In Myanmar there is a national holiday called Union Day on February 12th which was a Tuesday this year. Union day is not the day they celebrate kicking out the Brits but the day when the all the regions of the country came together as one country for the first time. Now I have lived in two countries where they celebrate kicking out the Brits. I wonder how many more I will live in. Our school decided to make the Monday a holiday as well thus creating a nice 4 day weekend. We decided to spend the time in Kalaw, which is a small town in the hills about 350 miles north of Yangon and not far from Inle Lake.
We flew into Heho airport which is the same airport that serves Inle. Our hotel arranged a car which was duly waiting for us and it was about a 40 minute drive to the town. Myanmar roads are pretty terrible in the main. This one has been widened and the first part of it re-surfaced. In a few years I’m sure it’ll be complete all the way to Kalaw which will drop the driving time significantly.
The first thing you notice on arrival at the airport is that the temperature is significantly lower. Yangon is starting to hot up so it was lovely to experience some cool weather again.
We stayed in the Kalaw Heritage hotel which is a nice old colonial era hotel with a lot of original features. Arriving in the morning we walked into town to check in with our hiking company and have a look around the town. Kalaw is very small but quite nice with a sizeable market. We walked around the market and found a few stalls serving food. We chose one and ordered Shan Noodles (as we’re in Shan state) and it was great. Afterwards the total bill came to 1,000 MMK which is 50p or about 75 Cents. I’m pretty sure that’s the cheapest meal we’ve had since we’ve been here.
On the way back to the hotel we thought we’d stop in at a local bar near our hotel only to discover two colleagues from school already in the same bar. We knew that they were coming but it was pretty coincidental to bump into them like that. Before going to dinner we went to a tiny bar that we’d heard about from some friends who had just been to Kalaw, (Hi Snacks & Drinks). They pretty much only serve rum sours and then keep you there with free flowing bar snacks including great little samosas. The bar owner spoke to us in Burmese and I was actually able to speak back. I wouldn’t really call it a conversation, more a series of short statements but I was pretty pleased nevertheless.
One of the main things to do around Kalaw is hiking. It is already at quite a high elevation (which also means no mosquitos) so the views are great. Much to Lindsey’s chagrin, the tour company forgot which hotel we were staying at and had no way of calling us. When we finally called them, it took them 3 times to answer but finally it all got sorted out and we were on our way on a 21 km hike. It was a great walk with some fantastic views and quite varied terrain. I saw quite a few interesting birds but couldn’t really identify them without a guide.
Day 3 we had a delightful day at an elephant camp for retired elephants. Elephants are still used in the timber trade in Myanmar to this day although much less so than in the past. These elephants were all in the timber trade (except one orphan) and were either disabled in some way or old age pensioners. The oldest ones were 68 and 65 respectively. The cost of the day was $100 USD each but in our view was totally worth it. There was no riding the elephants or demonstrations of what they could do. It was very simple in that you went to the elephants where baskets of food were laid out and at first you simply got to the feed them for an hour or so. They were all very used to people and seemed fine with the whole process. They were tied up by a thin looking rope but at one point the mamuts just untied them. Then each elephant went to a small river and we got to help bathe them which was unbelievably fun. After that we went to see the vet who talked to us about elephant care and then we had an excellent lunch. After lunch we got to see the process of how they make elephant poo paper, inspect an elephant skeleton and finally, and to our delight, more feeding of the elephants! At about 3:00 pm they are let loose in the forest (about 200 acres) and are then only got back in, in the morning. Each elephant has a wind chime type bell around it’s neck with a slightly different note which is how they identify them in the forest. The foundation are also involved in reforestation projects and school education about elephants. All in all an amazing experience and lots of fun.
On our last day we simply spent the day walking around Kalaw. The 5 day market which we had already experienced at Inle was at Kalaw that day so we waked around that too. In Kalaw it seemed bigger and less touristy. We stopped at a tea shop looking out on to the market and simply watched all the locals doing their shopping. Great people watching. Our short flight home was actually early landing into Yangon and because it was a holiday the traffic was no problem. Lovely trip but Yangon felt even hotter on our arrival home.