Myanmar - Kalaw

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November 20th 2016
Published: November 25th 2016
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Suzanne here...

I'm a bit ambivalent about night buses. It means you don't spend a whole day travelling, plus you save the cost of a nights accommodation. However they tend to be a bit more dangerous, you can't see the scenery as it's too dark, and you won't get any proper sleep as there will be toilet stops with full lights on, everyone trooping on and off and invariably there will be a pair of ass-clowns who don't want to sleep and, even though everyone else does, will think nothing of loudly chatting all night. However, it was the easiest way to get to Kalaw.

The journey was actually ok. We were given water and cakes which was nice, (but then we had paid $19 each). The aforementioned assclowns were right behind us and not only did they chatter away but kept hawking and spitting (I hope into a bag). This is an aspect of Asia I'm not keen on. I try and tell myself it's just a cultural difference but frankly I just find it extremely grim. David's eye started to hurt and after a while looked very red and painful, so that was a worry but there was not much we could do.

As well as the driver and bus girl there was a bus lad whose purpose seemed a mystery. There was also slightly odd bloke on the bus, which in itself didn't bother me and I just thought he was a passenger. However when we hit the hilly winding roads our bus driver moved to the back of the bus and the odd man (who smelt more strongly of tobacco than should actually be possible) took the wheel. For the rest of the journey bus lad gave him constant instructions like a rally co- driver. Quite disconcerting.

We arrived at Kalaw at about 4.45am. Obviously it was still dark. We'd been unable to save an offline map but luckily I'd printed one. One taxi driver approached us but other than that we were left alone. After about five minutes a moped came screeching up and they started saying something about luggage. It was bus lad. We've got Osprey packs which we've seen everywhere and he was convinced we'd picked up the wrong ones. We hadn't, we're not that daft. Eventually he believed us and sped off to look for someone else. Hope it got sorted.

A little while later someone else on a moped stopped and asked us where we were going. We gave him the name of the hotel and he told us we were going the wrong way. This seemed highly unlikely. We had a map after all. He looked at the map and said it was wrong. We were a bit dismissive but he persevered. In the end we thanked him and he rather reluctantly left us. So, we were confident in the map and are a bit suspicious by nature. On the other hand it was hard to see what benefit he would get from giving us duff information. We couldn't decide what to do. Trust the map or trust him? Although the phone map was no good, on the off chance David looked at the tablet. Amazingly, that did still show a map. The bloke was absolutely right and our map was wrong. Gratefully we doubled back a bit and took the right road.

It was about 5.15am by now and people were already starting to get up. There were dogs everywhere, prowling around and howling, but not giving us any cause for concern. By 5.30am we were at the hotel. Of course the gates were locked and all was in darkness. We thought about just sitting down on the floor to wait, but our booking confirmation had mentioned a 24 hour reception. Plus I'd read reviews from people who arrived on the night bus being welcomed in. We took a chance and rang the bell. Within moments two young lads appeared. They didn’t speak English but checked my name on a list and led us to our room. At 5.30am. Amazing. We were tired and incredibly grateful as it meant we could get a couple of hours of decent sleep, which we did.

At about 9am we checked in properly and were offered breakfast. This seemed cheeky when we'd not paid for the night before, but we still said yes! The breakfast room was lovely with great views and the pancakes and little samosas were yummy. We were in dire need of some laundry but it was priced per item which mounts up. We strategically chose some bulkier items to give them, and hand washed the smaller stuff ourselves.

A bit about the hotel, and the town. The Morning Glory Inn is quite lovely with peaceful gardens and great views. Each room has a balcony. Our room was simple but spacious and clean, and much, much better value than Yangon. It exceeded our expectations. It's a 20 minute walk from the town, but it is worth it for the tranquility. It is the first hotel we've stayed at with no wi-fi for a long time, but that's not the end of the world. Kalaw is a nice little place. The altitude means it is cooler. Still hot in the day but bearable, and actually quite chilly at night. Surrounded by hills and pine trees, it feels almost Alpine. The people are friendly and nobody touts you, no 'yes taxi' or 'yes trekking'. It seems that most people stay just one night before trekking, but it's well worth a couple of nights.

Our first job was to book the trek to Lake Inle. We very nearly went for a private trek, although it would have been a bit pricier. In the end we decided on a group trek. The cost was a factor, but we also had some concerns about having the undivided attention of a guide focussed on just us for three days! Of course we also worried that in a group the others would turn out to be annoying, playing music, acting like brats or constantly smoking, and we'd be stuck with them. But that's the chance you take. Hopefully not!

