From Bagan, I arrived in Kalaw around 2:00am but this time the ever-so-kind Railroad Hotel offered half price for late night arrivals (plus a discount for me travelling alone) and picked me up from the bus stop!
Breakfast was delightful – fruit, eggs and toast, and a pancake! I got some recommendations for trekking and a map and then spent the morning going around to compare agencies. I bumpwd into a pair of Dutch guys and we decided to start a group together and ended up going to Sam’s Family for the trek – it was a good price and had a good reputation. They would send us on our way with a guide and food for 3 days, send our big luggage to guesthouses at the end at Inle Lake, and cover the boat fee across the lake for 45,000.
I finally got to eat some coconut noodles for lunch in the market, and later got some more Abu Shabu to try to clear up my cold congestion. Early to rest for the first day of trekking the next day!
In the morning, we met at the agency and I realized there were at least 20 groups heading out on treks that same day! I was already slightly regretting not choosing one of the less popular agencies to spread the tourism wealth.
We went on our way and ended up being a group of 7 – with the 2 Dutch boys, 2 girls from the Basque Country coincidentally, an Argentinian, and a German. So I got to speak a lot of Spanish over the 3 days!
The trek overall was okay – we went through fields of different crops, some hills, and on the last day through some red dust and rocks. We stayed in villages with local tribe families but this also felt weird and exploitive, particularly the second night when there were some 20 groups in the same village (200 families) and you could feel how much they didn’t really care for having us there. Not interested, slightly annoyed, but tolerant because of getting the small extra payment.
I talked to our guide Cookie about it all and he said that the village was less hppy recently because on New Year’s Eve a bunch of tourists decided to have a party and stayed up late drinking and making lots of noise in the village. So disappointing to hear. Plus add the fact that only the families that host get any actual benefit (around $1/person that sleeps in their house)… and the rest of the village still gets cameras in their faces and foreigners roaming the street.
So all in all, I got some nice pictures and had good chats but mostly the trek just made me feel bad for adding to the circus of tourism. Agencies making profits and the locals getting little more than trouble. But we did have excellent food, had fun taking a shortcut via pick- up truck, and practiced playing Choline, a ball game similar to hacky sack but with a bigger harder ball.
When we got to Inle Lake, we decided to pay 1,000 kyat extra each to mar the jouney across the lake a little longer instead of just going straight to Nyaung Shwe. We stopped at some workshops that are set up for tourists with souvenirs but it was still a little interesting to see how they make the fishing boats, roll the churoot cigars, and my favorite – longyi making wih the looms! Not only with cotton and silk combos but LOTUS!!!!! I sat and watched a woman breaking and rolling the fibers together for ages – it is incredible!! Scarves run around $200 from it, but maybe someday when I am rich and famous!
We watched the sunset from the boat and snapped some iconic shots of the fishermen (spoiler: they definitely posed for us, but at least our boat driver scurried away before they came over demanding tips).
In Nyaung Shwe, I stayed at Remember Inn for $10/night, and the next morning I had my last Shan noodle soup for breakfast (choice between that or pancakes or eggs) and then wandered around the town to mail off postcards and get a Shan noodle salad in the Mingalaba Market.
From Nyaung Shwe, I decided to go straight back down to Yangon back to the Thabarwa Center to finish up my time in Myanmar. I got to see some friends from before and it was the perfect ending to my Myanmar stay – teaching nuns English, going on two more alms rounds with the monks which ended up being the same two groups and places I went when I first arrived (full circle?), and starting what to do with the influx of foreigners and what kind of volunteer projects they can help with.
I really felt a strong connection there… off the tourist path the people in Myanmar are so lovely and particularly at Thabarwa they can always use more help, so I am contemplating returning later in the trip but on a meditation visa so I can stay longer and also continue trying different meditation centers in the area – not only Thabarwa retreats but also Goenka and Shwe Oo Min. We will see!