For 3 days the only other tourist we saw was one guy, Eric, who was travelling with us. From massive valleys filled with tea bushes, to villages above the clouds and eating with local Palaung People in their kitchens, our 3 day adventure covered some of the roughest “roads” we’ve ever seen. Along with the most amazing views, this trek is one of our best memories of Burma.
Myanmar is still bit of an enigma on the tourist scene and as a country that has only recently opened up to the world, there is lots of information on the web that is inaccurate and out of date due to the frequent changes that are effecting Myanmar. (Hell this article could be out of date before I finish writing it, things are moving so quickly)
Many of the blogs and articles we had read told us that foreigners are only allowed to stay in registered guesthouses approved by the government, we found out this is only half true and Guess What? Home stays are possible…… We know because we did it!!!
Meeting out tour guide Thura at the train station he greeted us and had a taxi waiting to take us to the one and only guest house in Kyaukme – pronounced “Chow may” (To get a full review of A Yone Oo guest house read our article……)
As 2 people with zero to no experience on scooters (well Tommo rode one once but let’s say it didn’t end well for him… the cow he hit came off much better than he did, although a bit pissed off I’m sure) the idea of jumping on a scooter filled us with trepidation, but after being assured that even novices could handle these bikes we set off towards the mountains on the most fucked roads we have ever been on in our lives!!! Please note photo exhibit no.1 as our proof:
The country side however was spectacular. It’s a shame we couldn’t see much of it as extreme concentration was required on the roads in front of us. We did have many photo stops though, where we scored some gems: exhibit no.2
A lovely lunch stop that turned into an event in itself…
While we were dining on Shan Noodles, the local specialty, a massive storm came over the mountains and pounded the little shack we were in with a ferocity none of us saw coming! This storm ripped roofs off houses tore down large trees which were strewn across the roads and sadly, as we witnessed later, fell into shrines and temples crushing them like little Lego buildings.
So now we had fucked roads with big ass tree debris and worse of all mud! Yay!
At this point I do have to give kudos to Tommo for holding it together and manoeuvring over some crazy tricky terrain!!! (I on the other hand was on the back of our guide’s bike and all I had to do was hang on for dear life!)
The first village we visited was a slight hike up the mountain side. We ditched the bikes at a hut at the bottom and headed up to visit a Nepalese village and its Vampire Bovine!
Now you may be thinking that this cow was possibly some revenge seeking relative of the poor cow mentioned above that was minding its own business in a field when Tommo rode a scooter straight into it so many years ago…..I also think this may have been the case as this one bit me!!!
You may ask the question what were you doing with your hand inside a cow’s mouth in the first place? Well it was only and little calf and….yeah I probably shouldn’t be surprised I got bitten.
Once again we were greeted with stunning scenery and the locals, although they did not speak any English, were very welcoming. One family invited us into their home for tea, as is the custom in Myanmar, especially in the mountain regions as their main produce is tea. There are tea plantations as far as the eye can see and you can often see the Palaung people out working in the plantations picking the tea leaves.
After leaving the village we continued up the mountain dodging the fallen trees from the storm until we walked out into a clearing that revealed the view of all views, the entire valley spanned below us and all you can do is sit in wonder.
Homestay with the Palaung People
It was getting dark so time to move on (and it wasn’t an ideal place to be caught out if another storm decided to rip through). We picked up the scooters at the bottom and headed down towards the Palaung village we would be spending the night in. The family we were staying with greeted us the best they could….. They didn’t speak any English either.
The best thing about the rural and mountain regions is that us as “white people” are still relatively unseen and children will come running out of their homes to say hello and wave, local men will come up and want to shake your hand and ask “where you from?”. Although quite often when I answered Australia most nodded politely but when Tommo said England their faces lit up “Oh Manchester United!!!” Yes they are all mental football fans!
Being given the opportunity to stay with a Palaung hill tribe family excited us beyond description as we couldn’t wait to try real home cooked Burmese cuisine. We have met a few people who had been to Myanmar before us and they didn’t think much of the local food… They hadn’t eaten a home cooked meal though!
In the cities most of the food you find is BBQ on a stick or some kind of noodle dish, usually Shan noodle. Now don’t get us wrong, these dishes can be spectacular but after a while they get a bit monotonous. We could not wait to see what the Burmese people ate at home for breakfast, lunch and dinner……it couldn’t be Shan noodle 3 times a day, could it?
Fortunately it wasn’t going to be Shan Noodles for dinner again, after all these people were the Palaung and not Shan.
We were treated to a spread of a few different dishes on the first night: A tea leaf soup, beef curry, Omelette pieces and a fern leaf stew (this was the hit of the night, we had no idea fern would be so tasty) all accompanied by steamed rice.
Breakfast it appeared was left-overs from dinner turned into another tasty concoction ….. Overall rating AWESOME!!!
Sleeping arrangement were basic. We were given a floor mat and then the softest and toastiest warm blankets! These are everywhere in Burma and they are awesome!
The next couple of days was spent hiking to remote villages meeting the locals and drinking tea…..so much tea…toooooo much tea!
Another Day, Another Amazing Homestay
The second night was spent with another family in a different Palaung Village where Tommo entertained the kids with the projector function of our video camera. To tell you the truth, even the adults were enthralled at seeing their video image on the wall! But that was the only magic trick we had up our sleeves…..note to self, learn more magic tricks!
Mega storm number 2 came through at the end of our second day of trekking, it was like we had reached the gateway to Mordor the sky was so black. So to prepare for this oncoming storm we headed to the local shop and picked up a couple of beers, as you do!
Luckily for us, the storm only brought a night of heavy rain with it where we were staying. However, our tour guide received a call that the roof to his house in Kyaukme had been completely ripped off! He told us not to worry though as it’s his spare house… Sadly there were many other homes in the area that suffered loss of roofs, flooding and trees falling through their homes and also onto electricity lines – and May is supposed to be the dry season in Burma!
In the mountains electricity wasn’t an issue as they mostly use solar panels and for night time they have generators (which can be noisy but it beats sitting in the dark). In the city of Kyaukme however, many people rely on supplied electricity (when it was available) and upon returning to the town traffic lights were out and many businesses were running by candle light!
Storms like this are very rare in this area which is why many were not prepared for it, apparently it swept down from China.
We survived through mega storms, bitey cows and the craziest roads in history and would we do it all again….Absolutely!!! Waking up to be above the clouds on the 3rd day was worth it all in itself!
This was a once in a lifetime experience that needs to be enjoyed before everyone else catches on to the unchartered beauty of Myanmar’s mountain countryside and the beautiful, welcoming villagers who live there!
COSTS & DETAILS
We payed $30 per person (54,000kyat) per day for 2 people (Single supplement applies).
All Food & Water
2 x 125cc scooters
Tour guide (info below)
Some rice wine if you ask nicely!
Phone: +95 (0) 947 308497 (His phone even works in the mountains, so you should find it easy to call – speaks great English)
If Thura is unavailable he has a few students of his English class that may take you on the tour, also “Joy” has been recommended on forums:
phone: +95 (0) 940 3706076.