Two lovely days in Kalaw Myanmar a hill-station setting for a famous romantic novel – Best Blogs Series

Heho, Kalaw Township, Taunggyi District, Shan ...

Heho, Kalaw Township, Taunggyi District, Shan State, Myanmar Main Entrance of Heho Airport located in Heho, Kalaw Township, Taunggyi District, Shan State, Myanmar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Palaung tribal woman near Kalaw, Shan State,...

A Palaung tribal woman near Kalaw, Shan State, Myanmar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Tatmadaw (Army) generals' villas over...

English: Tatmadaw (Army) generals’ villas overlooking a golf course, Kalaw, Shan State (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After breakfast, we transferred to Nyaung Oo Airport. We sadly said goodbye to Po, our brilliant guide, and our really nice driver in Bagan, and took a forty-minute flight to Heho, in the heart of the Shan State, Myanmar. We were met warmly by our new guide, a female this time, and driver.

After leaving Heho airport, we were driven through the rolling terrain and beautiful scenery, until Pindaya about two and a half hours later. We visited the famous and amazing Buddha caves filled with thousands of Buddhas and tiny meditation niches.  Most of the Buddhas had been donated by Buddhists from all corners of the globe and we were surprised to see so many from Australia. Afterwards,  we continued to a local workshop which made mulberry paper and traditional umbrellas by hand, these were used mainly as sun shades,  but because we had overweight baggage, we declined to buy any, beautiful as they were.

After a stop for lunch, we continued driving until we reached Kalaw, our base for two nights. Kalaw was once a British hill station, and is set high upon the Shan Plateau, with  trekking being the big draw for tourists like us, either short walks to ethnic minority villages or longer treks. Kalaw is at 1320 meters above sea-level, and just 50 Km from the Inle lake. We will get to blogging about Inle Lake soon, but Kalaw is special too.

For some wonderful photos of Kalaw open this link.

Kalaw was also the  location of a 1950s based romantic novel, published in 2012, where a successful New York lawyer finds an alternative life in Kalaw and years later his daughter goes to Kalow to investigate and come across the unimaginable hardship and resilience of some of its people.

We were staying at a very quaint hotel but it was very cold at night!  Fast-forwarding, we had two freezing nights at our picture-postcard hotel. We had no warm clothes with us as we had shipped them home at an earlier date. The only form of heating was a lovely log fire but that was for about two or three hours  and a hot water bottle that didn’t stay hot all night. It was too cold to get up and put some more hot water in the bottle because the fire had gone out by that time! It’s times like these that make us remember how pampered we are in the West. This hotel was at a height of 1300 meters above sea level and was lovely and sunny during the daytime.

We had a wonderful trek in the hills, passing farms and many villages inhabited by the area’s ethnic hill tribes, including Danu, Palaung, Pa-Oh and Shan. We were accompanied by our regular guide and a second hiking guide, so there was little chance of us getting lost. Being very fussy about food hygiene in Myanmar, we declined the offer to have lunch in a local village house and decided to wait until we returned to Kalaw, about 2.30 PM. We later learned that a number of tourists had problems with village food due  to poor hygiene standards, so be warned if you are planning to visit Myanmar some time soon.

Anyway, we had a wonderful fresh river fish meal for lunch at a small family restaurant in Kalaw, inviting our female guide to join us. We met all the family, including the grandmother, who was a school-teacher before retiring and opening  this restaurant. She spoke excellent English and we had a wonderful conversation with her. As we were researching this blog and learned about the famous romantic novel, we thought again of this lovely elderly lady who was just like a character in the book.

After our late lunch we were taken around the outskirts of town to where the British influence still stood  in the form of luxury mansions, now owned by wealthy Burmese as holiday homes. Sadly some of these properties had been badly neglected and in a very poor state of repair.

After our tour of the city and its suburbs, we returned to our hotel where there was a sauna and thought how nice it would be to relax in it. We went inside only to find that the door did not close properly. Can you imagine a sauna with the cold air blowing through the door? We left the sauna and ran to our room for a hot shower as once again we were shivering!

The next morning, we left our hotel for Inle Lake and before doing so paid our account in U.S. Dollars bills, only to be given the ultimate insult, “Sorry but we can’t accept your dirty money”  – some of our notes were either crumpled or had stains of some sort or another and these are not accepted in hotels in Myanmar due to banking regulations. We managed to find enough “clean money” to settle our bill and were very pleased to be on our way to Inle Lake. If you are travelling to Myanmar remember:

  1. They do not accept credit or debit cards, at present
  2. They only accept local currency or clean or new US Dollar bills

Next blog is Inle Lake, probably one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Beautiful Bagan Myanmar (Burma) – Best Blogs Series

Bagan at sunrise, Myanmar

Bagan at sunrise, Myanmar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Shwezigon, Bagan, Myanmar Швезигон, Б...

