Myanmar - Kalaw: Trekking in the Myanmar Hills

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Vivid Green: Rice kissed by the rising sun

Rising before the sun, seeing it rise over the hills, covering all it touches is golden highlights is amazing at the best of times, couple that with the brilliantly vivid scenes of gently glistening dew covered rice growing in the field – its simply magic – simply Myanmar.

 

While in Kalaw, staying at our early 1900’s bed and breakfast, we could not turn down a change to walk in the rural countryside. What better time than early morning.

English houses in the Myanmar Hills

Our guide assured us the night before that the terrain would be ‘gentle’ and ‘down hill’.

 

I think today must have been Opposite Day since 7 of the 12km was up hill rising to 1404m above sea level at the high point. By not means was the walk hard, just unexpected.

 

The villages that we passed and their inhabitants live a truly rural existence. Every second house had a water buffalo in the front yard, who received a loving pat as the families departed, walking their a small children heading off to school.

Local tractor

 

During our visit, the children were heading off to school on the last day before a 10 day break. Which means after cleaning the school grounds they were free to go home which they were doing when we dropped into the local school at around 930am.

 

As the villages are totally devoid of mains power, every house had a solar panel for lighting during the dryer months and a mini hydroelectric setup in the local stream for during the monsoon season.

 

Our guide even showed us the roadside local herbs that the farmers use for first aid – one to stop nose bleeds, which when burnt also keeps the squadrons of local mosquitoes at bay, another that you put the sap on cuts and scratches to seal against dirt.

 

Frankie and our Guide

 

During out time in  Kalaw & Inle Lake a number of internal bombings occurred throughout Myanmar,  the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) has emailed me a few travel advisory updates informing us that a number of explosive devices have been found across the country. Detonations have been confirmed in Yangon and Shan state ( the state we are in now). While the information is most welcome, it will not be effecting our plans, but I will be keeping a ‘weather eye’ on the situation.

A massive 6 months!

SAMSUNG CSC

Starting around Sept 2013 I finished a 6 month rotation to Darwin, where I found a new found love of jogging and exercise.  I was lucky enough to meet great friends and go  to places I never would have the option of going to if it was not for work .

 

Read more about my time in Darwin here

Almost as soon as I arrived back in Canberra we were off again. Thanks to my  amazing partner lead me on a tour of his incredible country – Myanmar. We spent an unforgettable 3 weeks traveling the lengths and breadth of this nation. Even after all the sights and experiences his FAMILY was the true highlight for me. His mother’s warmth and care, his father’s intelligence and willingness to share and ask questions about my life too. 

A more in-depth write up of our time in Myanmar is here
 
Then the “ experience “ of meeting my parents in Kuala Lumpur and catching up with my good friend Ron who then joined the four of us traveling to Redang Island (Palau Redang) off the north east coast of Malaysia. It was the second time Frankie and I had been to the Lagoon Redang resort. After the ferry ride from Kuala Terraganu on the mainland over to the resort (where my father’s sea sickness came to a head) and check in, the island is really just a water sports playground. 
All expenses paid apart from alcohol and diving services. After snorkelling every day and also trying SCUBA I was HOOKED. The resort is a PADI accredited resort which means they have instructors and Dive Masters who can facilitate everything from the minimal training ‘Discover SCUBA’ right through to your ‘Dive Master’ qualification. Frankie, Ron and I decided finally we would try the ‘Discover SCUBA’ – which is essentially being kitted up and thrust under water. 
 
Frankie and Ron could not get get more than 10cm under the surface before pulling the pin. I managed to get all the way through the experience – roughly 15mins getting to a depth of 5.5m. I was so excited to be doing it I forgot to actually take my GoPro3 from the dive bag on the beach before getting in the water. 
 
Back in KL the ‘experience’ of travelling with my parents again reached crescendo with the all important family yelling match in an international airport. Don’t be shocked. Its rather common for my family. We get over it faster than our words echoing around departures. 
 
  
 
A more in-depth write up of our time in Malaysia is here
On return back to Canberra I started in a new role with a new team in the a new office. 
 
 Not long after our return from our big overseas adventure we decided to start thinking about buying a house. When I say thinking, we looked at one and brought it. A 2br, split level east facing townhouse. Requiring 5% down in Nov 13, and the rest in around Nov 2014. Perfectly suited for what we needed. Also keeps my NBN dry. 
 
