About that trip to Kalaw...

Trip Start Mar 04, 2006
Trip End Apr 13, 2006

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Flag of Myanmar  ,
Wednesday, March 15, 2006

So I left Bagan planning to go to Kalaw, and ended up in Nyaungshwe. When the flight landed in Heho, all the other passengers but two were on package tours, with buses waiting. The other two, Peter and Nari from Australia, were heading to Nyaungshwe, so rather than pick up the entire cost of a taxi to Kalaw, I decided to save some money by sharing a cab to Nyaungshwe with them. They were great company for an hour long ride in the back of a pickup truck. I ended up bumping into Peter twice more that day, at the market and at dinner. Good food and great conversation. Unfortunately Nari wasn't feeling well, to the point that they went to the clinic to have her tested for malaria (negative, thankfully), and may not get to see much of the area before having to leave for Yangon to make their flight to Bangkok.

After checking into the Remember Inn, I did my usual wander about town. It's quite a bit bigger and more developed than Nyaung U, though the livestock still wanders at will. Most of the townies seem to be ethnic Burmese, but because the town is surrounded by ethnic minority villages, you see a fair number of them as well.

The town is the gateway to Inle Lake, the big attraction here. There's a tribe of people, about 40,000 if I remember correctly, that live on the lake in stilt houses, cultivating floating gardens and fishing in a manner seen nowhere else in the world. Thanks to the lake and a network of canals, the valley is probably the most productive agricultural region in Myanmar, and it shows. Even the livestock looks healthier and better fed.

I stopped for lunch at the original Aroma, run by Omar's wife and staffed by his kids. As soon as I walked in, the only other customers, Howie and Debbie from Manhattan, invited me to sit with them. Typical New Yorkers (friendly and talkative) they're on their 74th country. They met in Moscow, and were married on a 747 somewhere over the Pacific. Who knew you could do that? And of course, I ran into them again at dinner.

The next day I slept in a bit, then rented a bicycle and headed west, into the the rice paddies. Riding along a raised dirt rode through a network of paddies and canals, you enter an entirely different world, one that seems unchanged from hundreds of years ago. People get around in canoes, live in raised thatch huts, bath in the canals, catch fish with nets, till their fields with water buffalo and wooden plows, carry bundles of firewood and whatever else on their heads. If you're born into this world you'll live much the same life your grandparents did, and their grandparents before them. It's one thing to know intellectually that 2/3 of the world lives something like this, and maybe see it on TV occasionally, but it's something else to witness it first hand. Quite an eye opener.

One magical moment came as I was pedaling past a small hut across the canal from me. A beautiful little girl in a dress ran across the bamboo bridge waving to me and holding something in her hand. When I stopped she smiled shyly and handed me a water lily. I was really touched by the gesture, and thanked her in Burmese. She replied by sticking out her hand and saying "Present? Money?" -sigh- Mostly it just made me laugh. I took her picture and gave her a 10 kyat note, about a penny U.S. It was probably the wrong thing to do, teaching her the wrong lesson and all that, but c'mon, she lives in a woven hut. Someone suggested I stop by the market and pick up some packets of shampoo, pens and paper. Better than giving money I'm told.

I've booked myself on a boat tour of the lake tomorrow. Apparently it's a bit touristy now, but still something to see. I'll let you know how it turns out.
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erics on

Hi Guys
Don't know if you'll check back and see this, but thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I hope Nari is doing better!

Duck when the mini-buses go by, you bet!

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