Myanmar

Published on September 24th, 2015

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Myanmar Memories: Part III – Hill Tribe Moto-trek

MyanmarHilltribeTrek1Ah yes, even as I peck this, my heart still meanders amid the idyllic hills and dales…

My near 3 week amble around Myanmar truly proved to be the frosting on my 2+ year Asian odyssey cake. Oh so many memories of Yangon, Kalaw, Inle Lake, Bagan, Mandalay, and dear sweet Hsipaw.

Ah but the very fondest of all – my 4 day spin through the Burmese countryside on the back of a motorbike, dodging muddy potholes, gasping at rural vistas so exquisite it often brought tears to my eyes (or… maybe it was just road dust!), and sleeping on the floors of humble Hill Tribe homes.

Though the precise facts and figures may well now escape me after these many months, I can emphatically assure you – the delicious memories of bouncing freely through the back-roads of Myanmar have not dimmed in the least.

Kalaw-Inle Lake MapAs detailed in my Part II of this Myanmar Memories saga, I initially fell so in love with the lovely highland town of Kalaw that I dallied an extra 2 days there.  The first order of business of course, was setting up my trek to Inle Lake. While there are a handful of tour operators in Kalaw that offer such small group treks, my previous online research pointed me to “Sam’s Restaurant” (his trekking HQ is in his family restaurant) as both the best and the cheapest. So naturally I headed there the day of my (pre-dawn!) arrival by bus from Yangon.

Sure enough, there was a small group headed out on foot the next morning for a 3 day/2 night trek (at $40 pp.).  But I wanted to leave two days later in order to catch the weekly Hill Tribe market in Kalaw on Friday. I also hoped to do a 4 day trek, but was a bit concerned that my dodderin’ legs weren’t up to such a strenuous trudge.

Talking it over with Sam, he suggested a motorbike instead of plodding nearly 40 miles on foot. That way I could spend more time in the Hill Tribe villages and my knees would no doubt thank me.  A 4 day moto-trek (with my own personal driver/guide) was a bit more costly of course, but at just $90 for a private 4 day/3 night trek (including all meals and accommodations in homestays) proved to be among the best values in all my travels.

Myanmar Hilltribe WeddingBut by departing for Inle on Friday, I still had a day to spare before the weekly market, and Sam mentioned a wedding the next day in one of the nearby villages.  Another solo lass opted to join in, so for $20 each, the four of us (each lass on the back of a motorbike with driver) set out the next morning for the wedding.  Turns out, it was actually THREE weddings, with a trio of nuptial pairs.

Weddings of course are very special affairs among these rural communities, and the villages are scattered far and wide among the hills.  So multiple weddings are combined so that everyone (on foot or speedy oxen) can attend. Needless to say, the festivities proved remarkable – the brides and grooms colorfully adorned in their most sumptuous finery. The entire village welcomed us with open arms, and we danced in the middle of the village to 70’s tunes blaring from boomboxes tucked on the porches above.  None of the newlyweds had set up a gift registry at Bed Bath & Beyond of course, so instead we offered a few thousand kyat (pronounced “chat”, about $3) to each couple, as was the custom.

(Click on any of the thumbnails to start the slide show…)

The weekly market proved worth hanging around Kalaw for.

The following morning I rose early and enjoyed the weekly Hill Tribe market as planned (see more market pics in my earlier Myanmar Memories: Part II post) before starting my 4 day moto-trek to Inle Lake.
My trusty private guide spoke excellent English and proved a most knowledgeable and amiable companion for the 4 day trek. Sam’s trekking services also include conveniently transferring your luggage directly to Inle Lake for a small fee, allowing me to travel uber-light for the 4 days with just a small rucksack with but a change of underwear, a toothbrush, and rain-gear.

MyanmarHilltribeTrek2

vroom, vrooom, VROOOOOM!

Words fail, to describe the idyllic ride, meandering past miles of yellow flowering canola fields, and stopping to chat with locals working in fields or tending their stock, along with petite lasses hefting piles of rocks to reinforce the potholed roads. Indeed, while the way proved a good deal physically challenging at times (bouncing over dirt roads filled with puddles and deep ruts), we occasionally passed small groups of trekkers on foot – mostly twenty-somethings – loudly bemoaning both their blisters and the tedium of walking for hours ‘n hours on end.

Instead, thanks to our little motorbike, we covered a lot of territory including lofty villages (otherwise not reachable to the trekkers on foot with but 3 days to cover nearly 60 km) with views that were truly breathtaking. The bike also allowed us to arrive in each village by mid-afternoon, so as to have plenty of time to wander among the simple rattan homesteads and interact with the locals.  And while by day 4, I was more than ready to give my sore motorbike bum a rest, I must say, I was reluctant to leave such a rare and idyllic travel experience behind.

(Click on any of the thumbnails to start the slide show…)

And finally, I leave you with my most cherished memory of Myanmar: Just before dawn on the final morning of the trek, as I lay on my bamboo mat on the floor of my homestay – a faint creak of the flooring (luckily) prompted me to open my eyes…

There in the corner knelt this young lad, carefully applying “thanaka” to his cheeks by the dim light from the window.

Can you spell “priceless”?

MyanmarHilltribeTrek20

Still many more Myanmar tales to tell, so stay tuned for the final two chapters of this most memorable saga.  Next up: those bazillion temples at Bagan, the jiggly-jarring train to Mandalay, and the oft’ missed (but most exquisite) far-flung haven of Hsipaw.

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About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!



2 Responses to Myanmar Memories: Part III – Hill Tribe Moto-trek

  1. Patti Dean says:

    Wow – as I work towards my CELTA training in Vietnam (your blog wisdom informing it all the way) and then who knows what afterwards – I love all the process that you put into your e-mails. Your amazing gift is that you are willing to share process. It’s not easy. To be stirred from your old routine – and then to consider – a new option – and then how to go about it. I don’t think you realize how much you matter to peoeple who are daring to take risks. Even if they are such small risks that other adventurers wouldn’t even consider it a risk. You do. You so – oh my – take the time – honestly take the time – to consider risks great and small. I really honor you. As a woman of 60, thinking she can consider more than working to keep her beneftis and playing solitaire at home to bide her time until she wine induced falls asleep – your web site is so important. I think there are many of us out there. And we are thinking – maybe the world can heal us and we can help to heal the world. Scary – and yet – I’m thinking – with your example – that it is a step by step truth. An honest and viable truth. You have so much of my love and admiration,

    • Dyanne says:

      To be sure Patti, as my TL tagline espouses (i.e. “You’re never too old…”), no way need a lass (or lad) of 60+ settle for dreary days of solitaire. Shoot, statistically, most of us have at least 20 to even *30* YEARS (barring ill-health, but that can happen at any age). And if you’re even remotely inclined to explore the globe… it’s all there waiting for you – just a matter of dreaming a little bigger and breaking free “…from you old routine.”

      And YOU’RE DOING IT, girlfriend! Soon to take the leap and follow my breadcrumb trail to Vietnam. I’m thrilled that my blather here might inspire, but it’s YOU that deserves all credit for making.it.happen. You’re path may well differ from mine, but I have no doubt whatsoever that you’re in for a boatload of adventures. Do keep us up-to-date as your Great Leap unfolds!

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