“MinglAaabAaaaaaaa!!!!” Is how we will remember this 3 days trek from Kalaw to Inle lake. It was a lot of walking, a lot of amazing landscapes, a really fun group of people, and one crazy Burmese men we will all remember for the rest of our lives!
We arrived in Kalaw at 4am by night bus from Bago. It was freezing! We almost had to run to the nearest and cheapest hotel to get under the covers of a warm bed to finish our night. It was probably not that cold really but the change of temperatures was brutal!
Later that morning, after a few hours of sleep, we booked a 3 days trek with Uncle Sam, a well-known family run agency in the town. After a day chilling in Kalaw, we met our group at 8am at the office and started our trek from there.
We were 9 in total: Our main guide was called Lungi (like the Sarong Burmese people wear, easy to remember!). He was only 20 years old and spoke good English. A second guide came along with us, he had been working only for 4 months and was still in training. At 25 he was a little shy and spoke less than Lungi, but apparently he had 5 girlfriends we found out on a drinking night! None of us caught his name…
Then there was Julia from Germany which helped me refresh my German, the Dutch brothers Jeroen and Bas, and two French students Ysé and Geoffroy, studying for a year in Ho Chi Minh city, and us two of course.
The first day of walk was busy. A lot of groups had left the office at the same time (and other trekking agencies as well), we quickly found ourselves with a group in front of us and a group behind. We walked through the mountains, pine tree forest and orange fields while slowly getting to know each other. For lunch, we stopped in a restaurant at the top of a hill; it was packed with people. At this point we were worried that the whole trek would be busy like this, but the afternoon and following days were much better and the crowed disappeared. Lungi and his trainee served us a delicious lunch with amazing avocado salad, pumpkin pure, pita bread… yum, a real treat!!
We continued after lunch and reached a local village in the afternoon. We had walked 25km and were looking forward to a shower and some rest. An old men who didn’t speak much, welcomed us in his house. Lungi gave us a tour of our room and bathroom. The room was cosy if we can say! 7 thin mattress were laid out on the wooden floor. As for the toilets, they were outside the house, Turkish style of course, under a small hut, a water pit and bucket next to it… The “Shower” was just as luxurious: a pit of water, with a bucket… 🙂
I was the first in the “shower”, our trek in Nam Ha jungle having taught us that it is best to go in straight away rather than waiting to cool down! With Adrien assisting me, trying to hide me behind a towel, it was a very quick and basic wash…
Later in the evening, Lungi and Bas joined some of the locals in a Sepak Takraw game (between football and volleyball, players throw a wicker ball over a net with their feet). With more locals, we watched the game while farmers were coming from work and some kids were playing around.
It was a cold night and slightly uncomfortable but at least no one snored in the group! In the morning we were woken up by the roosters and cold air passing through the wooden walls… But for the least, breakfast was super comforting: delicious pancakes and coffee! We ate in the same room as we slept, some of us kept their blankets around to keep warm for a bit longer. The owner entered the room, which also happened to hold the house’s altar, with no hesitation and without a word he walked across our beds to make his prayer. Good thing we were already up!
As soon as we started walking again we warmed up quickly! The first 30 minutes walk were up hill, the sun was already out and soon enough we stopped to undress a little. The view from the top of the hill was amazing, the landscape was so different to the previous day. We could tell Lungi had made an effort on his looks that day, he explained that we would be passing through his village. When we arrived at his house, he invited us inside for a tea break. His mother was really sweet, she prepared thanaka and applied some on every one of us. Almost everyone in Myanmar always walks around with thanaka on their faces. It is considered as aesthetic and protects from the sun. Julia was our living proof that day that it is indeed a very efficient sunscreen!
In the evening, we stopped by a river for swim. It was cold but still nicer than the water pit! Since we didn’t know what to expect from that night’s homestay, we all jumped on the occasion for a shower!
40 minutes waking later we reached our home for the night. We were greeted by this funny looking men, mouth and teeth read full of betel leaf. One by one we said hello and shook his hand. The first time he said “Minglaba” (hello) quite normally, but as he had to greet every one of us, at the third time he started to say it louder, then with a different tone, and the next thing we know he was almost singing Miiiiiinglabaaaa to each of us with a big big smile, half of his teeth missing and super wide eyes! It was so weird and so funny, we were all laughing…
Our room was of the same standing as the night before but at least the house was built of concrete which would insure us better isolation. The toilet on the other hand was a bit of a nightmare.
We chilled for a while, drinking beer at the outside table and had dinner. A few times, the owner passed next to us, he didn’t speak English but since we had all laugh so much to his Minglaba joke earlier, every time he passed he just said “Minglaaaabaaa”. We suspect he was high on betel nuts…
Lungi and his trainee had dinner inside the house but joined us afterwards as we offered them a few drinks. They brought some rice alcohol bottles and made us all go around drinking…
The next morning after breakfast we had the funniest moment! As we were saying thank you and goodbye to our host, I am actually not sure how it happened but suddenly he was holding Ysé by one hand, Geoffroy by the other and while moving their hands up and down he was saying “marry me, marry me, marry me!!” and laughing (or at least that’s what we understood…). Then he looked at the rest of us hinting that we should all hold hand and the next thing we knew we all stood there in a circle holding hands, following him in his craziness of “Minglabaaa”. It was such a weird moment that we kept us laughing for a while!
Back on the road, we had already walked 50km in two days and had 15 more ahead of us to reach the lake. It was the toughest day, our legs and feet hurt a little and it was so hot. That last day was again very different from the previous days nature wise and all so beautiful.
Finally, around 1pm we made to the lake where we had our last lunch together. After resting and cooling down, getting back on our feet to walk the last straight line to the boat was painful. We had reached Inle lake from the south-west so a boat that was taking us to Nyaugshwe. The boat was nothing like we expected, it was very slim and long and looked like it would flip over the moment one of us would set foot in it, but somehow we magically managed to all fit and crossed the lake to our final destination. Once on the other side, we thanked Lungi and the other guide and said goodbye. They were taking a bus back to Kalaw while the rest of us headed to our individual hotels and made plans to meet later that evening for drinks and dinner!
The following day, we borrowed our hotel’s free bikes and went for a tour around the lake. In all honesty, the cycling was not as great as we had read about, we had to be on the main road most of the time and had to go up and down hill with bikes that were clearly not meant for ridding more that 5 minutes with! (especially after a 3 days trek). Crossing the lake again was nice though, we spotted from far a few fishermen who were nailing their paddling technique: one leg on the boat, the other one wrapped around the oar!
We arrived on the beautiful long wooden bridge on the other side, overlooking a floating village. Back on the main road, we met Ysé, Geoffroy, Bas and Jeroen again. Just like us they were heading to the Red Mountain Estate Vineyards and Winery for sunset. After this painful day of cycling, we were all looking forward to a nice reward. Julia also joined later. The sunset was beautiful… the wine unfortunately was not so great (except for the Rose), but it was a perfect ending to a memorable trek from the Mountains to the Lake of Inle.