Kalaw to Inle Lake

Trip Start Sep 18, 2004
Trip End Jun 05, 2005

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Sunday, December 19, 2004

Written by Nelly

Written in Yangon, Dec 27, 2004

Jon Stewart in Kalaw?
Kalaw was a popular hill station during British colonialization, and the weather is much cooler than other parts of Myanmar we've visited so far. We noticed that the TV in the hallway of our guest house was showing CNN, apparently they have satelite TV. We were told that people bet on soccer matches here, hence the satelite TV to watch the match. Apparently Satelite TV and gambling are illegal, but bribery makes many things legal. That night, we were thrilled to catch Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show - Global Edition" on CNN!

Three day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake
From Kalaw, we hired a guide and did a three day trek to Inle Lake. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences we had in Myanmar. We trekked through villages of the hill tribes in the area. Besides the first village, we did not see a single foreigner. Along the way, there were dried up rice paddies, beautiful bamboo forests, giant old banyan trees, and orange groves. Farmers working in their fields, harvesting sesame, ginger and other seasonal produce. Cows and water buffalos grazing on the dried up fields. It's fun just to observe the village activities. Villagers in their traditional outfits toting their produce on their way to and from the market. People in the village are very friendly, often inviting us to have tea with them, and the kids running after us saying hello and goodbye.

Did I mention food is good in this country?
We ate so well on the trek, the guide made us really yummy meals. We had the best tomato salads prepared by our guide. At one of the villages we stayed with the head of the village. His family seemed really well to do (he has a real tractor, the first one we've seen in Myanmar!) and they made us an amazing dinner and breakfast. Freshly roasted peanuts, potato curry, and tasty collard green soup. People will invite us to have tea with them in the village, along with the tea we also get some local snacks. My favorate is the sticky rice cake dipped in honey, given to us by monks in an ancient monastery. We had also tried some new fruits we had never had before, musk melons and ju ju bees. Ju ju bees have sort of a pungent parmesan flavor, now I know why my fruit lassi tasted like Parmesan cheese!

We crashed the wedding
One of the villages we stayed in was having a wedding, so we stopped by the wedding. The house was decorated with ballons and flowers, with a loud megaphone blasting traditional music. People are hanging out drinking tea and having food. There were so many villagers there, and they were happy that we are there to take photos. We promised to send them photos via our trekking guide. The newlywed are only seventeen years old, but they looked thirteen. That's been my problem all over Myanmar, the waiter that's helping us could be thirty, but he looks like fifteen.

Schools in the village
The last day of our trek, we stopped by a primary school along the way. It was a log house, there are four classes but only one teacher. There are four chalkboards, one for every class and the teacher takes turn on the four classes. Our guide told us that most primary schools here are built by UNDP, and the government pays teachers very little salary. (UNDP is United Nations Development Projects) The villagers will provide housing and donate food to the teachers. The uniform for both teachers and students are white tops with green longyi. We felt really bad because the teacher dismissed her class early and made us lunch! (It was a very good lunch).

Do you know how to make balloon animals?
Our trekking guide told us to bring some pens and notebooks for the village kids, as well as some balloons for them. The pens and notebooks are the easy part, but to entertain kids with balloons is somewhat difficult. We bought some long ballons in the market in Kalaw. They were very difficult to blow up since they were so long, it took Jesse good five minute to blow one ballon and he was all red in the face from the tremendous effort. Once the ballon was blown, we were trying to make some shape out of them. Sometimes the kids found our ballons so ugly that they shun from the ballons!

Cold floors
The sleeping arrangement on the trek was pretty uncomfortable. We were told that we don't need any sleeping bags, the guide will provide us blankets and mosquito nets. The first night we stayed in a monastery, it was a concrete floor and very cold. The guide went and fetched us five blankets. Apparently an abbot in the nearby monastery had passed away and most of the monks went to the nearby monastery for the mourning ceremony, along with all the blankets. It was very cold and the floor was very hard, but we felt worse the second morning because our guide had only one blanket for himself and he was coughing from a cold.

The second night we were staying at the rich villager's house, it was one of the nicest houses we've seen along the trek. it was much warmer, but the wood floor was still rather hard on our joints. We also didn't feel right bring out our sleeping sheets, in fear of offending our host. How I wished I had my thermarest sleeping pad with me!

Inle Lake
The last day of our trek, we took a motorized longboat to Nyaungshwe, a tourist town on Inle Lake. The lake itself is really beautiful, bustling with life. The lake is about 22 km long and 11 km wide. It was full of birds, water hyancinth, houses on stilts, fishermen out fishing and floating gardens (with tomatoes!). There are pagoda dotted mountains surrounding the lake. Although there were quite a few tourists, it seems like people living on the lake still live their regular lives.

The day after we arrived Nyaungshwe, we took a boat tour on the lake. The boat tour took us to quite a few handicraft workshops and souvenir shops. It was very touristy, but still fun. We go to see silk weaving, blacksmith at work, and cheroot (Burmese cigar) girls rolling cigars (just like Carmen!) The atmosphere on the lake is very nice, even though there were a lot of tourists around, you really don't see hordes of tourists at the same place.

My favorite part of the boat trip was Indein, a town on the west side of the lake. Besides an old monastery in Indein, there were many old stupas surrounding the monastery. These stupas are similar to Bagan style, but none of them were restored. It was really a pleasant surprise to see these beautiful payas among the weeds and trees.

Jumping Cat Monastery
One of the monasteries on the lake is famous, not because of its age, but because the monks are known for training cats to jump through small hoops. I don't know how enlightenment and cat jumping go together, but it was really quite entertaining to watch. The monk had some dried fish, and a plastic hoop. He would nudge one of the cats with the hoop, and the cat will jump through the hoop. He then gave the cat a piece of dried fish. You can tell which cats are most skilled at the jumping, since they tend to be the chubby ones.

As usual, the cat monk was very puzzled by my nationality.
"What country?" asked the cat monk.
"America." said I.
"No, no American." said the cat monk, "Japanese?"
"Not Japanese, America" said I
"Chinese?", asked the cat monk
"No..." said I
"Ah, Hong kong!" said the cat monk.
A little later, a group of Swiss people showed up.
"What country?", asked the monk.
"Switzerland.", said the Swiss.
"Oh German!", said the cat monk.
"well...", said the Swiss.
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