The 12 hour night train to thazi was ...
Trip Start Nov 04, 2002
38Trip End Apr 25, 2003
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Most backpackers go to Kalaw from Rangoon by bus, but we has decided to be adventurous and try the train / pick-up truck route, needless to say, we were the only foreigners to disembark in the one horse town of Thazi, actually, no, it had horses, the one car town of Thazi.
We eventually found a pickup truck to take us the rest of the way through the mountains.
We paid a couple extra hundred Kyat (1USD = 1,000 Kyat) to ride in the front, a smart move indeed! The 50 KM took 4.5 hours because the mountain roads are in such bad shape and there is only 1 lane for traffic going in both directions. Bicycles, horses, cars and yes, even oxen, all share the road. The drivers have a system to communicate with each other to decide which car will pull over to let the other pass. I had to close my eyes more than once when we passed a slow truck, our tires dangerously close to the cliffs edge, or when we passed a bicyclist who didn't get over very far. The cars don't really slow down for bicycles, and even the driver checked a few times to see if we hit the bicyclists or not. By the time the trip had ended I had enormous respect for the driver, in Canada there would have been casualties, but here they know the size of their vehicles so well, and how to use their horn! The fact that it takes 3 people to operate a pick-up or bus must help in some way as well.
Here is a picture of our pickup. We counted 24 people in the back of our pickup truck, at least 8 on top, as well as 30 or so chickens. What a crazy country!
Our Transport (Debbie in Front Seat):
Kalaw was like a dream. The hot sweltering heat of Rangoon was now replaced by the cool mountain breeze of Kalaw. After wandering the streets of this very provincial town, noting that we weren't gawked and stared at as in Rangoon (I suppose people here are more used to tourists) we had a nap, only to be woken by the sounds of singing, dancing and fireworks, right outside our room. It was the night of the full moon, Nov 19th and THE most celebrated holiday in Myanmar. Outside our window we watched as the entire town and people from nearby villages paraded the streets, holding candles, singing, dancing, waving fire, letting off firecrackers, it was a whirlwind of activity. Everyone was in on the action - I saw a couple of people have to Stop, Drop and Roll. The parade was eventually to go to the Pagoda on the hill, where everyone would dance and feast into the night. Donations to the monastaries and temples are ongoing in Myanmar, but apparently on this festival many families donate almost everything they have, which makes for an amazing feast I'm sure - and they feel that they are 'getting merit' for their next reincarnating, so I suppose everyone wins - except the children who have no shoes or pencils to do their homework with. Poor helpless Myanmar.
The highlight of Kalaw was our 2 day trek to the village tribes, hiking through the mountains and rain forests. We had a fabulous guide named Eddie who also owned the Golden Kalaw Inn, the guest house we were staying at. Eddie was working with the chiefs to help with issues such as thier water supply, retaining teachers for the schools, medicine, and more recently, tourists. Tourists can be a problem. In the past, our nice intentions to give money and sweets to children has lead to jealously, begging and expectations. On Eddie's suggestion, we had brought 50 pencils to contribute to the school instead. A big hit though was the digital camera. The children loved seeing pictures of themselves instantly after being shot, and constantly dragged other friends over to pose with.
We had tea in the traditional long house, which was very nice but very smoky. 9 families live there, all with their own fire place and stack of cigars, which everyone who's not chewing the betel root seems to be smoking (grannies too!). The betel root is supposed to produce a slight euphoria like effect, and everyone here seems to chew it, even monks. After chewing and letting the betel produce its numbing effect, the thick red liquid is spat onto the street - disgusting! In the west we balked at Singapore's strict no spitting law but now being here in the east we understand.
The houses are build on two levels, with the families living on the top level, the pigs, chicken and cows below. The pigs were so cute! It was funny to hear the animals grunting below as we had our tea and bananas.
Tea at the chief's house:
We visited 3 tribes in total and saw some amazing scenery. A great introduction to trekking and we are sure we'll be doing more in the months to come!
Where I stayed