Week 34- Bagan and Hiking from Kalaw to Inle Lake

This week is a bit of a harder post to write because it was an action packed week and we went to so many temples in Bagan that it is hard to say exactly what we did especially because I am writing this post a month late. After Pyin Oo Lwin, we took a mini van to Bagan and it was a long bumpy ride. Once we arrived, we found our guesthouse and checked in. In 3 nights, we stayed at 3 different guesthouses in Bagan. The place we stayed at the first night was called Shwe Na Di Guesthouse. It had a shared bath and a decent breakfast, but the had no availability for the following nights so we had to leave.

View of some of the temples in Bagan

The first night we wandered down to get some food for dinner. There were some really good restaurants in Bagan and we took full advantage of the western food. The first night we had burgers at The Weather Spoons and it was amazing! I had not had a really good burger since Thailand and it was just wonderful.

The ceiling were Teri sized!

The following morning we woke up, rented a motorbike, found a new guesthouse, and we were off. The interesting thing about Bagan is that they only rent electric scooters and so all of the scooters are so quiet! I found the electric scooter a bit harder to manage than gas with 2 people on it. So, our plan of action was that Nate had marked a lot of the temples that we had read about in either the Lonely Planet or online and then we just worked our way through the temples.

One of the temple you could just walk around the bottom

I found the temples of be of two forms. One type was a pagoda type temple that you stayed on the outside and climbed to the top. The other was a temple that you entered and walked around a square on the bottom which had a Buddha statue on each side. At one time, you could climb up the stairs in these temples as well except they have had a lot of earthquakes in Bagan, so it is now unsafe to climb to the higher levels. This was a bit of a disappointment because we could not climb up any of the really big temples.

There were also many smaller temples scattered around

When we arrived at our very first temple, we decided to go there just because we thought it looked cool. This one actually turned out to be one of my favorites. There were children running around there when we arrived and they showed us the secret stairs that we could use to climb. Since it was not a main temple, there was less regulation on where we could go and so we climbed as high as we could before it looked dodgy. This was also the last temple we would go to for sunset on our second day.

Our first temple on the first and the second day for sunset

The rest of the day we systematically worked our way through all of the major temples. When we saw minor temples that we liked, we stopped and went to those as well. These temples were quicker stops than those in Siem Reap because they weren’t quite as ornate. I am sure they used to be much more intricate and detailed, but the outer plaster layer had come off and the main thing you see you see is the brick foundation. There were paintings on some of the inner walls that were made in the 18th century, which were pretty interesting as well.

18th Century paintings on the wall

The thing that makes Bagan so beautiful and interesting is the shear amount of temples that exist. There are around 2,200 temples! Every building that you climb, you look out and see just miles and miles of temples of various sizes. We ate lunch at Be Kind To Animals The Moon, which had some amazing food and I suggest a lunch stop there because it is very near Ananda Temple. I liked Ananda Temple, but they are restoring it and it looks almost too new. I hope that they don’t do this with all of the temples because that would take away from the history of the area.

Buddha image inside of Ananda Temple

One temple we went to I really enjoyed. Outside there was a lot of artwork that we were looking our that was made of out of sand. I bought a beautiful piece with a 7 headed blue elephant. Nate bought one as well and the artist even gave us a tour around the temple and told us the history. One interesting part of the tour was when he showed us a grooved stone. He explained that if the overseer could stick a toothpick between the stones then the worker would get his hand chopped off. This is one of the reasons that the temples are still standing through many earthquakes.

A photo with the artist of my painting and the block where they chopped off hands

In the afternoon, we were given a small tour of the only Hindu temple and took a walk to some pretty interesting temples nearby. The sun was starting to set, so we tried to find a good sunset temple. Unfortunately, the temple we researched was shut down due to the earthquake, so we had to go to one next door. The sunset was very beautiful!

Getting ready for sunset!
Meditation at sunset

For dinner that night we went and had some pizza at La Pizza. We were just working our way through all of these American foods we had been missing. Then, we went to another place for homemade ice cream. All in all in was a great day.

Epic picture that Nate captured with the temple AND a monk!

The following morning we woke up really early so that we could get out for sunrise. We were told that when in Bagan, you had to go out for sunrise and sunset since these were the best times of day. During the sunrise, they send up hot air  balloons over the temple. The rides on these are very expensive, but it is beautiful to watch them go.

Watching the balloons at sunrise

We went to a temple that Nate researched in a blog. It was a smaller temple that overlooked a lot of the big temples which was perfect. You want the big temples in your pictures and this one allowed you to get up high. Other people had obviously read this blog as well because the top of the temple was packed. Yet, we got some amazing sunrise pictures! It was truly the best time of day to be in Bagan.

Everyone trying to get a good picture of the sunrise

Some more amazing sunrise photos

After sunrise, we went around for another couple of hours to see some of the temples that we had missed in New Bagan. I really liked a lot of these temples because they were pretty empty and the architecture on them was spectacular. We had to return to the guesthouse by 9 in order to get some breakfast and then we moved over to The Royal Bagan Hotel. This hotel was $32 a night, but it was like a 4 star hotel. It had a buffet breakfast, a pool, and the most amazing beds! We went out again for sunset, but it was a bit disappointing because it had been raining all day and so clouds covered up the sunset.

