After 10 days in Myanmar (Burma) and three days of travelling I’ve finally sat down to write a post (it could also be because I’m recovering from a bout of food poisoning too, but whatever gets the job done!)
My time in Myanmar was shorter than I wanted it to be, but it was amazing. Everything about it was beautiful; the scenery was breathtaking and the people were the friendliest people I’ve ever met. However, I’m not here to write about my whole time in Myanmar (yet!) I’m just here to write about my favourite part: my overnight trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake. I’m going to include the most interesting stories our guide told us, because I think they’re worth sharing. But also because I don’t want to forget them!
So my arrival at Kalaw was unexpected, I actually tried to get the nightbus from Yangon to Bagan, but everything was full because of the full moon festival (will explain later!) so the receptionist suggested Kalaw. Why not? So 15,000 kyat later (about £10) and I’m on my way.
After a sleepy & comfortable ride (I got the seat with extra legroom, not that I need it!) I arrived at 5:30am. A quick motorbike taxi later and I was at my hotel (Nature Land Hotel 2) pricey but worth it. Plus the hostels were full!
My day in Kalaw was pretty boring because everything was closed due to the full moon, but I did manage to find one of the three highly recommended trekking services: Ever Smile.
8:30am the following morning, and 32,000 kyat later, I was off on a short drive to meet a group that had already been trekking for a day (I picked the two day, one night). And here we met our guide for the trek, July.
Our group was made up of various nationalities: there was a woman from America, one from Finland, a guy from Israel, three Germans, an Aussie couple, a couple from France, another from Switzerland, and me repping the U.K. Such a great mix of people, everyone was friendly and made good company for the trek.
The first thing I noticed when we started walking was the heat, but that was quickly overshadowed by the scenery. It was beautiful, and reminded me a bit of England (not the sun of course). Not that that stopped me sweating like a pig, but it made it worth it.
- Boys are required to be monks atleast once in their life
- Monastery’s will provide food and accommodation to poor students who want to continue learning
- Buffalo are not for eating – just working
- Avoid calling the country ‘Burma’ – that’s what us English people called it. ‘Myanmar’ was chosen as it encompasses all people in the country. Tribes do not consider themselves Burmese.
July also talked about Myanmar peoples’ beliefs being not only in Buddha, but spirits too. She said they believe that every branch of the Banyan Tree (the tree Buddha took shelter under to gain enlightenment) has a spirit in it, and when they need to cut it off they perform a special ritual to ask the tree for permission. How nice is that? I don’t even think people in England ask anyone’s permission for anything anymore, let alone ask a tree if they can chop off one of its branches (could be slightly exaggerating there, to make my point!)
Our first stop was at a village where a Pa-O tribe live. They’re distinctive in their clothing; the women wear all black robes with a red/orange coloured turban. They do this to honour their mother and father.
They believe their mother was a dragon, and their father was a shaman. The mother gave birth to two eggs (one white and one black) and they believe they’re from the black egg and that’s why they wear black – the red/orange honours their father. Another tribe up North believe they’re from the white egg, so they wear all white.
After another two hours of trekking, we stopped for lunch at the Khone-Hla village, home of the Denu tribe. This is also where we picked up a furry hitchhiker (a pregnant dog).
When we reached the village, we saw the water buffalos having a swim. Want to know why we call them water buffalos? July asked.
She later told us that she’d heard a story when she was little, about God. God realised how hard people were working for food, so he wanted to tell them they only needed to eat once every three days. He asked the buffalo and cows to go to earth and tell them, but they weren’t used to the heat, so when they got to earth the buffalo spent nearly all of its time in the water. They nearly forgot to give their message to the people, so they did it hurriedly and accidentally told them they had to eat three times a day. God couldn’t change the message but he was worried the people would have to work ridiculously hard for their meals, so he sent the cows and buffalos to earth to work for the people as a punishment for their mistake. That’s why they’re there, they work and they don’t get eaten. The reason the buffalos spend their time in the water is because they’re not used to the heat.
The accommodation at the village was basic but then I reminded myself that this is how the tribe live their whole life. Plus, sometimes it takes a hard bed, a cold bucket shower and a squatty toilet to make you realise how lucky you have it. And the people were so welcoming and happy, which just puts my own culture into perspective.
The evening was the best part of the whole trip: it was the full moon festival. This is basically welcoming Buddha back to Earth when he has finished teaching his mother (from a previous life) in heaven. Five villages came together to the monastery next to the village we were staying in. They got dressed up and took part in a candlelight procession around the monastery, with dancing, singing and fireworks. They then took offerings into the monastery, sat down and said prayers with the chief monk. It was such an honour to witness such a big cultural celebration, and something that will definitely stay with me for the rest of my life.
We walked to the highest point of our trek (about 1420m above sea level) and then hitched a ride in a tractor for 10 minutes … does that count as cheating?! Before walking through a valley between mountains to get to the place we hitched a boat ride from to the other side of Inle Lake.
All in all it was one of the best things I’ve done on my travels in Asia, and if you’re on your way to Myanmar I highly recommend it! Ask for July too because she shared so many interesting stories, and taught us so much about the culture.
I will end this post with one thing that July told us that will probably stick with me the longest. She said that even if a family looks poor in Myanmar, they will always have lots of rice to feed their family, and that’s a special kind of rich.
We fight over money and power, or greed over material possessions (I’m guilty of this myself) yet these people consider themselves rich because they have enough plain rice to feed their family, and are willing to share what little they do have, all while being genuinely happy. That one sentence just really made me sad for the Western culture.
But to turn this back around into a positive post: do a trek in Myanmar, you won’t regret it!