11.04.2016 – 14.04.2016 and 16.04.2016 – 17.04.2016
Hopping off the bus from Bagan, the relief from the incessant heat was instant and a nice change. We liked Kalaw already! However, we did miss the luxury of the bus. The JJ Express company had huge reclining seats with TV’s in front of each seat that had games, shows, movies and music. All this and 6 hours on the bus for $18 each. Kalaw is a small railway town, positioned in the mountains. Outside of trekking, tourism doesn’t exist, a plus for travelers. It means you can really enjoy the town and its people. We were in Kalaw and Inle Lake during the Thingyan Festival. Thingyan is a Water Throwing Festival that runs for 10 days to celebrate Burmese New Year. With each consecutive day, more and more water is thrown by a larger portion of the population.
When exploring the township and markets of Kalaw we came across an old favourite and made a new one. Nathan rediscovered his love for roti (Thai Crispy Pacakes) with a local vendor making come incredible banana and ovaltine roti and Bianca fell in love with the fairly plain, but somehow irresistible rice salad. Rice salad is essentially cold fried rice that hasn’t been fried. I hope you understand. (Bianca here – “It’s much, much more than a cold fried rice, it’s beautiful and fresh and very, very addictive – don’t worry I got the recipe, so everyone can try this delicousness when we are home”).
Due to Thingyan, travel and trekking became difficult to organise as lots of people want to be with family during this time. As a two-day trek to Inle Lake wasn’t available until the festival was over, we decided to do a one-day trek, then catch the train to Inle Lake, wait until the festival was finished and then return to Kalaw to complete a trek.
The one-day trek around Kalaw was incredible (see our Monday Moment for information), we decided to go with Alex’s Eagle Trekking and Carol, our leader showed us the very best of Kalaw’s countryside. We enjoyed seeing the tea, orange and ginger plantations and drinking tea with a local family. For ginger plantations, the side of hills are burnt away so the ginger can be planted. After our tea stop we trekked to Carol’s family restaurant for lunch before walking back to town through local villages and their farm land. The Shan State people are very community based. They grow a lot of produce for each other that is sold at the five-day market that travels around the state each week. Our guide – Carol was so kind, and we enjoyed trading stories about our families, religion and lifestyle. (Very hard to explain to a local that we don’t belong to a Tribe, and don’t have arranged marriages!).
When we returned to Kalaw (from Inle Lake) after the Water Festival had finished we started our two-day trek, with Carol again and this time also joined with her husband Terrance, back to Inle. It was just going to be the four of us until a trekking company up the street failed to do a trek and we had Olia, an English backpacker, join us for our trip. Myanmar is so dry during March and April and part of Thingyan is to welcome the new season of rains, but it makes for a desolate landscape. The highlights of our overnight trek was staying the night in a local villager’s house and having traditional Myanmar food cooked for us by Carol and Terrence and riding the longboat up Inle Lake to finish. We also got to have a midday nap on the first day of our trek at a locals house, and enjoyed delicious food! Along the way we saw lots of farms, villages and local people (transporting their daily lifes – collecting water, horse and cart). The lake is a very large water mass, covered with traditional fisherman and lined with local villages.
OUR FAVOURITE BITS
- One day trek around Kalaw.
- Rice salad (Bianca’s Myanmar addiction).
- Have a clear and concrete plan for the festival time. Locals book out buses weeks and months in advance and travelling between the 15th and 20th is near impossible, especially if you want to get in or out of Yangon. Using trains, planes and private vehicles are still options but they are either incredibly slow and uncomfortable or expensive.
- Using Alex’s Eagle Trekking or Sam’s Family Trekking if you choose to trek. Both come highly recommended and offer great guides and services.
- Use the town as a base for your trekking, there is not much to do or see in town, one day is plenty.