 
 So because I am swimming in cash *COUGH COUGH* I then booked my PADI Open Water Dive Course. 
 
 I nearly didn’t get to do the course! 
 
The doctor was worried my lungs were almost not up to the minimum capacity. But don’t worry, I managed to get over the line. 
 
 The first weekend was half theory and half practising in the pool! I don’t know about you but I am never lucky when it comes to being partnered up in anything sporty, usually picked last. Well there was this one mega cutie on our group – and for once guess who I was partnered with!! JACKPOT! He was a great guy, sweet and innocent of the ways of the world. It wasn’t until the pool technique practising that my inner filter turned off. I couldn’t stop giggling when our instructor was inadvertently saying things with MASSIVE innuendo such as “ right team lets get under water, get on our knees and have some fun’ I looked at our assistant instructor with my ‘trying not to laugh’ face – which is hard in full mask and regulator in your mouth’ Sadly his mouth was level with the water and it caused him to inhale and cough with the biggest smile. The laughs only continued.. 
For those that are not divers, there is a requirement to learn how to tow your buddy should they become fatigued or injured, this cryptically is called the ’Tired Diver Tow’ which involves you laying on your back and your buddy laying between your legs face up, you hold their tank and kick – pushing you both forward. I simply said ‘ I don’t open my legs for every one this easy, buy a boy a drink first sailor’ He too could not control his giggles The second weekend was the in water component, unlike the current Australian government immigration policy, as it was under water rather than on water I can talk about it. The first day was 3 dives at 6m practicing skills we learnt in the pool. The second day was at a site called Toll Gates – read about that bit here
 
 
 

All was going well, a little too well.

 

I was getting ready to finally sell my maxi road scooter – 500cc – on consignment with a local dealer.
 
 
 
 
The fates intervened again. I was crossing an intersection with a green light, I stopped as a cyclist crossed my path and was collected right in-between my passenger front and rear doors. Causing $6000 worth of damage. I am insured however the insurance company is still ‘determining fault’ hmmmm. 
 
 
To top of a roller coaster of emotions. I was voted by an overwhelming majority to lead my employers Gay & Lesbian Network. A total of 1/2 of the overall votes came to me. A lot of pressure is now on me – some will say ‘its just a volunteer thing, no extra pay, why bother’ – It is important to make changes, drive the changes. You can’t do that from the outside.

 

If this was the last 6 months, I wonder what the next will bring.

Hopefully you will also see some changes on the site coming soon. I hope you will enjoy.  As always, please like, comment or subscribe.

 
 

Telecommunications + internet in Myanmar October 2013

 

Just like just about every other facet of life in Myanmar, telecommunications and the internet in all its forms have experienced a massive and rapid evolution in the recent years and months.
Frankie tells me that as little as 5 years ago a single sim card could cost as much as $25,000 US. Yes that is correct. Not a typo. Today a prepaid sim is only $100-150. Whilst Myanmar is experiencing rapid growth it currently has only one mobile provider - MPT Myanmar Post and Telegraph. Just like their name - they are stuck in the past. The government has recently entered negotiations with a number of international mobile service providers with a view to granting new operating licences. It has been reported that 4G could be coming to Myanmar.
Funnily -The fastest internet we discovered all over Myanmar was in a Massage Parlour- nothing suspicious I assure you. For a sum of just 12 AUD we both received a 2 hour massage along with being able to download podcasts and update Facebook - highly important I assure you.

iPhone not accessing gps in flight mode - instantly connects when when deactivated

 

I just wanted to provide some feedback regarding my experiences while traveling recently using the iPhone as a GPS mapping tracking device.
Throughout the whole trip I was using my iPhone on flight mode and keeping wifi and bluetooth active to allow connections. I sadly discovered that the GPS is either extremely slow or will not connect at all. This particularly annoying and or disasterious to the use of  http://www.inreachdelorme.com/product-info/inreach-smartphone.php or  https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/motionx-gps/id299949744.

Myanmar - Kalaw: An English village in the Shan State Hills via limestone caves of Pintaya

A journey into the hills

 

After leaving the banks of Inle Lake we headed up into the hills of Shan State.

On the steady climb up winding roads to the limestone caves of Pintaya we passed through some of the densest farmland in Myanmar. We passed small family farms growing cauliflower, pumpkin, potatoes, beans and cabbage all grown organically to be sold at local markets or if lucky, regional wholesalers.

