The bus breaks down even before starting!
The bus terminal in Yangon is far from the city center and quite chaotic. Not the kind of place where you would easily sort out a trip by yourself. No central booking/ information office, hundreds of buses, no numbered platforms, no signs etc. So we apreciated our hotel arranged everything for us from buying the tickets to taking us to the bus. Buses in Myanmar are notorious for breaking down often. They deserve their reputation! Before we even leave, a couple of minutes after they started the engine, thick smoke came out of the dashboard. They spent 20mn doing "god knows what", under the bus before starting the engine again without any smoky consequences this time. The rest of the trip went well, just the usual flat tyre. Our trekking companions are French too
We were surprised when we stopped in Kalaw. Not that we saw something weird,but, on the contrary, that we couldn't see anything: at 4 o'clock am, the night is still very dark!! It's very cold too, unfortunatly we didn't find a room straight away. For lunch we headed for a Nepali restaurant - there is a small Nepali community in Kalaw. This is where we met Chouchou and Chouchou for the first time (and where, obviously, Patrick got two servings of dhal baat , see the Nepal entry of this blog). They are also known as Quentin and Marie, two Frenchies, and we decided to join them for a trek to Inle Lake. The next morning a fifth person joins in, Marguerite, an Italian woman returning to Myanmar for the second or third time. Trek in the mountains stopping in local villages
The weather was quite hot and the walking pace rather fast. After all, we were to cover 60km or so in a hilly landscape in three days! It was worth the effort. Our guide was quite knowledgeable and took care of us, the cook did a good job in the kitchen, nothing to complain about!
The landscapes were great. Some parts looked a little like Tuscany, for the rest, big Banian trees and rice terrraces did the trick. But scenery was not even the best part. The big plus of this trek was to see people from ethnic minorities as they were when passing through or stopping in villages. You are not taken to human zoo where people would perform the "traditional rain dance" for the tourists!! No.
You just arrive in villages where people keep on doing what they were doing, except kids who are curious and stop playing to check you out. Then you have your lunch or sleep at somebody's place, who, of course, get some money from our guide for the service. It's a clean way to meet people: They are willing to meet foreigners, and are not tempted to be over friendly in order to sell you stuff or anything like that. Furthermore there is no road to get there, you have to walk, meaning no mass-tourism, only a few motivated and respectful people (for most of them I suspect) coming here. Finally, our guide picked up a different house everytime he came. It's not only good for spreading the money through the village, but it avoids becoming routine for our hosts: at our second lunch stop, the woman receiving us was apparently not that familiar with westerners. Patrick was wearing shorts and she got intrigued by his leg hairs to the point of pulling them to check what it was like!
On our first day we stopped at a small train station on a single track used by very old and slow trains. All the trekkers/tourists were waiting the train to see the vendors (especially the flower vendors) selling their merchandise to the passengers. It was nice to watch indeed
Our first night was not very comfortable. Bed consisted of a very thin wollen mattress, blankets were not large enough and the roosters didn't care that much about the guests. In other words, bed was too hard, we were cold and awaken by the "cocoricos" through the night ;-)
On the second day we reached another village where we spent the night in a monastery. The teacher of the village took us to her home where we washed the burmese way, in the
courtyard, from a bucket of water, wearing sarongs with half the village (mainly kids) watching us out of curiousity. We were a little clumsy, but it was funny and so refreshing after such a long day of walking! Then, half the village followed us to an improvised bar held by the same teacher. We enjoyed a beer there, surrounded by many kids in traditional costumes, and it felt a special moment. Reaching the beautiful Inle Lake
The following day we walked until In Dein, where a boat took us through a canal to the Inle lake and across to Nyangshwe where we were to stay
. This big lake surrounded by mountains is beautiful. We explored it more thouroughfully the following day by renting a boat for the day. The village made of houses on stilts just in the middle of the lake is an amazing place and people, once again were so welcoming... More surprising were the floating tomato fields.
Believe it or not, but those guys found a way to grow vegetables in the middle of the lake! If we understood well, they use buoyant seaweeds, top it with soil and then plant tomatoes or flowers or whatever! We also visited a couple of touristic workshops (silk weaving, cheeroot cigars making...) and monasteries, one with small Buddha statues covered with so much gold that they look like golden snowmen, another one where they taught cats to jump through a plastic circle!! It was another good day spent in Myanmar.
The next day, with the Chouchous, we got a good deal (after long negotiations) on a taxi to Mandalay, and off we went.