Although at this point in time it has been almost two months since my voyage has ended, I still feel a responsibility to finish my story. Especially for those in my life who I had assured that I would rehash everything for them. As well as for the many strangers who I get on the daily basis that are reading too. So sorry that my story is late, but I promise I will tell it.
I arrived in Kalaw after an almost 10 hour bus ride at around 4 in the morning. With my bags in hand and pastries provided to us by the bus, I stepped off on to the side of the road along with another couple. We were handed a toothbrush and toothpaste before the bus continued on its way to Bagan.
It was so cold and I was not prepared. Located in the hills, the temperature drop between day and night was significant. The town practically changed seasons within a 24-hour period everyday. I stood shivering on the side of the road in Kalaw trying to orient myself. There was one local there who I guess had the job of directing guests, who arrived at these odd hours, to their lodgings. He knew exactly where our hotels were and how we could get to them. I was staying at Green Haven hotel which was not in walking distance. Taxis don’t run at this time of night in Kalaw, so I had to take a motorbike. The night breeze was not fun.
Searching for the Perfect Trek
After getting in to my room, I slept for about three hours and then woke up for a full table of breakfast. After eating I decided to head out and book myself a trek. The hotel suggested Sam’s Family Trekking which is a company I came across while searching around Google. However, I wanted to shop around before making a decision. I found that unlike Sam’s Family, a lot of the other trekking places were independently run by one guide who had treks already going. Most people do the trek to Inle lake, so because I only had time to trek Kalaw, It was hard to join in on these more solo run treks. Sam’s Family is a company of several guides, so they have the ability to set-up several treks at once. Therefore in the end, I ended up at Sam’s Family.
How it works is that after explaining the various routes, they pass around several sign-up sheets of trekking groups that will be departing in the near future. Since most people come to do the two-day trek to Inle lake, It was no surprise that I was the only one signed for the one-day Kalaw trek. They told me when I return tomorrow at 9 am to depart, that there might be more people who decided to sign-up. I was also offered the option to come back later in the evening to check to see if anyone had joined me. If I felt uncomfortable doing it alone I could opt out. However, they failed to realize that I had come here alone with the resolve to do the things I wanted. Whether there was another stranger there or not, I was trekking Kalaw.
The Day Just Begun
After confirming a trek, the rest of the day was practically my only free day. The next morning I would wake-up, pack my belongings, check-out, and go on a 9 hour trek. So after leaving Sam’s family, I began my walk around town. I stumbled in to a market which was packed with various produce and trinkets being sold. But to be honest, after Vietnam, markets were not as impressive as they had been.
I ended up walking to what was a staircase that ascended to who knows where. As I was climbing, the only people that passed by me along the way were monks. Naturally I assumed that the stairs lead to a temple since in Japan climbing stairs to temples were natural patterns. However, there was nothing there except a nice spot to look out over the town. I later would learn that this was just another pathway to get around town as I returned this way after my trek.
Shwe OO Min Paya
A popular attraction in Kalaw was the ShweOOmin cave pagoda which housed thousands of Buddhas. Looking for this place I got kind of lost before I realized how close it was to my hotel. Right before you reach the pagoda, there is a gate which only military trucks and personnel seem to be passing through. I hesitated for a second before approaching the gate and being like “can I go?”, but the guy was just kind of like “yeah go ahead”.
Like every other pagoda, you must remove your shoes before entering. This means you will be walking around the caves barefoot. There is an entrance to the lower cave and then an entrance in to the upper caves. The lower cave was a very friendly experience, but the upper cave freaked me out. The upper cave is more like climbing through a cave, at some point the lights disappear and the space around you becomes restricted. Your imagination becomes very active when you’re alone and in the dark, so yeah, my adventure in the upper cave was short lived.
I knew my feet would be extremely dirty, but I didn’t realize how dirty my entire person would become. I was wearing black pants and a white shirt, and both articles of clothing were stained with dirt. With not many options, I just kind of brushed myself off and stuck my dirty feet back in to my shoes. I planned to visit some other pagodas in town so I knew that my shoes would be coming back off anyway.
Because it’s Cold at Night in Kalaw
I didn’t bring much in the way of warm clothes to protect me from the frigid nights in Kalaw. So as soon as the sun started going down, I tried to return back to the hotel. However, before that, I relaxed, drank, and ate at a Italian restaurant called Red House. Admittedly, I ate there both days that I was in Kalaw. I just became so acquainted with the atmosphere and enjoyed the servers and bartenders who worked there.
My day ended with a relaxed walk back to my hotel in a now cool Kalaw. Covered in sweat and with dirty soles from walking through various pagodas, I was in much need of a shower. I did try to sit outside near the check-in area because the Wi-fi in my room was not very strong, but it was just too chilly. So I went back to room and fell asleep for an early morning and day of trekking. I was beyond excited.