The following day, we woke up and caught a bus to Kalaw. We were headed to Kalaw to start a 3 day 2 night trek to Inle Lake. We arrived around mid afternoon and went to Sam’s Family Trekking to try and get on a hiking tour. This was a really popular company and they had about 60 people signed up to go out the following day on this hike. The nice thing though was that they would only put a maximum of 8 people in each group. That night we found an Italian restaurant which was run by an Italian. We shared lasagna and a pizza and it tasted really nice.

Our trekking group from Kalaw to Inle Lake

The next day we began the hike. Over 3 days we would trek about 60 km. We showed up, left our big bags to be delivered to our hotel in Inle Lake, and took our small packs. We had 7 people in our group. Two were fellow Americans traveling alone named Silvia and David and then three Czech girls named Magda, Veronika, and Lenka. Our group was really nice and got along really well. Our guide Kuso was great as well. Instead of trekking in the same direction as all of the rest of the groups, he took a different route through the fields. So, the whole day we never saw another group.

Hiking through the fields on the way to Inle Lake

It was nice to hike through the local villages and see their day to day life. Seeing these villages really put things into perspective. In many of the town during dry season they have to hike down (up to a mile) to the river to get water and then carry it back on their heads. They had either cows or water buffalo pulling carts (I felt like I was in the wild wild west). Also, most of the people living here had never had a shower or flush toilet in their lives. Their lives are very hard and they work in the fields most of the day and especially in the evening.

Using carts to transport items around the countryside

Our first lunch we had at the train station. I am glad that we stopped here because people from many of the different tribes came down to the station to sell their goods to the one train that came through a day. There were many women walking around with flowers on their heads or other food to sell as well. Those on the train heading to either Yangon or Mandalay would buy the flowers here for cheap and then sell them for a profit at their destination.

Local women selling flowers at the train station

We hiked through fields of crops and along the way also got to try some of them such as ginger, lemongrass, and the most amazing cherry tomatoes I have ever eaten. We arrived at our first homestay around 4:30 and went for a walk around town. Since coming to Southeast Asia, I have fallen in love with water buffalo. I think they are really adorable and though I know it would never happen, I would love one as a pet. Around the town there was a water buffalo tied up and we had some really great moments. We watched the sun set over the mountains and then headed back for dinner.

Hiking around our first village

Dinner was really delicious and it was made by our guides’ “cousin brothers” who were only about 13 years old. I was really impressed! They came along with us to improve their English and learn how to be guides once they finish school. To sleep, we lined up all of our mats and we each had at least two blankets. That first night was really cold! I was curled up in a ball most of the night and freezing.

Hanging out with our guide Kuso

The following day we set out again early. The first thing that we did was climb a steep hill for about 30 minutes. Yet, we were rewarded with an amazing view of the whole valley at the top. The different colors of green spreading out before us made for a breathtaking image.

The viewpoint at the beginning of our second day of trekking

The rest of the day we just kept trekking on through fields and under these gigantic trees that were sacred to Buddha. Those trees were forbidden to be cut down and would grow very large with lots of limbs. This was the best place to get shade. We stopped in a small town for a lunch of noodles and then keep going. Again, the main appeal of this hike was to see the day to day life of the people living in this region.

The sacred tree of Buddha

We stopped for a two hour break and a nap at a local river and we saw lots of people bathing and doing their laundry. A highlight as well was to see a man come through on a horse and cart through the river.

The river for our midday break

Our homestay the second night was lovely as well, but the only downside is that we were in a town with many other foreigners as well. We had a bit of a walk to go see the sunset and then came back for another delicious dinner. We again slept on the floor with a couple of blankets, but Nate and I shared this time to keep us warmer.

Our local dinner at our second homestay

Our final day we started hiking really early in the morning because we had about the same distance to cover as the previous two days, but we had to finish hiking before lunch. The last day was a beautiful sunny day. We hiked down through the valley and finally saw the lake! We had lunch, said goodbye to our guides, and then hopped in a boat that would take us across the lake.

Boating across Inle Lake

At first it was hard to believe that we were on a lake because it looked more like a series of canals. They have moved the land around and created fields of crops on the edges of the lake along with houses and villages.

Farming on the lake

Our boat guide took us to a shop where we could watch them make silver jewelry and we saw how they melted down the silver and then twisted it to make the jewelry.  Next, we stopped a place that was run by the Karen tribe. There were Karen longneck women working at weaving in the shop. I did not feel bad visiting this shop compared to Thailand because this was their home and they were not refugees being used for a profit.

Karen Longneck women. The rings around their neck were so heavy!

Finally, we drove the rest of the way across the lake and enjoyed watching all of the other boats either fishing or full of other tourists enjoying the ride. It felt so good to finally relax and bit and rest our legs after hiking 60 km.

Cruising across the lake

Finally, we reached the other side and then all walked to our separate guesthouses. For dinner that night we went to a Nepalise restaurant called Everest and met up with not only our group, but also with people we had met before the group in Kalaw and their group. It was a really fun night talking to everyone, but I was so happy to get some sleep and a shower.

This was an amazing week between the temples of Bagan and hiking in the Lake Inle area. The landscapes were drastically different, but equally as stunning! Myanmar has been such a lovely surprise!

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