On our second full day in Kalaw we had planned to trek out of the town, over three days through lush Burmese mountainsides, ending in Inle Lake.
Our guide greeted us at 9am and gathered together a group of 12 people (including the four of us) who we would be walking, sleeping and eating with over the next three days. The group contained an Austrian couple on holiday for two weeks, a 28-year-old guy from Weston Super Mare teaching English in Thailand (who wants to be a life coach), a young forager from Kent travelling Asia as long as his inheritance money can sustain him for, before returning to the UK to build an eco-house, a slightly sexist French man, two white-blond haired, stunning dietitians from the Netherlands, a young German girl (who was pestered by the Frenchman), and the four of us. It was quite a mixed group of people but we all got along well and had some interesting conversations getting to know one another.
Everyone in our group was pretty fit and healthy (there was an alternative 1 night and 2 day option we could have chosen) so we kept a good pace. We walked a total of 65 kilometers. The first day we walked for 6 hours, the second day was about 7 and on our last day we covered 4 hours. Over the 3 days, we trekked through diverse landscapes, from paddy fields to tropical forests, along red dirt tracks and through small village communities. We walked over mountains, through valleys and even had time to have a dunk in the river before descending into Inle Lake.
We slept in homestays for both nights, which were basic, but we could have fallen asleep anywhere after so many hours of walking. The 12 of us shared a communal bedroom, sleeping on mats on the floor. The ‘showers’ consisted of a cold bucket and bowl to wash ourselves as there was no running water in the villages, but we had solar powered electricity. This meant we went to bed when the sun went down after dinner (tucked up by 9pm) and woke at dawn for breakfast (served at 6:45am). It was fun going back to basics and we ended up embracing the dirt. The temperature dropped dramatically in the evenings and mornings so the idea of cold showers was less appealing than greasy hair. Being able to sleep in a traditional village was a real privilege and we both hope that it doesn’t change too much with the inevitable increasing popularity of the trek.
Another pretty incredible aspect of the trek was the sheer number and clarity of the stars above us at night. The lack of light pollution meant we could see every constellation in all their glorious forms.
On our second night we found ourselves staying in a village that had organised a dance competition involving school children from 16 villages in the area. They had fashioned a makeshift stage in the centre of the village and blasted out a mix of traditional Burmese songs, as well as modern tunes like Gangnam Style. Everyone was in agreement that the kids were adorable. The locals seemed happy to welcome the passing travellers into their community. When three of the group (the Austrian, the sexist, and the life coach/English teacher) asked to join in with a traditional game of cane ball (volleyball with feet), the locals were keen. Perhaps it was the inevitability of winning the 1500 kyat bet that the foreigners agreed to, that convinced the locals to humour them for a short while.
The trekking itself was physically harder than we’d imagined. The company organising the walk didn’t specify the level of fitness required but we were feeling the burn on day two. The majority of the group had at least a couple of blisters by this stage and Naomi was hobbling her way down the mountain by the final day as the skin on her little toe eroded step by step.
But it was worth it to catch a glimpse of rural village life. One of the most aesthetically pleasing villages we walked through made a living farming chillis. The fields burnt a vibrant sea of red and filled the air with a sweet, spicy fragrance. Other farmers cultivated rice, mustard, rapeseed, corn, avocados or ginger, all with the trusty aid of their noble buffalo. The food on the trek was delicious and plentiful because of this. It was locally sourced and fresh. The avocado salads were a favourite and we were offered herbal green tea on tap to hydrate us.
We’ve noticed a real stray dog issue since being in Myanmar, which was particularly prevalent on our trek. Wherever we found ourselves, we were never far from a fuzzy month old puppy begging for food, or a handsome alpha male covered in battle scars patrolling his territory. It’s a big issue in this country as sterilization is non-existent. They breed constantly and it broke our hearts as we passed from one village to the next, wanting to adopt them all.
When we finally arrived in Inle Lake and said our farewells to our guide, we were piled onto a motorboat and sailed to the mainland. It was a relaxing treat to sit down and take our shoes off. It was the perfect to end to one of the highlights of the trip.