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Kalaw to Inle Lake

Written on: Friday March 2nd, 2007

A journal entry from: Southeast Asia

An old overcrowded, overheated bus wound its way for hours up from the central plains through mountainous and rugged terrain to our destination, Kalaw. This would be the starting point of perhaps the most remarkable of our roads less travelled. We rambled and bounced past road improvement crews - men, women and children working in the heat crushing rock into gravel by hand, mixing tar over roadside fires, not a tool or machine in sight. Forced labour? This country has a bad reputation of forcing family members to work on road and construction projects.

Highly recommended, Sam's Trekking provided four of us with a guide and cook for the three day, 55 kilometre journey from Kalaw to Inle Lake. We journeyed on paths and ox-cart trails over hills, rice paddies, and through remote minority  hilltribe villages unchanged for what seemed like hundreds of years. It has only been in recent years that the government has allowed foreigners to access isolated areas, so the local people seemed as equally awed by us as we were them. The military has a bad record in their means to control and keep peace in some areas. Our local Shan guide, who spoke many of the local languages, was warmly welcomed along the way. We had many tea and lunch stops at Palaung, Danu and Pao villages (three of the 135 Myanmar minorities), sitting on mats around the open fire in their bamboo home, sipping locally picked tea among betel-chewing, cheroot-smoking, teneca-cheeked, longyied and turbaned locals. We would travel on pathways used for centuries by ox-carts, water buffalo and basket-laden villagers, the only means of transportation. The first night was spent on mats in the hut of a Danu family, enjoying a  fire cooked Shan meal, and Greg entertaining the local men with a game of shuttlecock.  The second night was eerily spent on the floor of a village monastery awakening in the darkness of early morning surrounded by chanting monks and village women delivering alms. Greg again entertained our hosts, the monks, with a rigorous game of shuttlecock. Our third day ended at an Intha village built on stilts near Inle Lake. A longtailed boat transported us through narrow channels of floating gardens to Inle Lake and our destination, Nyaungshwe. The next several days were spent enjoying the company of other backpackers at Queen Guest House and exploring the floating gardens, markets, Intha villages and the notorious "jumping cats" trained by bored monks at a lakeside monastery. Travellers tend to get stalled here, not looking forward to the long,wild, winding road back to Yangon.