Monks, Muti and Mountains: Myanmar in a day

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Our hiking guides, Rhythm and Eddie, have journeyed over nine hours by bus from Yangon to Kalaw, in the Shan State of Myanmar, to lead us on a 10km walk into the hills behind the town.  They are sprightly and cheerful as we set off from our hotel.

A Day Walk from Kalaw

Three bare-footed novice monks pass by, shaven heads gleaming in the early morning sun. Voluminous saffron coloured robes envelop their young frames, each one clutching an alms bowl close to their body.

Novice Monks in Kalaw
Collecting Alms
Medicine from the back of a truck in Kalaw
Magic Muti

A group of women gather around the back of a ute. Two men, leather satchels slung diagonally over one shoulder, espouse the virtues of some bottled ‘muti’.  

Leaving the Town

Two rows of large weathered yellow plastic containers stand against a fence. A woman shaded by her traditional triangular bamboo hat fills the containers one by one from an outdoor water tap.

A rustling tapping noise coming from the door of a roadside home causes us to stop. Rhythm calls out. A woman opens the door and a young boy of about two looks out. He’s been fiddling with the latch trying to get out.  

Rural Shan State
Roadside Home
Rural Roadside Stall Myanmar
Roadside Stall

Leaving the road, we walk along dirt paths through forested areas where the cool breeze provides welcome relief from the sun. In the valley, I negotiate muddy sections by balancing poorly on rough beams. When I slip unladylike down a short sandy section, Rhythm offers his hand as support.

Into Farmland outside of Kalaw

Farmers wearing the traditional longyi (a long wrap around skirt-like garment) water their crops or squat on their haunches planting seedlings. Although the water buffalo are safely tied to a wooden railing, Eddie warns me to stay clear as “they’re unpredictable”.

Rural Kalaw
Farmland

Myanmar Buffalo
Beware the Buffalo

As the path rises into the hills, an extensive view of mountains in the distance opens up. The air is clear and fresh. Our hike ends at a little roadside restaurant where lunch and a Myanmar beer awaits.

The flavours and freshness of Myanmar salads are a surprising part of the cultural experience when visiting this surprising country. Today the salads include a tasty lettuce salad and one of broccoli and avocado.

Mountainside surrounding Kalaw
Extensive Views

A car awaits. Unregistered for town driving, this car is only able to drive on these rough rocky back roads. With no air conditioning, the interior quickly heats up. Bouncing around in the front seat, I hang onto the handle above the door, wondering how long it will be before the car breaks down driving on these roads.

Café Kalaw

A sign on the road side advertising Café Kalaw grabs my attention. I call out “Stop. Stop”. This place roasts their own organic coffee and I’m told the coffee is good. 

Bidding Eddie and Rhythm farewell, I walk through a bougainvillea covered archway and little garden to the coffee shop. I’m directed upstairs where other tourists sit and chat. The coffee, my first in Myanmar, is as good as any I’ve had in Sydney.

Mountains outside Kalaw
View from our Lunch Spot
Great Coffee in Kalaw
Café Kalaw

Enjoying the walk down the hill to my hotel, I stroll slowly along observing the homes, a little roadside shop and a way of life quite different from my own. A wide-open metal gate leads onto a paved forecourt besides an old double storey house. Grain dries on large sheets of plastic matting on the paving. A white tuk-tuk stands nearby.

Meeting a Local Family

Four generations of women and children and one man sit around on plastic chairs, enjoying the afternoon sun. A little boy plays with a broom nearby. The elderly grandmother runs around excitedly shrieking and grabs the little boy when he runs towards the gate. She has some sort of disability.

Non- verbal Grandmother
Giving a Helping Hand

Soon, I too am seated on a plastic chair attempting to communicate with smiles, some newly learnt Burmese words and various gestures. A young girl emerges from a back room with a glass of warm sweetened milk which she thrusts into my hand.

Meeting the Cows

The family keep cows and deliver milk around the neighbourhood in the tuk-tuk. I realise now that the old lady is deaf and non- verbal. She wants to show me the cows and leads me behind the house to a shed. I duck down so as not to bump my head then look up. In front of me, ten black and white cows stare disconsolately back at me.

House in Kalaw Shan State Myanmar
Kalaw Home
Shop in Kalaw
Shop on Kalaw’s outskirts

We return to the forecourt. Before saying our goodbyes, the man tells me that they’re Nepalese and his father (possibly the old woman’s husband) was a Ghurka with the British. If only we could communicate better. There is so much he could tell me.

“Home Again” for Dinner

After a brief rest I set off for dinner at “Home Again”, a little family restaurant a short walk from the hotel. The restaurant seems to be much further than expected and I start to worry. There’s no one around and I question the wisdom of being out alone in a strange country, with the light rapidly fading.

My relief when I see the welcoming sign “Home Again” is palpable. The wooden covered veranda seems deserted, but I haven’t come this far to be deterred. Descending the uneven steps through the garden to the house, I call out. Eventually a smiling woman emerges from the semi darkness.  

Power outage Kalaw
The Power is Out Again

She welcomes me apologetically. There’s another power failure and all she can offer is the “rice soup” she’s prepared for her family. By this stage, I’m happy with anything. Besides it’s rather fun sitting alone in the dark with a small flickering candle.

My hostess brings me a glass of her trademark sweet wine and a lime juice. A coriander garnish, a squeeze of lime and a touch of spicy soy bean accompanies the rice soup which is most enjoyable.

Gate and Washing in Kalaw
Kalaw Street Scene
Scene in Kalaw Shan State Myanmar
Another Street Scene

Instead of calling a tuk-tuk, the hostess’s two sisters walk me back by torchlight. We chat in stilted English. One has just graduated and has plans to be a teacher. The other is studying Myanmar history. This time the walk takes no time at all. 

Thinking back on my one day in Kalaw, I’m amazed at how much of Myanmar life I experienced in only twelve hours.  

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Comments

  1. As always, so enjoyed the superbly well written day in the life of an adventurer!

  2. Wonderful to read Joanne, so much in there and clearly and evocatively written.

  3. Thank you for an interesting glimpse of Myanmar. The sweet wine and lime juice sound yummy, also the rice soup. Your photos are gorgeous, they capture the beauty of the countryside and a very rural lifestyle.

    1. Author

      Thanks Bernadette. The simple meal and setting at Home Again was most memorable.

  4. A great read JO and well worth waiting for. Always enjoy your blogs so keep them coming xxx

    1. Author

      Thanks Heath. Working on a couple now. Starting to get out and about.

  5. Must have been a very interesting day. A good glimpse of the lifestyle and people.

    1. Author

      It certainly was a memorable day, Muylynda. I can still taste the warm sweetened milk.

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