29 January 2009


If we said that the last place we were staying in, Nyaungshwe, was a one horse town, then Kalaw is a no horse town!

We've met a couple of people earlier on our trip who said that we must go to Kalaw and that it was one of the highlights of Myanmar. The Lonely Planet says that it projects a backpacker vibe. Personally we are struggling to see what all the fuss is about. The only thing we can see being projected is tons of dust into the air from the main road that thunders through the middle of town.

Kalaw is a former British colonial hill station and is surrounded by many tribal villages. At an altitude of over 1300 meters it gets fairly cold once the sun sets so its out with the long sleeves again.

The hotel we're staying in, Winner Hotel, is probably the best place we have stayed in since we've been in Myanmar. It's the first place on our stay where we've had 24 hour a day electricity and hot water, a TV and lighting not from a fluorescent tube. Also the owner, Ruby, is really friendly and has been giving us loads of help and advice. She's originally from China and invited us to her family's Chinese new year party on Sunday evening where we were treated to a feast of home cooked Chinese food.

Our timing in Kalaw was fairly lucky as the day after we arrived was market day where the people from some of the surrounding tribal villages come into town. This meant that we didn't have to go treking to see them . . . and we all know how much Liz enjoys treking! The market was really interesting and another great opportunity to play "what the hell is that?" and "what's that smell?"

After the market we had a walk a few kilometers out of town to visit the Shwe Oo Min Paya and Caves. We also tried to go to see a 500 year old Buddha made from bamboo but couldn't find it and managed to get lost around an army base and golf course instead.

On past blog postings we've lamented the state of the public transport in Myanmar but in Kalaw the lack of integration has reached a new low. We planned to leave Kalaw by train and go to Thazi, which would then allow us to transfer back onto to the main train line to make our way back towards Yangon. The distance from Kalaw to Thazi is only 93km and yet the train takes . . . wait for it . . . this is good . . . seven and a half hours! That works out to a mind bending 12km per hour, surely the slowest train in the world. The other bit of genius is that the trains are scheduled so that by the time you get to Thazi you have missed the all of your connecting trains!

There is one bus a day to Thazi which leaves at around 8 in the morning and arrives at midday. Leaving you 8 hours to hang around the train station before the Yangon train arrives. In the end we have had to splash out on a taxi, a lot more expensive but much less painless!

The fun doesn't end once we get to Thazi. There are 4 trains a day that go from Thazi to Yangon. But rather than them being spread out throughout the day they are all crammed into a two hour window between 8 and 10pm. Which means the joys of another overnight train journey which will arrive at stupid o'clock in the morning. That is of course assuming that we can get a ticket. There are only 4 seats on each train that are for tourists and you can't reserve a ticket over the phone. The only way to get a ticket is to go in person to the station from which you want to leave and buy it there. It makes the train system back home look like a Utopian dream.

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