Dates: May 15 - 18
Kalaw is a quiet mountain town in Central Myanmar. Originally founded by the British as a hill station to escape the heat of the surrounding plains, Kalaw is still home to notable communities of Sikhs, Nepalis, and Indians, having ensconced themselves in the area since their ancestors came to build roads and railroads for the Brits.
Most travelers only spend a day or less in the understated town as it primarily serves as a jumping off point for trekking trips to Inle Lake, a marshland and wildlife sanctuary, and one of Myanmar’s principal tourist destinations. Although I would have liked to hang around Kalaw longer to enjoy the cool weather, with my visa clock ticking, I went with the program and enlisted for a three-day trek to Inle.
I’m usually weary of organized group activities with other foreigners because I feel that it makes it harder to interact with locals. While the three days of walking were mostly spent gazing at the scenery or talking with other tourists in the group, the evenings gave way to really interesting cultural experiences, as we stayed in a village homestay the first night and a monastery the second. Thus, the trip turned out to be a good balance between having fun with fellow backpackers and experiencing the local culture. Sometimes these two aspects of the trip merged, for instance when we were invited into a villager’s house to share a bottle of rice wine or playing soccer with the local kids.
The trekking group consisted of around 8 travelers, everyone from Europe or North America, except for one Colombian guy who is now living Amsterdam. Our guide, Aakash, was a twenty-something of Nepali and Tibetan descendent—who, despite growing up in a Hindu household, has become enamored by Buddhist teachings and is contemplating becoming a full-fledged Buddhist monk.
I can’t describe the trek as a highlight—because virtually every single day I’ve spent in Myanmar has been absolutely unforgettable—so I will just drop a shoutout to the British guy who I met on the bus on the way to Inle who persuaded me to get off at Kalaw instead of going all the way to Inle, as I originally planned. Thanks British guy!