The overnight bus from Yangon (craziest bus station ever) was due to arrive in Kalaw at 4:30 am. It was late and arrived at 5:30 am. I was grateful.
I mean, I wasn’t exactly sleeping, but at least it was dark and the intent was to sleep. My seat was in the back of the bus and all the luggage that didn’t fit underneath was jammed behind my seat so I couldn’t recline. And the air conditioning was blasting. I mean, full-on blasting cold air. What the heck? And the little air control thingies over my head were broken, so I was in the wind for about two hours till I found an empty plastic bag and shoved it into the hole. And the road was so rough – the worst in our entire trip. Margaret said she literally caught air on at least one bump. Maybe the worst bus trip of my life.
Despite all that, I actually think I slept a couple of hours. I had thought enough to bring my rabbit-soft wool scarf, and with that, added to the little blanket provided by the bus company, I managed to cover up completely. And we both used earplugs. That way I was a bit shielded from the light and noise and cold.
But at 5:30 we all had to disembark. Margaret had heard from the tour company that there was a 24-hour tea house nearby, and that we should wait there for someone to meet us. It was still dark and cold out, and we had a long wait.
For the next two hours I peeped through a window into a world of twenty-somethings engaging in devil-may-care life of travel around the world on $5 day. Margaret and I walked up the steps into a small room, floor and walls covered in white and blue linoleum, and lit – painfully – with fluorescent lighting. The room had three sides and the fourth was a half-wall and open air. And it was cold. There were a few low tables and 30 tiny plastic stools and heaped all over the place were young, beautiful travelers and their luggage. A vivacious redhead from Croatia caught our attention with her chatter, next to us two slender Italian women were trying to sleep on the floor (people stepped over them without blinking). There was a New Zealander, a Czech, Frenchmen, all crammed together drinking very bad instant coffee and smoking cigarettes. For a moment I was in Michener’s novel The Drifters, with all its young beautiful people traveling around the world with no specific plan beyond the day’s hopes and dreams. We were all meeting guides for treks, and we compared names of companies and how many days we would be out.
My seat was facing into the room, and when I got up after a while and went out to pay for our wretched coffees, I was startled to see the pale blue dawn. Soon after, a person met us and led us to A1 Trekking in town, where we checked in and were immediately taken to an Indian restaurant across the street for our first meal with the company.
After breakfast we were told there was still time before departure, and that a market was setting up in the center of town we could explore while we waited. So we explored.
We returned to A1 and it was time to go. We met our fellow travelers, Fumi from Japan and Lukas and Anna from Austria. There were just 5 of us, with our guide Hein, who grew up in Kalaw, and the cook. Some of the other companies take 15 people, we spotted one group later that looked like it could have been 18 people. A-1 has a policy of never more than six, to ensure a quality experience for each person. We walked out of town and directly onto a trail.
For the next three days we walked. That day to Hin Kha Gone and Myin Taik villages, through areas with the Paulaung and Dannu people.
Unused to walking so much, I was grateful when it was lunch time. We had a cook that traveled along with us, and damned if I can remember his name. But this young man made the most delicious foods and fed us very well, three meals a day, while we were out trekking. While he cooked, we explored the site.
Hein encouraged us to walk over to the pagoda and monastery during our lunch stop, and down to the village below if we wanted to. And we did.
Off we went and finished up with some serious hiking. At one point we walked along train tracks, which is pretty hard if your natural gait doesn’t match the frequency of the supports beneath the rails. Lukas and I fell back, but it did allow me some shots of the others.
Finally we reached our destination for the night, Ywar Pu village. We were surprised to find out that we were staying in the home of the village chief. The family stayed nearby, but gave up their beds for us that night. Our fabulous cook went to work and we took our chances bathing in the icy cold water of the family’s cistern. Then we walked around the property and the town till it was time to eat. The families contract with the tour companies, and get about $5 per night per person. They also sell water and Myanmar beer and… well… we were hot and tired and beer was just the thing! They probably earn as much selling drinks as they do on rent.
I had inexplicably slept poorly at the Golden Sunrise Hotel, waking up at 2:30 am and not able to sleep again. The following night I was on a freezing cold bumpy bus ride all night long. Trust me when I say this night in Ywar Pu, under all those blankets, I slept like a rock.
7 thoughts on “Trekking from Kalaw”
Another fine tour with superb photography
Thank you so much, my friend!! I’ve wanted to read your posts and catch up on your life and get ready for the next gardening season with you and I regret that I have not yet headed on over. I will, though. I will! Love to you and the Head Gardener
And to you, Crystal. Many thanks
Wow! I don’t think even in my younger years I would be up to such rough travel. My idea of camping was always the Holiday Inn without room service. That’s quite the trip you have going on there. I am way too fond of my creature comforts to manage such an extensive trip without any. I guess it’s a once in a lifetime experience. You will definitely appreciate life at home after that trip. Great photos.
Marlene! I was just re-living my adventure by reading through again, and I see I did not respond to your comment. This was actually luxury accommodation compared to the backpacking that Margaret and I do, so that made up for the long days. The hiking itself wasn’t bad. We left all our heavy luggage at the tour company office and just hiked carrying our clothes and water and toothbrushes. It’s so nice to hike without lugging a bunch of weight. And there was very little serious elevation gain, which is also nice. The worst thing was that it was so hot – and you would have hated that.
Margaret planned most of the trip, but the three-day overland trek was the one thing I asked for. I am so anti-tourist stuff, that I’m always looking for a way to see how people really live in a country different than mine. This was the perfect way to get a look.
You are right though, getting home is always wonderful.
I’m still really far behind here. Days are never long enough for me. I’ve had one of your posts open for days along with several others and just can’t get to them. One more project to do then I can get a bit done outside before coming back to this. I’ve slowed down so much it just not funny. Will catch up with you soon.
I certainly know what you mean about not finding the time you wish you had to get to things. I’m in the same boat. Much love.