The bus journey from Yangon to Kalaw was an adventure in itself; 10 hours in a basic (but with a little air con) bus, riding over increasingly bumpy roads venturing deeper and deeper into the heart of this amazing country. I was one of only two foreigners on the packed bus, kept company by Marion, a lovely woman from Paris but originally from New Caledonia, a French island between Australia and New Zealand. We shared our breaks together and talked about our experiences of Burma and our lives back home. At our first stop, we panicked the bus had left without us as it wasn’t where we left it. However, as per normal, some friendly Burmese stepped in and helped us to find it.
We arrived in Kalaw at 3.30am – it was pitch black and freezing cold. Waiting for the bus were a couple of young lads, one wearing a face mask and sporting a motorbike. Coming from London, the first thought that came to my mind was that they might be bandits preying off stupid westerners who catch buses that arrive in a sleepy and dusty town like Kalaw in the middle of the night when everything has closed. Of course, nothing could have been further from the truth. They were there from guesthouses, seeing if anyone needed accommodation. I didn’t as I had booked ahead, and the lad with the face mask insisted on walking us to my guesthouse so we got there safe. Marian didn’t have a place booked, so she came with me and we shared a room for the few hours before breakfast. And thankfully the place was open and waiting for me and the room was ready. Perfect.
Kalaw is a tiny market town. Not much more than a main road through, a gaggle of side roads hugging the market which is at the heart of the town, with the obligatory temple and a sprinkling of small guest houses and restaurants. That’s it.
My guest house is simple but will suit me fine. I decided to push the boat out and go for a private bathroom (14 dollars – outrageous), although there was a distinct lack of water coming out of the tap or the shower this morning. Oh well, adds to the adventure. And besides, as soon as I have showered I immediately dusty again so what’s a bit of grime and body odour among fellow travelers?… My room opens on to a large shared balcony that runs the length of the building – I have already marked that out for reading and guitar playing this afternoon. It’s time to master picking.
Breakfast was a basic affair – 3 pieces of bread topped with a scrambled egg with instant coffee and something masquerading as orange juice. But it filled me up. For lunch I’m heading to a place that apparently does phenomenal bowls of noodles for 500 (that’s 50p). Tonight I have my eye on a bar where the owner has a guitar and apparently needs no encouragement to play. Maybe he’ll let me have a go, too.
Tomorrow, the plan is to do a day’s trek in the local area. The countryside looks beautiful – green and lush and hilly.
As I talk to fellow travelers about what they have done and what they plan to do, it’s clear I won’t even scratch the surface. This is an amazing country with so much to see. Just might have to come back again soon to see the things I have missed…