English: Shwezigon, Bagan, Myanmar Швезигон, Баган, Мьянма (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Bagan, Myanmar. Bagan became a centra...

English: Bagan, Myanmar. Bagan became a central powerbase of the mid 11th century King Anawrahta who unified Burma under Theravada Buddhism. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We were sorry to say farewell toMandalay, as we checked out of  hotel  thanking the staff for a pleasant stay. Our car took us  to the Mandalay airport for a short flight to Bagan. It was an early start and we were in Bagan airport by 8.00 AM. We were transferred to our hotel on Mount Popa, an extinct volcano, also now a nature reserve and a national park. We had the afternoon at leisure, which was very pleasant given the stunning views from our vantage point on the mountain, the kind of view where you stare at the same space for several minutes but find it difficult to move on, as the beauty is so stunning. Unfortunately, the hotel itself was a series of disasters for us –  they have the monopoly here, it is the only hotel and they used that to their advantage and the customers’ disadvantage. We were glad to leave the hotel, but sorry to leave the view the next morning.

We were met by our guide and driver, who took us next to the base of Popa shrine,  which is believed to be home to the ‘nats’, ancient Burmese animist spirits. We climbed  to the top for stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Our guide on this leg of the journey was excellent and we were pleased to learn that he would accompany us for the rest of our trip in Bagan.  We started our climb up the seven hundred and fifty steps to the top and we had lots of company in the form of monkeys joining us and crisscrossing our path in front of us. We were told to hold on to our cameras firmly as the inquisitive monkeys liked small items. There was much “monkey poo on the steps up the mountain – but periodically, volunteers were cleaning areas for tourists and we were asked to show our appreciation with a small note and that was understandable as it wasn’t a very nice job to volunteer  for! In addition, there were hundreds of vendors selling their touristy wares, so quite an exciting atmosphere that made the climb up easier, however, once there the views were truly spectacular. Later we descended the hundreds and hundreds of steps along with the hundreds and hundreds of monkeys,  and we were met outside by a herd of water buffalo and more street vendors, what a lovely scene!  Next, we started our interesting scenic drive  to Bagan proper.

We traveled and stopped at many small villages and local markets and even saw the family ox walking round continually in circles for the production of both palm oil and peanut oil, using a very old style circular mill attached to the ox. We were able to sample the palm juice, wine and spirit. We learned that in these parts peanut oil was the most healthy oil  for cooking being the lowest in cholesterol but unfortunately many Burmese people could not afford it and used substitutes that were higher in cholesterol.  Burmese people typically like fried and sweet food and we found this diet difficult to enjoy as we don’t like either very much, however, there are many other choices too.

Bagan compares to Angkor Wat, Cambodia, with some of  the most impressive temple complexes in the world. Bagan is home to the world’s largest collection of Buddhist temples, pagodas and Stupas, with some dating back to circa 8th century.  Unlike  Angkor Wat,  these have not yet become a UNESCO world heritage site and sadly have not had the funds needed to maintain and restore them. The temples are surrounded by a stunning landscape of rolling hills and forests. We suspect that Bagan is probably not yet a UNESCO world heritage site for two reasons:

  1. The politics of the former military government; and
  2. The fact that many of the temples had been modified by kings over the centuries – frequently embellishing them with gold but sadly changing the original unique architectural features.

We had a typical Burmese lunch in New Bagan, where the hotels, restaurants and shops are located. New Bagan has now become popular with the locals as a residential area. Old Bagan is where the historical sites are located.  After lunch we  checked into our hotel for three nights – it was comfortable and the staff were very friendly. We unpacked and relaxed for a few hours.

Around 4 PM, we were picked up for our next viewing by horse and cart  among the temple plains, we rode through the temple complex on our bumpy ride which lasted about one hour, stopping to enjoy the magnificent sunset over the temple complex from up high. Along with tourists from various parts of the world, we climbed up to the top of this holy temple to see the wonderful sunset and take photos, it was very hot, but well worth the effort.

Once again, reflecting on our wonderful day over a drink in our hotel, we were so pleased to be in Myanmar! Of course, we are still way behind editing our photos and video footage but for those eager to see photos please open this link. More about Bagan to follow.