Myanmar Part III - Trekking in the Hills

Led by our guide Moonsun, myself, two lovely French girls, a Polish couple and a guy from Singapore spent three days walking across hills and plains of the most beautiful nature I’ve ever seen.  With just a small backpack, most of it filled by my camera, we set off early in the morning and soon walking along roads turned to walking along grassy paths.  It was a lovely day, and the morning hours meant the weather was relatively cool.  

Two hours in though, and there was a sudden rumble in the sky, and all of a sudden there was a heavy downpour of rain, which rapidly turned into pretty sizeable hail stones.  Luckily we happened to be under a huge leafy tree, and who should we be sharing the space with but 40 cows and 20 Burmese men!  The men were walking their cattle to the Thai border in order to sell them for a better price than they'd get in Myanmar (photo for proof over on Instagram).  We squatted in a small hut with them for 10 minutes to wait out the worst of the downpour, and huddled round the smoky card game they were playing.  The floor level of the hut was on stilts, so there was a mound of flip flops on the ground underneath. Hail smacked down on the tin roof and created red mud pools outside that we had to hop over to carry on with our walk.  

We walked through small tribal villages where houses are constructed from bamboo and the occasional colourful brick house (like the one above), stopping off in one of them for lunch (rice and vegetables, green tea, soup).  At the bottom of the house we rested in for lunch was a carpet of small garlic bulbs which were being dried out before sold at a local market.  The smell was strong but totally delicious.  Women in the different villages we went through all wore headscarves that had different meanings - orange for married with children, green for widowed and red for single.  We stopped off at the small house of our wonderful guide and had tea made on a fire (built inside the bamboo house!)  Children crowded outside peering in, curious about foreigners and what we were doing.  The power of hand signals and laughing - not having a common language or even word is no problem as people are fundamentally the same, and a smile will get you a million smiles back!  

Days start at 5am in Myanmar in order to start work during the cool part, as the heat intensifies pretty quickly.  On our second day we were lucky enough to be in time for a Buddhist donation festival which happens once a year, and watched men, women and babies come from villages near and far to feast on the donated food and be together, welcomed to the temple area by a procession of beating drums.  There was a tall donation sculpture, and along each of the bamboo sides were strapped offerings - plastic buckets up the right hand side, blankets at the top, umbrellas and bottles of vegetable oil all decorating it.   

When we reached our village we were to spend the night in, as the sun went down there was a crescendo of warbling that came from the bamboo swamp just alongside our house that turned out to be a motley crew of the loudest most vocal frogs I’ve EVER encountered (frog is ‘ha’ in local language).  Their mating call went on throughout the whole night… I went out to inspect it with one of the villagers and her baby and saw in the beam of torch light the fat fat frogs lining the swamp.  Yuk, those fat little tyrants were definitely not welcomed by the villagers!  Again, I was grateful to my earplugs.  I had a very peaceful nights sleep, but I don't think many of my trekking companions were soothed to sleep by this background song of nature. 

Arriving at Inle Lake marked the end of our wonderful trek.  Fishermen using a special technique of paddling with their leg were busy at work, and longboats were full of people being transported from one part of the lake to the other.  Bamboo houses are built on stilts and floating gardens rotate growing potatoes, chilies, garlic and tomatoes.  There are silver and goldsmiths too, cigar-making buildings and monasteries that take up double the space if you include their crystal clear reflections in the surrounding lake. 

Once on the other side of Inle Lake and on a cycle ride with the two French girls we were passed by a herd of 200 cows (please mind my foot!)  At one point we found ourselves a little lost, and upon asking directions were invited to a couple's house where they fed us rice and tomatoes.  The kindness of strangers found in abundance, all with a smile, plenty of green tea and a wave goodbye.  

I could write forever about my trip and in fact I did write a whole diary…the people of Myanmar are the kindest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.  Please of course remember what I mentioned in my first post about ethical tourism and the importance of doing research into the history/politics/culture of the country.  Despite the delicate situations going on it makes the people I met even more special, and I cannot wait to learn more about Myanmar