Trek booked, we rewarded ourselves with lunch. The little local place we tried first seemed to be doing tea but no food. In the end we went to The Red House. Westernised and slightly pricier than the local places but very nice. I had a sandwich which was tasty, but David's chicken and rice was better.

After lunch we made the easy climb to the Thein Taung Kyaung monestary. The monstary itself is not much to write home about but the views are spectacular. As eveywhere else in Kalaw there are dogs, including puppies, everwhere. They look reasonably well-fed (mainly by the monks) but it is still a bit heart-rending. We continued uphill and came to a little pagoda. A monk gave us directions to the bigger pagoda at the top of the hill. It looked amazing but we decided we better save our energy for the upcoming trek. We did go a bit higher though, and were rewarded with more amazing views.

Back in town we stopped at another small pagoda. A man outside threw little stones very hard at the tiniest, cutest puppy and I had to stop myself throwing stones at his face. I think he could tell I was mad. After a walk around the market, we decided to return to the hotel to relax for a bit. It started to chill off, so for the first time on this trip I got my fleece out. We'd taken a lot of photos, and we were only planning to pop back to town for dinner so we didn't take the camera. With no wi-fi, for the first time my phone was packed away too. This turned out to be a huge mistake.

As we approached the town we could hear music, The closer we got, the busier it became. We reached the main road just as a procession was about it begin. There were floats, people dancing, people carrying lanterns and lots of traditional dress of the various ethnic groups. It made me feel quite emotional actually, they looked so beautiful and happy. We slowly walked down the road watching the procession feeling very, very lucky to see it, but cursing our lack of camera.

Dinner was at Everest, Nepalese cuisine. It was packed. Some of the typical loud, selfish backpacker type with no awareness of or respect for anyone else, including the staff (grr) but also local people. The food was very nice, although had bones in the chicken which we could do without.

After dinner we followed the route of the procession and found the local football field was filled with hundreds of people. Some tourists, but overwhelmingly local. We grabbed a beer each and hung around. The atmosphere was really good, with lots of stalls selling food and balloons and so on.

After a while we were rewarded as a tower was lit...and so began 20 minutes or so of fireworks being launched directly into the crowd. I kid you not, they were going directly towards peoples faces. It was a health and safety nightmare. I can just imagine the reaction of Nottingham City Council if we tried it at home. Although the actual fireworks were a bit tame, it was still the most exhilarating firework display we have ever been to. Nothing like the fear of death, or at least blindness, to keep you on your toes. It was actually hillarous and a real highlight of the trip so far. Much like in Germany on Rosenmontag, the normally sedate locals were getting into the spirit of things. By which I mean a fair number were absolutely wasted. We'd had a lovely day and a brilliant evening. This sort of thing is exactly why we love to travel and we felt very lucky to have been in the right place at the right time.

The evening finished on our nice porch with a couple of beers and some some surprisingly good Burmese whiskey. David's eye was even on the mend.

Our second day was spent walking out of town to see Shwe Oo Min Paya. It was particually good, with a couple of caves stuffed to the brim with Buddha's. Well worth the walk. The only drawback was that of course you have to take your shoes and socks off. Not normally a problem but not too pleasant in a wet, slippery, filthy cave. A bit minging, but at least there was a tap to wash our feet afterwards. Then we continued to the Hnee Pagoda, which was a nice walk and good views again. More cute puppies everywhere of course. We spent the afternoon on our balcony with beer and pistachios. We did have a busy few days of trekking coming up, and the room was too nice to waste.

As we left to go to dinner we grabbed the camera at the last minute after the previous nights fiasco. Lucky we did as it turned out the festival was still ongoing. We think it was the Tazaungdine festival, and lasts six nights. So, we could get a few pictures of it after all. We'd planned dinner at Thirigayha resturant, which looked lovely. But when we got there it was fully booked. Disapointing, but it did mean we could go to The Red House which was along the route of the procession. The food was tasty if not particularly memorable, but we did have a margarita each which was delicious.

After dinner we headed back to the football field. It was much busier than the previous night but in the end we found a spot with room to move. We had some beers and watched another life-threatening firework display. Everyone was very friendly again, and one guy asked to have his picture taken with David. Naturally the evening finished on the balcony with a beer, then an earlyish night in anticipation of an early start.

We've both loved Kalaw. It's made for a relaxing, interesting stop and I'd highly recommend it. After a final breakfast at our nice hotel two mopeds pulled up to take us to the starting point of the trek, and we left our backpacks behind very much hoping they would reappear at our next hotel.

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