 

Pintaya

 

Pintaya limestone caves, just like every other caves I encountered in Myanmar, have been converted to a Temple with every surface and grotto adorned with Buddhist imagery.

Every square centre metre is covered in icons

 The real highlight of Pintaya is the legend that surrounds the cave. Allegedly in mythical times, a number of princesses sheltered in the cave to escape a storm.
Little did they know a Nat [pre-Buddhist spirits] in the form of a giant spider was in the cave and proceeded to hold them hostage. A huntsman (a hunter, not of the spider variety) was nearby and heard the princesses’ screams. He used his bow and arrow to kill the spider. Why princesses were roaming the country unprotected the myth does not say. 
 
To remind all and sundry of the story there is a reenactment in Disney style large stone characters at the entrance to the cave. 
 
 
From Pintaya we stopped and had lunch at the lake where Kainnari & Kainnara (the flying lover gods as previously mentioned ) were rumoured to live. 
 
Not a bad place to spend a day. 
 
Onward, ever onward we moved to Kalaw – if the English gardens at Pyin Oo Lwin was freakish the English cottages and large homes of Kalaw are other worldly, topped off with Pine trees make this place look like an English village deposited in the Myanmar hills.
 
 
 A true highlight for me included a visit to the Kalaw markets during Market Day! All the farmers were out selling their wares – from veggies to batteries, dried fish to clothes - it was all there. We spent most of the morning wandering around the stalls and looking at odd parts of animals.

Pyin Oo Lwin Days 13 & 14

Day 13
Today we head off to Pyin Oo Lwin, in the hills outside Mandalay. The air is noticeably cooler and they even manage to grow grapes here for the local wine industry.
First stop is a waterfall (Dat Taw Gyain Waterfall) I have to say the walk down is not for the fain of heart. Taking 45 minutes to walk down, you know it is going to hurt on the way back. Due to recent rain the waterfall was in full flow covering the base area in a misty spray including the near by Pagoda.
The rest of the afternoon was spend checking in at the hotel and resting. That evening we had dinner with one of Frankie's friend from school, now an Myanmar Army Major, teaching at the nearby Joint Services College.
Day 14
First location we visited today was a deep cave with a natural river flowing through it. This river is diverted in parts to power mini hydro electric power systems - lucky since the inside of the cave, discovered in 1990, has been turned into a walk in Pagoda - every wall and shelf is covered in Buddah's images or grottos filled with religious imagery, all with the river running in and out of little rivers covered by walkways.
Then off to another waterfall located near by, called BE which I am told stands for Built by Engineers (Army) - a multi stage waterfall and river system running through a little township - water was a little dirty from recent rains.
In the afternoon we headed back to the township of Pyin Oo Lwin for a tour around in one of the many colonial era styled horse pulled carts.
Finishing the afternoon at the large botanical gardens built in 1917.
The whole place looks like an english park.. apart from the pagoda in the middle of the lake, and the monkeys fighting in the trees.

Myanmar: Bagan to Mandalay

Monks heading around Mandalay

Flying from the ancient temple city of Bagan  to the ‘last kingdom’ of Mandalay, we were the only passengers on this leg as the aircraft operates Yangon – Bagan –Mandalay – Yangon. All passengers had left at Bagan with only Frankie and I boarding for the flight from Bagan. Talk about premier service!

After arriving in Myanmar’s second largest city there was no time to rest – adventure awaits.

 

U Bein Bridge

I know it sounds like one of those locations were you may think ‘oh how exciting… a bridge’. I have to say I did think that on the way to the location, but I was immediately taken aback.

The 100 year old Teak Bridge and its surrounding lake was spectacular.

The day we were there it was drizzling – in some ways that added to the spectacular mystical atmosphere

Watching the weather beaten old men sitting on the low bridge with their lengths of bamboo for fishing catching a few little fish with just a flick of the wrist.

 

Mahar Gandar Yone Monastery

After the visiting the bridge we wandered over to the  Mahar Gandar Yone Monastery. The monastery is famed in the area for allowing the tourists to see the process of dishing out the main daily meal to the many monks that reside at the monastery. Monks traditionally only eat 2 meals a day. Arising at 4am for a breakfast meal followed by a single lunch meal.

 

Sagaing Hill Silk Weavers

A visit to the region is not complete without visiting the silk weavers of Sagaing Hill where we managed to find the perfect gift for one of our friends back in Canberra, a Longyi, the Burmese sarong.