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  • Day167

    Day 166: Waterfall, Shan Village Stay

    November 29, 2016 in Myanmar ⋅ 🌬 15 °C

    Busy day of activities today, all organised by Byron! First stop was a waterfall trek about 20 minutes outside of town. We drove in his truck to the trailhead then started walking, the three of us plus a local guide named Apu.

    Apu was a remarkable guy; due to the various ethnic tribes living in the area it meant he had to be super polylingual. He was from an ethnic group called Palung, so he spoke Palung language as well as another tribe's local language. Plus he spoke Shan which is the lingua franca of north-eastern Myanmar, and he spoke Burmese which is the language of Myanmar. And of course he spoke English, and as he'd spent two years working in Korean he could also speak Korean! Makes you feel very inadequate.

    The first part of the hike was fairly comfortable, down small lanes and across some freshly-harvested fields. But after about 10 minutes we reached the watercourse, and it was time to start scrambling. The next hour was very tough going, especially for unfit inflexible me.

    There were lots of large boulders, pebbles, sharp rocks and of course slippery surfaces too. And we were doing the whole thing barefoot, since we'd only brought thongs and hiking shoes (the water was too deep to wear shoes, and wet thongs are a recipe for disaster). Apu had no problem just striding across the rocks, and Byron was quite tall so had no probem either. But it was really tough for me! I just don't have much confidence in that kind of stuff, and ended up just crawling in some places where I wasn't sure of my footing.

    Eventually we made it to the waterfall which was pretty impressive, probably 10 metres high and with a large plunge pool. Byron and Shandos both had a swim but I just chilled out on a big log next to the water; I didn't really feel like swimming. Stayed here for about an hour before it was time to head back.

    Same story going back along the river, just crawling and being super careful not to slip and roll my ankle or break my neck. Had a couple of close calls where I thought I was going to topple, but made it out with only a slight scratch on one leg and some fairly sore feet from the rough rocks!

    Had lunch at a house in the small village near the trailhead, they were some friends of Apu's so we were welcome to sit there and eat on their patio. Byron had brought Burmese style Korean food, so we ate rice with minced pork, carrot & cabbage with bibimbap sauce. Interesting combo!

    After this Byron left us as he had stuff to do back at his office, and Shandos, Apu and I set out on the trek to the Shan village where we were to spend the night. The trek wasn't that strenuous, only about 90 minutes with a couple of small creek fordings. The biggest issue was that I didn't bother about putting my hiking boots back on, and the road was being held together with large cabbage-sized rocks (otherwise it would wash away in the rainy season), which was a bumpy ride for my feet even through thongs.

    The walk was pretty nice though, mostly flat and through lovely countryside. Felt very rural and bucolic, with no urban build-up or any sort of technology really, other than the occasion powerline beside the road.

    After 90 minutes of walking we reached the village and were introduced to our host family. They ran the local shop and the father of the family was also the village elder essentially. He seemed nice, though communication was difficult as he didn't speak any English and we only knew hello and thank-you in Shan! As the village elders though, their house was basically the centre of the village and it was nice just sitting there in the late afternoon sun watching people constantly come and go.

    We were obviously objects of curiousity for the locals, as this area is very far from the tourist trail. We wouldn't be the first white people they've ever seen, but definitely still rare enough for people to stare! Very friendly though, especially if you can manage a Shan greeting!

    As the sun was setting Apu took us to the river for bathing, Myanmar style. There was a stream running through a gully split into two, with a few troughs installed to channel the water. Shandos went into the women's stream (covered in a longyi), and Apu & I went to the men's stream. We just went in in our underwear like the locals were doing. Water was cold but not icey, and doing the head plunge was quite refreshing. We'd brought soap so I felt fairly clean afterwards, but of course got very dirty feet on the walk back to the village!

    The sun went down fairly quickly after we'd finished our baths, so it was back to the house to hang around for a bit before dinner. We were served a huge portion of rice - apparently the first of the new harvest! Along with it was a minced pork & basil dish, stir fried cauliflower and a slightly sour soup of some sort. The pork was apparently a rare treat; generally they don't eat much meat since their remoteness and lack of electricity means they stick to home-grown vegetables.

    Shandos and I ate with Apu, the village elder and another pair of guys who were teachers at the local school. It was a bit odd having a dinner party where we couldn't converse with anyone else, but we managed OK. After dinner we went outside and enjoyed the evening air, while the women went in and ate the leftovers (yes, I felt guilty but it's their culture and putting up a stink would be even more rude!).

    We were quite lucky as well, as today was New Year's Eve in Shan culture, and there was to be a festival at the monastery followed by some homemade fireworks. About 10 of the local girls from the village were hanging around in the yard practicing their singing and dancing, all made up and dressed in their traditional costumes (yellow blouses with wide green skirts).

    Some guys turned up as well in their traditional outfits and joined in the practice, as they were also performing a bit later. The traditional male outfit was basically an orange karate-style outfit, with a headdress as well. After a couple of hours practice, everyone headed up to the monastery in complete darkness (well, torchlight anyway).

    There were a couple of locals there playing enormous drums - imagine a bongo type drum that's about 4 metres long, carved from a single tree trunk. Huge! We watched for a bit before heading inside, where everyone in the hall stared at us for a good 10 minutes. They gradually got used to us though, which was nice, and Apu had a chat to some of the teachers from the monastery who were up here from Yangon.

    There was plenty of singing though the dancing wasn't until later; but after our exhausting day we didn't make it much past 10pm. We went back to the house while the celebrations were still going on, and fell asleep fairly quickly despite thin blankets, the cold, and sleeping on a hard bamboo floor. Woke up briefly when the rest of the household came home (not sure what time that was), but otherwise slept through until the roosters woke us up around 4:30am.
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    Trish Forrester

    What an incredible day! That sort of cultural experience would be so refreshing compared with typical tourist activities.

    Trish Forrester

    Joel, your poor feet. Take care!


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