We left Bagan by a VIP/1st Class bus to Kalaw. We managed to get a daytime bus so we could see the country that we were driving through. As mentioned in the previous post the buses don’t have toilets on them, but we stopped at a petrol station so the bus passengers could use the toilets. Unfortunately, the toilets at this stop had no water, running or in a bucket or from a hose or anything, so the toilets which were being used by 30 or so people were so gross, I was lucky that I was one of the first in line, I mean it was really disgusting. The bus ride was fairly uneventful. We stopped for lunch and had bland fried noodles and rice while the bus staff had an amazing feast waiting for them. What they had to eat wasn’t even on the menu they gave to us. It was either fried noodle or fried rice with chicken or pork. So boring. So bland.
I have formed a theory after reading Burmese Days by George Orwell, that the reason why food offered and served to foreigners is so bland is because of attitudes that the colonists had towards the Burmese and their food. The smell of garlic or dried fish was “a stench” and the delicate colonists couldn’t bear any smell of spice assaulting their precious nostrils. Even green tea is too much for some to bear in the book. Imagine having your food rejected and derided by one group of foreigners, why continue to give the opportunity for it to happen again and again. It must be the same reason why in tourist cities around Thailand you get watered down, spiced down, iterations of their national dishes.
So back to Kalaw, we got off the bus, no bus terminal, just on the side of the highway, we got our bags and bumped into Emma who had arrived earlier that day from Mandalay. She had just booked her trek and we agree to meet up later. The bus stops out the front of Winner Hotel. A man associated with Winner and Eastern suggested we checked out the room there and as we had no prearranged accommodation, we had a look. For $20 USD we are shown a twin share room in the basement, which was a little dark and stinky (it smelt as though the room was on built over a receptacle holding raw sewage) so we passed and were convinced to visit Eastern Paradise which was coincidentally on our hit list of places to try, due to overwhelming praise for their breakfast we had read online.
Eastern Paradise was run by the gentleman’s Aunty. We had a look at the down stairs twin room and decided to take it. We stayed in room 004. There was no wardrobe or anywhere to hang your clothing. There was hot water and a western toilet and putting green carpet and a small desk and medium sized mirror. The beds were a western style spring mattress and there was a small box TV covered with a laced doily. The hotel had decent wifi which we could access in our room and there were even Australian electrical ports so we didn’t need to get out our adapters. The front sitting area out the front was also nice to read or watch the local kids play in the street or the young German Shepard dog being bossed around by two little white fluffy dogs who were obviously the pack leaders. There were a few chairs and one of those white metal rocking swing love benches that I liked to sit on.
The rooms were not particularly sound proof and I awoke the sounds of a man selling something market style, like when you’re at the Adelaide Central Markets and the fruit and veg guys are spruiking in a slurring and loud and booming voice prices for bananas $1 a kg etc. We go to sleep to the howls and yelps of the local dogs.
The breakfast was exceptional and plentiful and the best that we had in Myanmar. I ate a plate of fruit, fried egg, white toast, black and white sticky rice (I added jam to mine), donut sticks (plain – no sugar or glaze) and super strong black tea. I wish that they had fresh milk because this tea was so astringent that it really need the milk to mellow it out but I just couldn’t bring myself to use powdered milk or coffee mate. They also made really nice filter coffee which I switched to after my first day with the very strong tea. Their breakfast kept me full all day! They do the eggs how you like, you can have one egg or two, have them omeletted, scrambled or fried. I found out on our last day there that they even do a traditional Myanmar breakfast of Mohinga but I didn’t get to try it from them.
We booked the same tour as Emma, opting for the 2D/1N, but we end up having to postpone our tour by 1 day because Joe and Emma got sick from some draught beer. We assume that was the culprit (or the glasses) as we all ate the same food but I was the only one who didn’t drink the draught beer as my drinks that night came from sterile glass bottles. We hadn’t planned to spend any time in Kalaw but end up getting two full days in the town which was really great, I could have spent a week in the town it had a really nice feeling to it.
While Joe was sick in bed, I went for a walk up to the Kalaw Lookout, browsed the local walking market and then went back to Eastern Paradise to plan my hike (mainly put on sunblock) up to 60 Buddha’s and check on Joe. Joe decided that he was feeling well enough and came with me. According to the map it was 6km return, but we discovered that it was up some very steep terrain, our thighs burned. I don’t think that its actually a tourist destination. I just saw the label for it on map.me and decided that it sounded cool (I really just went by the name), its not even on google maps and I couldn’t find anything about on TripAdvisor or similar, but it was there on my map, so why not?! The walk took us past the Kalaw railway station and up through the hills where there were a number of resorts and houses with steeple roofs. It was about 2 hours there and back.
We had lunch, Italian, at Red House. Joe needed the comfort only a bowl of pasta can give. Joe bought a longhyi at the market and we spend a while looking at tutorial videos and drawings on the internet in our hotel room trying work out how he should wear it. We get the gist of it, but not really well. Our taxi driver to the Buddha caves the next day showed Joe how to tie it and we all laughed because we tried to walk there earlier in the day but couldn’t find it when it was literally five more minutes up the road and ended up being a stupidly short car ride when we eventually gave up. We spent an afternoon lounging around, reading, drinking tea, watching a puppy and dog play at the Sprout Seeds Cafe. We watched the sunset from the roof of Red House while eating pizza. We saw the views and relaxed.
Next blog post we discuss the actual trekking. The one after that will be about Inle Lake. The one after that will be about Thailand. Hopefully!