clean and wet mine were very much still caked in mud. It was joy fun or easy putting them back on let me tell you. Now that we were all refuelled and ready to go we said goodbye to our hosts and started the final leg of our journey. We were all motivated by the thought that by the end of the day we’d be having a hot shower in a nice hostel. Luckily our third day was the easiest ad shortest off the journey. The first two hours we walked along a large dirt road which led to the lake national park. We stopped for a tea break at a small cafe and shop where we met a group of trainee guides who were having a social hiking day. They had an impromptu jam session and Mow Mow even treated us to a song (take me home country road - very apt). After our break with our moods uplifted we push onto the final hike of the trek. Mow Mow warned us that this was going to be hard too as the lath involved going through the woods again but this time having to climb through many rocks W chick blocked the path, which would be dangerous after the rain. We kept waiting for it to get difficult, and although it wasn’t a breeze negotiating the rocks, it was a lot easier than we had expected. We made it through to the clearing and walked the final stretch of the way through a dessert-like area and down to the main road leading to the pier. After a few more minutes we reached our final stop of the journey, a nice cafe/homestay where lunch was awaiting us. We kicked off our shoes and enjoyed our meal with a sense of accomplishment. After lunch it was time to bid farewell to our lovely guide Mow Mow and enjoy the leisurely boat ride up the lake to Nyuang Shwe. We had two brief stops on the way to visit a silversmiths and two ladies from the long neck tribe (the latter of which involved going into a house with a woman and small girl sitting in a corner wearing the traditional neck rings, meant to protect from tigers, as we were encouraged to take pictures - slightly invasive and odd). It was then onto the main event, Inle Lake itself. During the boat ride we passed a few fishermen and other passenger boats as we relaxed in the breeze. An hour later we reached the town and made the final walk to our hotel. Once we checked into our luxurious ensuite twin room it was a fight for who’d have the first shower, sadly I lost. Soon we were both showered and feeling refreshed and went to meet David for dinner (dropping my laundry off on the way). We joined him and some new friends at the highly recommended Inlay Hit Indian restaurant. The restaurant is owned by a mother and son, the mother is the cook and the son is the waiter. The son, who is self proclaimed Eminem’s biggest fan, is such a character and was so funny as he took our order (going “oh man not another vegan!” when I ordered). I’d say he probably had borderline Tourettes which manifested in a sort of gangster montage. Very bizarre indeed. Aside from the added entertainment we had an amazing meal and had fun comparing or various trekking experiences. After dinner it was back to our hotel for bed and a super long lie in.
Not one to miss a free meal, Lea and I forced ourselves to get up at 8 for breakfast. Once we were finished our feast we went back to our room to slowly get ready for the day. Three hours later we finally left the room to go meet David again at his hostel (the more lively Ostello Bello - Myanmar’s party chain) where we spent the next hour or so chatting. After looking at things to do in the area and seeing that most of them involved a hike of some sort (to a cave or a waterfall) I decided to retire to the hotel to relax and wait for my night bus. I’d had enough of exercise for a while. I bid a fond farewell to my new friends, especially Lea as we had spent the last week together. It was nice having a travel buddy for a few days. On the way back to the hotel I picked up my washing and was amazed and relieved that my clothes, and shoes were good as new! Back at the hostel o repacked my bag and then spent the next few hours reading in one of the lounge chairs. Finally it was time to head to bus station.
So there you have my amazing, and exhausting, few days trekking. Next stop Bagan and it’s many temples!