Before talking about Kalaw, I must talk about the trip there. Before, I said that most people speak English, but that’s of course not the case everywhere and especially when taking the local bus, it’s important to communicate well with the people that are supposed to drop you off. The bus I took passed through a lot of small villages and since only locals take the bus, most of them know where to get off. Me being the tourist didn’t know this and because of some miscommunication with the busdriver and the sales person, they forgot to notify me when to get off on the way to Kalaw.
I ended up getting dropped off about 20-30 mins from Kalaw at around 1 am. Luckily, the busdriver was kind enough to hook me up with a motorbike taxi guy who was willing to take me to Kalaw. I even argued for the price like a frustrated tourist and said I’d just walk the distance back in the dark, which no street lights what-so-ever and on a bumpy mountain pass. Anyhow, thinking back of it now, I feel kinda bad arguing with them over such small amound of money and them being so friendly and patient with me.
As it was raining and cold (Kalaw was higher up in the mountains), I quickly grabbed my fleece before getting on the back of the motorbike. I was glad that I did. I was still wearing my shorts and flip flops when we were speeding through the dark bumpy mountain pass. I was freezing during the whole ride and kept thinking what kind of tourist I looked like with my shorts and flip flops in a mountain area… ANYWAY! It took us nearly 15-20 mins before we made it to Kalaw, so glad I didn’t decide to walk. I arrived safely in the end but it was quite hectic being stuck somewhere at 1am in the morning in a mountainous area.
Kalaw itself wasn’t anything special, small little town with just a few streets. But it was a nice place to start out from if you want do the 2 day hike up to Inle Lake, which I did. I joined a group of Brits and hiked through rural villages, rice paddies and other farm lands to arrive at an old monastery where we stayed for the night. The hike was relatively easy, nothing too straining, but what made it so difficult was the weather. It was raining on both days we were hiking which turned the dirt road into a huge mud covered survival trip. I’m glad I wore my high boot hiking boots!
The stay at the monastery was quite basic, but we slept in a massive hall. In the morning the younger monk students were already chanting and praying, but I just kind of slept through it. Quite soothing actually though! It was a great experience to stay at an old monastary with only basic needs. We even passed by a local school and the kids sang us a song too! They were so energetic and happy and curious to see us (maybe not me since I look like a local).
Anyhow, after a short hike in the morning we arrived at the boatlanding to take the boat over Inle Lake to Nyaungshwe. Being a tour, we stopped at some of the mandatory local souvenir shops. We could even see some people from the long-neck tribes they said. I thought that we were actually going to their village, but turns out, they were just in the back of a souvenir shop, making handcrafts. Felt like they were like chained animals put up for display, rather disappointing and disgusting sight actually.
The boat ride itself was pretty nice though, we saw some fishermen, and some other boats transporting goods from one side to another. I didn’t really take that many pictures since I was pretty tired and I was talking to our guide about life in Burma. I know, how bad of me.
In Nyaungshwe itself, I rented a bike for (half) a day and went around to the nearby villages to visit the floating gardens. There was a possibility to go to the monastery with the jumping cats, but that required me to rent a boat all by myself, which was quite costly and I heard from some people that most of the cats were “injured” or taking a break, so even if you did visit, you couldn’t see the cats jumping.
The weather was still pretty bad during my stay in Nyaungshwe so there wasn’t much I could do either. Just took it easy (again) and just wandered around town during the day. After a few days, I went back to Yangon to fly out of Burma.
In conclusion, I really liked Myanmar a lot. It was a slow paced and very friendly country. Majority of the people are very welcoming and accepting of foreigners and tourists and to top it off, most of them speak decent English, which makes it a lot easier to travel around. You won’t see many tourists around, nor will you see a lot of tourist exploited places, but it’s a country that’s definately worth visiting. You do need to plan a few things here and there but you definately don’t need a tour for your whole stay here. Seriously, check out Myanmar and be overwhelmed by it’s amazing culture and people.