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Published: February 27th 2009
Waking up at 6.45 wouldn't have been so bad if Kalaw wasn't so cold
Breakfast was served in the top floor hall with beautiful panoramic views - a good thing about Myanmar is the quality of the hotels. There are government standards (and prices) which have to be kept to, which means that 90%!o(MISSING)f the beds are better than 90%!o(MISSING)f beds anywhere else in SE Asia, and breakfast is always included, if a little bit bland (always bananas, eggs and toast with no option of local food).
After paying and meeting our guide we set off along the dusty path towards Inle Lake.
Began wrapped up warmly in 3 layers and bobble hats. But by 9.30 we had stripped down to the bare essentials and generous amounts of factor 50! We walked about 15km a day over about 5-6 hours, stopping for about 3 hours in the middle of the day to eat and shelter from the sun. Doh was a fantastic guide - friendly, smart and knowledgeable - teaching us all about Myanmar and Buddhism. But he excelled in cookery! We were used to the cheapest things off the menu in Myanmar, which
no-one would claim to be particularly good. But our first meal with Doh was fried glass noodles with veggies and soup which was by far the best meal yet. We all ate two portions.
We had stopped for lunch at an old lady's house, and she sat and watched us, giggling like a little girl the whole time. She was 82 years old and had 13 children, the stoic face of one who had becoming a monk staring out from every wall. At the start of our trip we nudged each other every time we had seen a monk, but after the first 10,000 it gets a bit old. They do everything that everyone else does - smoke, ride motorbikes, chew betel nut, buy machetes and some naughty ones can even be seen eating after noon (yes, ice cream does count as food Mr Monk).
It seems that Doh took us on an unusual route to Inle, because we didn't see anyone else trekking until the last day, and they had all gone another way. Lucky us!
By evening we arrived in a village where we would spend the night. We stayed in what was one of
the poorest and coldest houses in the village - poor because the man who owned it was putting his children through school instead of making them work, hence why we were welcome to stay. It was so cold!
The building was made from weaved bamboo which stopped no cold or draft, while the temperature dipped to near freezing. We slept on the floor with only Anders' body heat for warmth. We took our chances without it.
The children in the village loved us, and having their photos taken. Pauline rode a water buffalo.
Day 2 was Dom's birthday!
So on the side of a mountain he celebrated with an 8am beer. This is how we learned that Mandalay beer is not a good brand. 8.4%!i(MISSING)s not a good recipe for tasty beer. Doh cooked a great breakfast and we had another great day trekking. We dropped behind the others a couple of times due to taking pictures and calls of nature, and more than once had to search for footprints to find the correct path! We passed through several very poor villages full of lively children (sometimes it takes a while to work out where the shouts
of 'bye bye' are coming from - often it is several hundred metres away!), and stopped for lunch after playing with some children and their home made go-carts.
We stopped in one village to watch an old lady weaving a shoulder bag - a 15 day job! None of the villagers asked for anything in return for the endless photos, but loved to see the results - especially the weaving lady who burst into frantic giggles for hours. However, if you find yourself trekking in Myanmar, take some medicines - paracetamol, ibuprofen etc, because they have none and very much appreciate the gift. Locals also appreciate empty water bottles, which they can use to take water on long hikes to work fields etc, or store at home.
The next and last village of the day, and Dom's final beer, was a similar place with similar set of children shouting and waving. We met some very young girls (5?) with 5 litres of water on their heads and another 2 in their arms. laura felt very embarrassed that Dom had been carrying her bag for hours.
That night we stayed in a monastery full of young monks, who would
wake us up with endless songs at 5am the next morning. Before that, though, Doh presented Dom with a birthday bottle of whisky - what a bloody nice guy!
Before the monk songs we were woken by the monk snoring. Wow.
The last day's walk was dull. Very dull. One long dirt road. Why we went that way is a mystery, as everyone else we met at the monastery took a different path all the way to the town by Inle. We walked to Indein and got the boat across the lake to the town. Doh fell asleep on the boat, as did Laura, who spent the journey dreaming about fruit salad.
The place we stayed near Inle had a massive breakfast of the usual fruit, eggs and toast, plus a pancake, plus a bowl of noodles. Even Dom couldn't finish it all!
Anders and Pauline opted for a disappointing bike ride whilst we both spent the day relaxing in the town.
The next day we took a boat ride around the lake. It was a beautiful setting, but felt very touristy in places. We deliberately told our driver exactly where to go
so as to avoid the most touristy places, but it didn't seem to make much of a difference. It was still a nice trip, and it was good to see the famous Inle fishermen who row with their feet and carry the huge basket-net devices on their longboats. It was strange to see how shallow the water was though - about 1 metre max.
We had an obligatory stop at a silversmith (commission for the boatman I guess) where a guy kindly reshaped and polished one of Laura's rings for free! Then we stopped at a huge market and did a little tourist shopping to a soundtrack of "25 dollar no problem!". 25 became 5 after some effort and a couple of cool things were bought. Laura's lack of decision making skills resulting in no purchases and a lot of regret 20 minutes later. We also got to see a 'practice' cock fight - no blades, just anger and feather pulling. The water around the market was packed, and we had to climb across 4 or 5 other boats to get back on ours - hairy.
Somehow, despite our efforts to the contrary, we then ended up at
a weavery which was just like every other weavery in the world. After 10 minutes we managed to convince the guy not to take us to the 'jumping cat monastery' which sounded like a complete waste of time. Then we ended up at yet another pagoda - i think this was when we started to be seriously bored of them. We got a cheap lunch and left.
We thought we'd better see the 'long-neck' ladies and instructed our driver there. Expecting a little village or something, we were a bit freaked out to find three ladies standing around waiting for photos to be taken at a souvenir shop. More like a zoo really, parading around for our pleasure. Apparently they all live in the unaccessible north, or have moved to Thailand for more tourist money. We declined the tourist photos and tried in vein to get some candid ones.
And that was the boat trip. A bit less impressive than expected. What we should have done was more treks around the area. Meeting the locals and admiring the scenery was definitely the best part of this trip. There was very little to do around the lake, especially as
the town is quite a distance from the lake shore. We had visions of relaxing walks along the shore in the evenings, but it wasn't really possible without a long trip to get there and back.
After the boat ride we prepared ourselves for the night bus to Mandalay. We had pre-booked our seats (a first for us) so that Dom could get his new favourite seat at the back. Our 6pm bus arrived at 6.30 - impressively close to on-time! And it only stopped three times during the night - again impressive. And it arrived exactly at 4am - exactly on time! laura was tempted to tip the driver, or make an offering to Buddha or something.
And then we had the best chapattis in the world.
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