After walking for a day it was lovely to come to a stop. We stayed the night at Hti Thein Monastery with a couple of other hiking groups. We arrived first so were able to bagsy our sleeping area which was a padded mat on…
Month: January 2018
From Hpa-An we took a night bus to Kalaw in Shan state. It took about eight hours including a stop half way. As we left Hpa-An the coach stopped numerous times taking more and more people and packages on board so much so we had sacks of rice on the floor down the middle aisle and people sat cross legged on top of them as well as a chicken in the baggage section under the coach. We were crammed in but as we had seats we had a pillow and a blanket and a bottle of water. In the morning we were given a box each of donuts and cakes for breakfast. I think Theresa and I were a bit over tired as we got the giggles very badly so much so I was literally crying for sometime….it definitely helped the journey go by!
We arrived in Kalaw at 5am and were dropped off very close to the place we were staying, a nice friendly gentleman met us and took us straight there. It was very beautiful surroundings high up in the mountains and was mercifully cooler than Hpa-An or Yangon. We stayed at the Golden Lily Guest House which is very cheap so we paid a fraction more for a room with ensuite which was simple but good. It is run by a Sikh family who have lived in the area since their grandfather came over from India to help build the railway line. Myanmar has become home and now it is too expensive and complicated to ever visit India and family they still have there. It was fascinating hearing all the stories but quite sad to think how privileged I am to be able to travel wherever I want to while they are not able to visit family and a heritage they have never seen.
From a gluten free point of view breakfast was great as I had vegetable fried rice made especially for me which I was very grateful for. We ate dinner next door to the guest house which was my cheapest dinner on the whole trip at about 72p for everything including rice (I had egg curry). The picture doesn’t do it justice as it was very fresh nutritious and tasty.
We chose to stay here as they also offer a range of packages for hiking down to Inle Lake which I will talk about in my next post.
We were based in Hpa-An for our few days in this area as most things you might want to see are within about an hours (or much less) drive in any direction. The town is not huge but has everything you need. It has a number of temples and interesting bits of architecture but you don’t need long to explore the town it is the surrounding area that you come for really.
One thing that is indisputable is the beauty of Myanmar. Everywhere I went was stunning. The landscape is idilic and looks pretty unspoilt. Obviously there are numerous fields of rice perfectly manicured and luscious in colour but they sit so perfectly alongside the majestic mountains in the distance. It makes for a pleasant day driving around watching the landscape go by. The people we passed along the way are also delightful most of the time very interested to see a western face and extremely friendly. You could end up with arm ache after all the waving!
On this day out our taxi driver asked if we might be interested in seeing a local weaving workshop along the way and of course we did. So our next stop was fascinating watching a large group of predominantly women weaving gloriously coloured fabrics. I had seen this in Laos a few weeks earlier and had an afternoon of weaving myself, this workshop was very similar.
One of the differences with this style of weaving was the added tufts (for want of a better word) of threads that are carefully caught between the weft and warp threads creating kind of tassels. They are arranged in geometric patterns and create an added texture to the fabric. The workshop had bowls of these perfectly sized and cut bunches of threads ready to be inserted.
One thing that was a lovely change from most of my travelling was that we were not asked to buy anything at any point. We had simply been introduced to this workshop because they were proud of what they were doing and wanted to show it off.
Outside the weavers we came across this gorgeous little chap. I am slightly dog crazy and had been photographing a dog a day on my travels so he had to be added to my collection. To be honest he was so cute he nearly went in my bag!
From Yangon we took a night coach to Hpa-An which is about a nine or ten hour drive to the east. That in itself was an interesting experience. Even though it was a night bus which one would assume means that some sleeping is expected it had load music playing for the entire journey! I have the great super power of being able to sleep in any situation so did so but my two companions were ready to kill someone by the time we arrived having had zero sleep.
One of the challenges we set ourselves on this trip was to climb a mountain. Now none of us do this regularly, I am used to steep hills living in Sheffield and walking everywhere but this was in a totally different league!
This is Mount Zew Ka Bin a bumpy tuktuk drive south from Hpa-An. At the very top there is a monastery and it takes about two and a half hours steep climbing to get there. We had a bit of a restricted time scale due to the tuktuk waiting for us and the other things we wanted to fit into the day.
As you turn off the road and start to travel along the path towards the foot of the mountain you become increasingly aware of thousands of buddha statues filling the fields that surround the mountain, they literally go on for miles.
There is clearly an ongoing project to restore and paint these statues which I suspect is a permanent job for someone as once you have finished the last one it would be time to start all over again. I am not a hundred percent sure what I think of all the restoration as everything is painted so brightly as new. It really takes away and patina of age and the story of these statues but seems to be the way most of south east Asia. There is something endearing about the unrestored statues and it gives rise to thoughts about their past and the environmental effects on the materials and I always love an object with a story. See what you think.
As we got nearer to the foot of the mountain the buddhas changed and clearly had not been restored so far anyway. These were beautiful and almost hidden amongst the grasses and trees. The more you stared the more statues you began to see emerging from the landscape. It is a truly beautiful and tranquil sight with these statues showing signs of the environmental effects of living in the landscape and becoming harmonised within their surroundings. It is worth visiting this place for the buddhas even if you didn’t want the challenge of climbing the mountain.
So onwards and upwards. The climb is in the most part steep stairs of a variety of shapes and sizes. This actually makes for a difficult climb as it is hard to get into a rhythm. There are some areas of path in a couple of places but not much. About half an hour into the climb there is a stopping point with taps and water. We weren’t sure about drinking the water and had come prepared but what it was very useful for was tipping over ones head to cool down!
At this resting point there are a few buildings it kind of looks like there is development in progress and maybe one day there will be a shop or cafe there but currently there is nothing except the taps. There is also a mini pagoda or stupa again highly painted so I cannot give a guess as to its age.
About an hour into the climb we came to a clearing in the trees and could start to appreciate how high we were getting by the view. You can see for miles. The area is a very flat plain with the occasional mountain bursting from the ground.
The mountain path is lined with interesting flora and fauna and we encountered many birds, dragonflies, butterflies a centipede and a couple of crabs. Yes I did say crab they are a fresh water variety quite unique to south east Asia and something new to me. When my friend said she had seen a crab half way up the mountain I thought the heat had got to her at first! But we did see more as the day moved on so unless we had all been hit by sunstroke and hallucinations there are indeed freshwater mountain crabs. I collected several small specimens of plants to press in my sketchbook and use later to create some cyanotype prints which I will share with you in a separate post.
Two hours into the climb we reached the top of the mountain. It is still some distance along the ridge theta to reach the monastery and our time was fast running out so we took a group decision to call it a day at that point and return to the bottom, not really knowing at this point how long that would take. We took a number of celebratory photos at the top. Below is my attempt at high altitude yoga!
and the view…definitely worth the effort!
Downtown Yangon is an affordable area to stay with plenty of choice. The area is very interesting for a wander and accidentally discover markets and little industries almost on every road. The buildings are a mix of colonial styles which are looking very worn and…