To get from Bagan to Kalaw we took the bus. Its an all day service, departing at 4am, for a distance that probably no further than London to Portsmouth. The buses in Burma are hand-me-down from the Chinese affair meaning they are quite old, incredibly small and designed for people with much shorter legs than me. You got a numb bum very quickly.
Lady smoking a cheroot
On this particular journey, we were a good 6 hours on the road when the bus started to lurch. The driver stopped, looked at the wheel and then started to rummage in the rear for his tool kit. I thought we had a flat tyre, but once I got out of the bus I saw that three of the four bars on the rear suspension had snapped. But this is Burma, some 30 minutes later the driver and his mate had G-clamped a lump of teak wood to the suspension. A quick test and off we went. We left, with me trusting the ingenuity of the Burmese more than some of the inherent dangers that a suspension collapsing could present. So much for my three years of study to get a degree in mechanical engineering.
A few hours later we arrived at a blocked road. We were told that a truck had broken down, blocking the road and needed to be fixed. I wandered down the road and came across a Truck that had a snapped drive shaft. This may have had something to do with hundred odd tonnes of bricks overloaded in the rear of the truck. I realised we were in for a long wait. The bricks needed to be unloaded before they could even think of moving the truck or fixing the drive shaft.
It was at this point that another bus tried to ford the river to bypass the blocked truck. Result: Flooded engine and a bunch of puzzled Burmese wondering what the hell to do.
It then started to rain. A protracted and heavy monsoonal downpour which is typical at this time of year. We walked passed the broken truck and headed up the road to catch a bus beyond the blockage. We left, in rather leaky and very wet bus as the river started to flood. We found out a few days later that the unfortunate bus ended up several hundred meters downstream with its nose in the mud. And with even more puzzled Burmese wondering how to extract it from its predicament.
A few hours later, we arrived in Kalaw. Kalaw is a colonial era hill station used by the British to escape the heat of the plains thanks to its cool climate. Not surprisingly its got a splattering of British colonial influence, like quaint English bungalows, a high street and a model train station. Its also got a Gurudwara, Mosque and Hindu temple to serve the Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus imported by the British from India to serve.
Palaung Lady Weeding
As we walked down the street with our backpacks we were accosted by a several people with offers of Trekking and accommodation. I felt like I was back in India. The last to accost us was Mr Eversmile, which I quickly abbreviated to Mr Neversmile, because, err, he never did. I quickly told him we were not interested in accommodation and I certainly did not want him to inflate our hostel costs by some commission scam. We told him we wanted to trek with Mr Charles, a recommendation. He said that him and Mr Charles were a partnership, so no problem.
Several days later after a cracking trek with Mr Charles, we found out that Mr Neversmile got a commission for this and has nothing to do with Mr Charles. We got commission scammed. I was a little pissed off that I have become so rusty since India.
The trekking was rather good, through several Palaung villages each time stopping for copious amounts of tea. We got to meet and chat with many people, including onewho left rather full ... a leech. In the evening we stayed within a monastery and had a good chat to the monks. It was all rather excellent.
Putt Putt in Kalaw
I finished our time off in Kalaw with a round of putt-putt. My skills were somewhat rusty and these guys knew the local 'features' better that I did ... I got routed.