Hiking from Kalaw to Inle Lake, the country side of Myanmar.

I am writing this while sitting in the cockpit of Sanuk in Noumea. We are back in the water and it feels good 🙂

A couple of weeks ago we were sitting on a nightly 10 hour bus ride from Hpa-an to Kalaw. After a not so comfortable ride, we arrived early in the morning in the centre of Kalaw and found a taxi to take us to our beautiful hotel, “Hillock Villa”. We had a fabulous breakfast and went for a walk back to town to find a hiking tour company we could join the next 2 days to Inle Lake. After visiting 4 of those we decided on not the cheapest (too many people in a group) and not the most expensive, Uncle Sam looked like a good choice and Trip Advisor confirmed this.

While in town we bought a hat for Stefan since he had left his other head 😉 somewhere in a restaurant.
The scenic view at the start of our walk from Kalaw to Inle Lake. It is clearly the dry season ! The only crop in the ground is ginger. They are waiting now for the rains to come which will be in July.
The fun part of hiking with a guide is that you are able to connect so much easier with the people working in the farms and on the land.
Beautiful women from the Pa’O tribe.
Kun-ya or betel nut chewing is one of the most popular traditions in Myanmar with men and women (a bit less). It is a mixture of betel nut (the areca nut) with slacked lime (calcium hydroxide) and catechu (black shiny piece) wrapped in a betel leaf. You have to place it between your cheek and gums and suck on it. Soon a red liquid will form in your mouth which you have to spit out. (hence the red spots on the pavement and streets) It is addictive and causes severe tooth decay and oral cancer in the long term. Everybody knows this but apparently it is too difficult to quit. The government has launched a anti-betel campaign because it is one of the leading causes of death in Myanmar.
At 76 years old she is still working hard, sitting on just a mat weaving. I admire these strong women.
The typical Burmese woman, smiling with thanaka paste on their face. Thanaka is worn as a protection for the sun but mostly as a make-up. It is said that Burmese have been using thanaka for over 2000 years.
The thanaka is paste is made from grinding the bark on a flat wet stone and then immediately applied to the face as it dries quickly.
Our guide was happy to show us how it was done and apply it on our faces. According to the Burmese it is not only good as sun protection but also lightens the skin and even works against acne. I brought a jar of thanaka powder home :-).
The dry land, hard to imagine in the next months this will all be green. Some time I want to come back in november at the end of the raining season, it must be such a difference.
Another typical image for Myanmar, so much is still done by hand. We saw these men in the fields weaving baskets from bamboo.
In the evening coming back from the field. An ox cart is still a very common sight in rural Myanmar.
The girls getting water. I do not think long hot showers are an option here.
We spent the night with a local family. They prepared wonderful meals for dinner and breakfast, sleeping accomodation is very basic but for these people the tourists are an important source of income. Several houses in the little town were housing tourists with a local guide. Our group was really fun : on the right Celine (FR), Stefan (BEL), Helene (FR), Melanie ( GER) and in the back Alexander (GER), in front with the twin boys was our host family, Ilse (BEL) and one of our guides.
Our trekking continued through lots of dry fields but really beautiful scenery and friendly people. Unfortunately I lost all my pictures from the second day because something went wrong with the transfer to the computer :-(.
Inle Lake is the second largest fresh water lake in Myanmar and the highest (900m).. About 70.000 people are living on and around the lake, most of them are Intha people.
We rented a boat for the day at our hotel (beautiful Innthar Lodge on the lake) so we could get a taste of the life on the lake.
We made a stop at Indein village to visit the Shwe Inn Thein pagodas. A little girl tried to convince Stefan to buy a scarf.
We could not resist her smile and bought a scarf for 1000Kyat (60c).

While we were walking in the little town we noticed a lot of dressed up Pa’O Hill people. It seemed we were at the right place at the right time, to witness an important rite of passage, the Buddhist Novitiation Ceremony in Myanmar. The Novitiate ceremony is when boys do their service to Buddhism and are entered into the order of the monks for a week or longer. Novitiation is the obligation of every parent and the most important gift to their sons. It is believed that this deed will prevent the parents from having an evil afterlife in Buddhist tradition.

The Pa’O hill tribe is the seventh largest minority in Myanmar.
The Pa’O have been in Myanmar since around 1000 BC.
Forced to wear dark indigo-dyed clothing after the defeat of the Mon King Makuta of Thaton by King Anawratha in 1057, today the Pa’O are known for their brightly-coloured turbans.
It was so great to see all the beautifully dressed men and women for this novitiation or Shinbyu ceremony.
The Pa’O people were called“Black Karen” by the British colonialists because of the dark blue or black clothing. Here they are carrying offer money for the monastery.
The boys heads are shaven apparently earlier in the day. They are dressed in yellow, pink and green satin costumes with colourful make up .The costumes are symbolic of the look of a royal prince.
The procession with the monks-to-be protected from the sun by the golden umbrellas.
Like a little prince but not for long. After the ceremony the boys are undressed and the typical maroon robe is put on.

This was such a beautiful and unexpected event that we did not venture further to see the pagodas but just enjoyed watching the people. Happy with these impressions we looked for our boatman and returned to the lake.

The famous leg-rowing Intha (‘”sons of the lake”)fisherman.
Reeds and other floating plants rise high out of the waters, so that when they are sitting low in a boat, it can be hard to see and to steer through the vegetation. It is for this reason that, while the local women still row their boats in the usual manner, the local fishermen developed their distinctive standing rowing style.
The water hyacinth (purple flower) is not native to Inle Lake but grows fast, clogging the smaller streams and depriving local plants and animals of light and food.
The fishermen like to show off their balance to tourists:-).
Roughly 25% of Inle Lake is covered by floating gardens where lots of manual labour produces tomatoes, beans and cucumbers. The farmers gather lake-bottom weeds from the deeper parts of the lake, bring them back in boats and make them into floating beds in their garden areas, anchored by bamboo poles. These gardens rise and fall with changes in the water level, and so are resistant to flooding.
The garden “shed” on the water.
We visited one more monastery, forgot the name. It was 100 years old and the wooden walls were painted in  gold. I find these places so peaceful and enjoy just walking around watching the lifes of the monks.
How would it be to enter a monastery for a week or two ?

Next stop : Mandalay, Monywa and Bagan

4 thoughts on “Hiking from Kalaw to Inle Lake, the country side of Myanmar.

  1. Jullie de wereld rond al gevolgd…prachtig. Geniet er nog van!

    1. Bedankt Annick! Het is altijd leuk te lezen dat de blog gevolgd wordt. We genieten!
      Groetjes, Ilse en Stefan

    1. Dank je wel Pascale, nog ééntje van Myanmar en dan zeilen we langzaam richting Vanuatu. We kijken ernaar uit!
      Groetjes, Ilse

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