After breakfast, we transferred to Nyaung Oo Airport. We sadly said goodbye to Po, our brilliant guide, and our really nice driver in Bagan, and took a forty-minute flight to Heho, in the heart of the Shan State, Myanmar. We were met warmly by our new guide, a female this time, and driver.
After leaving Heho airport, we were driven through the rolling terrain and beautiful scenery, until Pindaya about two and a half hours later. We visited the famous and amazing Buddha caves filled with thousands of Buddhas and tiny meditation niches. Most of the Buddhas had been donated by Buddhists from all corners of the globe and we were surprised to see so many from Australia. Afterwards, we continued to a local workshop which made mulberry paper and traditional umbrellas by hand, these were used mainly as sun shades, but because we had overweight baggage, we declined to buy any, beautiful as they were.
After a stop for lunch, we continued driving until we reached Kalaw, our base for two nights. Kalaw was once a British hill station, and is set high upon the Shan Plateau, with trekking being the big draw for tourists like us, either short walks to ethnic minority villages or longer treks. Kalaw is at 1320 meters above sea-level, and just 50 Km from the Inle lake. We will get to blogging about Inle Lake soon, but Kalaw is special too.
Kalaw was also the location of a 1950s based romantic novel, published in 2012, where a successful New York lawyer finds an alternative life in Kalaw and years later his daughter goes to Kalow to investigate and come across the unimaginable hardship and resilience of some of its people.
We were staying at a very quaint hotel but it was very cold at night! Fast-forwarding, we had two freezing nights at our picture-postcard hotel. We had no warm clothes with us as we had shipped them home at an earlier date. The only form of heating was a lovely log fire but that was for about two or three hours and a hot water bottle that didn’t stay hot all night. It was too cold to get up and put some more hot water in the bottle because the fire had gone out by that time! It’s times like these that make us remember how pampered we are in the West. This hotel was at a height of 1300 meters above sea level and was lovely and sunny during the daytime.
We had a wonderful trek in the hills, passing farms and many villages inhabited by the area’s ethnic hill tribes, including Danu, Palaung, Pa-Oh and Shan. We were accompanied by our regular guide and a second hiking guide, so there was little chance of us getting lost. Being very fussy about food hygiene in Myanmar, we declined the offer to have lunch in a local village house and decided to wait until we returned to Kalaw, about 2.30 PM. We later learned that a number of tourists had problems with village food due to poor hygiene standards, so be warned if you are planning to visit Myanmar some time soon.
Anyway, we had a wonderful fresh river fish meal for lunch at a small family restaurant in Kalaw, inviting our female guide to join us. We met all the family, including the grandmother, who was a school-teacher before retiring and opening this restaurant. She spoke excellent English and we had a wonderful conversation with her. As we were researching this blog and learned about the famous romantic novel, we thought again of this lovely elderly lady who was just like a character in the book.
After our late lunch we were taken around the outskirts of town to where the British influence still stood in the form of luxury mansions, now owned by wealthy Burmese as holiday homes. Sadly some of these properties had been badly neglected and in a very poor state of repair.
After our tour of the city and its suburbs, we returned to our hotel where there was a sauna and thought how nice it would be to relax in it. We went inside only to find that the door did not close properly. Can you imagine a sauna with the cold air blowing through the door? We left the sauna and ran to our room for a hot shower as once again we were shivering!
The next morning, we left our hotel for Inle Lake and before doing so paid our account in U.S. Dollars bills, only to be given the ultimate insult, “Sorry but we can’t accept your dirty money” – some of our notes were either crumpled or had stains of some sort or another and these are not accepted in hotels in Myanmar due to banking regulations. We managed to find enough “clean money” to settle our bill and were very pleased to be on our way to Inle Lake. If you are travelling to Myanmar remember:
- They do not accept credit or debit cards, at present
- They only accept local currency or clean or new US Dollar bills