CURRENT LOCATION: Bagan, Myanmar
Our arrival in Kalaw after our rickety train journey was reminiscent of our time in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. We got off the train in the mountains, where it felt about 10° cooler and the air was fresh. We checked in to our guest house and went straight out in search of food, having missed breakfast that morning. We were directed to a Nepali curry house, which was a nice change of pace from fried rice and noodles! An early start following my days of sickness really knocked me on my ass, and I spent the afternoon asleep. I woke up in time for dinner, and we sorted out a day hike for the following day.
Our original plan had been to do the three day/two night hike from Kalaw to Inle Lake (ie Nyaungshwe), but after the mess up with our bus tickets (thanks Naypyidaw!), we had to scratch that off the list. We then toyed with the idea of doing a different overnight hike, but given that I was still feeling pretty lethargic, we decided a day hike was safer. We paid our $10NZD each for an 8 hour hike, including lunch, and went to bed early in preparation.
The next morning at 8am we went down for breakfast, to be ready to hike at 8.30am. Our guide was already waiting there for us, so we wolfed down our breakfast and went back upstairs and grabbed our bags. I came down first, and our guide asked if we had rain jackets because the weather looked pretty average. I told him we did, so he took the two he had brought for us out of his bag. Zev came down and we hit the road.
I'm sad to say I never caught his name properly, but our guide was awesome. He was very friendly and chatty, but not too chatty if you know what I mean. We started the walk with a wander through town, with him telling us a little bit of the history of the town (which became very popular with the British due to the milder climate), about the plants we were passing, and about the local people.
Soon, we turned off the road and started walking through private property, past tea plantations, rice paddies, ginger fields, orange groves and peanut farms. As we wound our way up the hills, the view out over the valleys was absolutely stunning, and very similar to home.
One little quirk of our guide: this guy LOVED taking photos. Of us. Constantly. At every opportunity, he would have us posing for photos, both on our camera and his. By the end of the day, he'd taken 150 photos on our camera, and the same number on his. Every time we stopped, he'd take 10 photos. It was hilarious, and slightly uncomfortable. If I were a richer woman, I would've bought that man a camera.
After about 2 hours, we came out onto a road with a small shop and a beautiful view, and took a quick break (and some photos, of course). It had started to rain a little harder (it had been missing for a while), so we rugged up, putting on sweaters (both), a beanie and gloves (me), and raincoats. Well. Sort of. I reached in to my bag to grab my raincoat, only to discover it wasn't in there. The man had specifically asked if we'd packed them, and I'd said yes. Oh dear. He ended up insisting I wear his raincoat, which was an enormous pink poncho which went over me and my bags and covered me to my knees. Sadly this left him raincoat-less, and me feeling incredibly guilty for the rest of the day.
From here, we began walking through small local villages, but although there were a few people out in the fields, the rain meant that most people were indoors. Within about 20 minutes,we had made it to a local school, and our guide took us inside. It covered grades 1-5, and had 27 students, all sharing one classroom with three teachers. The kids seemed to love having us there, interrupting their lesson to sing us songs. The teachers looked less impressed, but were very gracious nonetheless. The kids were incredibly cute though, and seemed to be having a great time.
We carried on walking for about another hour, when our guide took us to his friends' house. We were ushered in, given tea and snacks, and.... Had a photoshoot! It was pretty weird, but very funny. We were in the house of a local couple who seemed to understand English pretty well, but couldn't speak it. First of all they dressed us up in their 'young people' clothes, which was formal attire like you'd wear on a special occasion. Then our guide spent about 10 minutes taking photos of us. Next, our outfits were flashed up into wedding outfits - as in what you'd get married in. The photoshoot that followed that must've taken about 20 minutes. Together, apart, inside, outside, looking at the camera, looking at the view - it was as exhausting as having our photos taken on our actual wedding day! We were relieved to eventually sit down and drink our tea.
We moved on, continuing down the road for another 20 minutes until we reached our lunch spot. We sat outside in the rain under a little gazebo, and had chapati, curry, and bean soup for lunch with a spectacular view.
On the road again 30 minutes later, we had a change of pace of we headed back to town through the forest. Within about 2 hours we were back to the road, and about 40 minutes after that, we had made it back to the hotel, damp and muddy, but in high spirits. Of course, another photoshoot followed, this time with the guesthouse owner hovering in the background, instructing the photographer to stand further back so we had the hotel sign in the photos.
We spent the evening finally booking our flights home. We've been procrastinating that for a while, largely because we weren't sure whether or not we would return home through Abu Dhabi. Our main motivation for doing so was to visit Will and Grace, but we learned that our poor timing meant that Will is away, and Grace is busy, so there would be little point. In the end, we decided we would head that way another time, instead opting for the more direct route home from Bangkok via Melbourne. So we are now officially leaving South East Asia on Tuesday 28th July, a full three months later than we intended. We're very excited about seeing everyone, and getting the ball rolling for a move to the U.S.
This morning, we were grabbing some quick breakfast before our bus ride to Bagan, and our guide was there again, waiting for another group. Unbelievably, they took still more photos as we put on our shoes and headed off down the road.
Today's bus ride was pretty hideous, and I spent most of the first two hours with my face hovering over a plastic bag, thinking I was going to puke. After a quick stop, I recovered, but the guy on the other side of the aisle got rid of his lunch. A long 6.5 hours later, we arrived in Bagan and checked in.
Yet again, we went on a laundry pilgrimage, only to be told that every where in town charges per piece of laundry, which would be ridiculous given the huge amount we have. Eventually we negotiated to 7000 kyat ($7) with a local laundry man for the whole bag. Fingers crossed he remember the negotiations when we go back tomorrow to pay and pick it up...
After dinner, we wandered across the road to throw the frisbee for a bit in the setting sun on a field in front of some temple ruins - pretty amazing. Within about 2 minutes, a kid and a guy pulled up on a motorcycle, and the kid hopped off and came over to watch. Soon, he'd joined in, and had recruited his uncle. We all threw together for about 45 minutes, until it got too dark to see.
Tomorrow, we're heading out to see the temples of Bagan. Lots of people we've met liken them to Angkor, only better, because there are fewer people.
We'll let you know next time!
Lots of love,
S & Z
(Original post date: 18th July 2016)