Tag Archives: Guide

Trekking in Shan State….Kyaukme, Myanmar

Our train to the remote northeast was scheduled for 4 am. It didn’t leave that early, but it was only half an hour late. We could have taken a bus a bit later, but decided on the train as it was much cheaper and we heard it was a beautiful ride. It was a beautiful ride. But it was oh so slow. We had paid $3.30 for our Upper Class (as opposed to Ordinary Class = wood seats) tickets and were grateful for the soft seats as we bounced down the track. Apparently, the trains they use are slightly small for the track, allowing lots of wiggle room as the train jostles along.

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Getting excited for the train

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The highlight of the train ride is the Gokteik Viaduct, a 1901 American-built structure. We stopped for about half an hour right before the bridge and thus were granted lots of time to take photos. Then we creeped along the bridge. It seems they must be very careful because the trains are already pretty loose and they don’t want to loosen anything on the bridge either. So you go very slow. Lots of photo time. The gorge below is beautiful, which stone walls and a gushing stream at the very bottom.

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Approaching the gorge
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On the viaduct

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We arrived in Kyaukme only an hour after the scheduled time – around 2:30 in the afternoon. This is a town just one over from the main town, Hsipaw, where most people go trekking. Upon a recommendation from someone we met in Laos, we opted to go to Kyaukme (pronounced ciao-may) instead. There are only a couple of guesthouses in this town and we walked to the one we had been told about. Luckily, they had room and were able to contact the guide we wanted for our trek.

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Approaching Kyuakme
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Downtown Kyuakme

The next day, with Riki on a rented motorbike and me on the back of our guides’ bike, we set out for some Shan and Palaung villages in the mountains. We stopped for provisions at the town market and then set out. About three hours up windy and terrible roads, we stopped to leave our bikes at that village’s (Hu Kuat) chief’s house. From there we walked to Ban Hone and through Nuang Pyget (please excuse if misspelled – the map is a bit blurry). The villages have roads, but they are dirt and mostly suitable for dirt bikes and trucks in the dry season. We took the more scenic route.

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Part of the road
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Cool tree
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‘Give me some rice puffs!’
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Village outside Kyaukme
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Riki makes human friends

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The villages are not very old, but the people speak different languages. Some people speak Shan and some speak Palaung. Some speak Burmese too, some do not. So we didn’t expect any English. The houses are mostly metal roofed bamboo thatch, which looks liable to go right up in flames, as they have open fires in every home. The villages we visited all had monasteries and we visited a few, where we sat on the floor and drank tea. Have I mentioned there is a ton of tea? No? Well, we walked through numerous tea farms, which are set on very steep mountains and are everywhere. Which explains why they drink so much tea. Though maybe the British had something to do with that too. At one school, we were bombarded by children who all wanted to shake our hand and say good afternoon. It was a bit overwhelming.

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Village outside Kyaukme
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“Good afternoon!” “How are you?” and shaking our hands vigorously all at once
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So many kids
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We were dragging them away at the end – they wouldn’t let go.
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Great fun
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Village outside Kyaukme

Our last stop was Ban San, where we met the local brother and sister monks, had tea and a tour. There are only three monks in this village, but they have a huge building to worship in. We stayed with a family, who cooked us delicious vegetables, rice and chicken and let us sleep on their floor for the night. The open fire makes for a smoky house and it was cold, so many of the windows were shuttered. Not a good combination. At night, the family huddled around their portable DVD player and watched a movie, which must have been hysterical as they were laughing so much. We played cards with our guide, with a few family members observing our rendition of the game Jenga.

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Indoor fires!
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Clearing weeds around tea plants

After an early awakening from the family rooster, we were again treated to delicious vegetables and rice before setting out for a few more villages. We really enjoyed learning about Myanmar and particularly the Shan culture from our guide. It was a great insight into a country where there are still so many conflicts. We were particularly close to some areas of unrest, but were lucky not to hear or see any rebels.

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Village outside Kyaukme
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Removing fermented tea leaves that have been in this well for a year
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Another reason the fermented leaves smell – packed by foot

We set out for two more villages, Don Heik and Kyein Lau, where we ate lunch with a cute family and befriended two young kids who were not the least bit shy.

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We brought some dual colored pencils for the kids we met – big hit.
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Lunch spot kid #1
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Lunch spot kid #2

We reached our bikes and headed back down the same road, slightly delayed due to some intense road construction. Lot of ladies carrying baskets of rocks, which were covered in stinky tar and then more rocks. Quite a process, but will make travelling to this area much easier once its finished.

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We stopped at a cool bridge on our way back and saw rice being planted.

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Planting rice
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Planting rice

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That evening, our guide invited us to his home for dinner, where we ate more delicious vegetable and rice. All in all, a great glimpse of a new culture.

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Next up: Bus to Mandalay for a day before heading to Bagan (spoiler alert: bus is so much faster than the train, but costs more and contains vomiting locals)

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Stroll through the Himalayas….Pokhara, Nepal

Nepal has many options for trekking. We only had about a week before my parents arrived, so we chose a 5 day Poon Hill trek out of Pokhara that promised great views and easy trekking. Easy is a relative term. We found a great guide, Raju through an agency and decided to carry our own equipment rather than get a porter. For complete details on accommodations/food/guides/etc throughout the trek, see below.

We left Pokhara with our guide at 8 am Monday and took a taxi for about an hour and a half to Nayapul (elev. 1070 m / 3510′) .  The trek begins walking through a small town’s dirt road, across a flag engulfed bridge and up a rocky dirt road.  It was initially very hot and we probably brought too much stuff with us.  We climbed up a very steep dirt road for a few hours before stopping for lunch.  After lunch, the road stops and any jeeps that have made it up the steep slopes, load their goods onto donkeys for the rest of the journey along a rocky trail.  There were lots of people, porters and donkeys.  The donkeys carry anything from mattresses to rocks and propane.  The porters pretty much the same.  4 hours after we started, we reached Hille (elev. 1500 m / 4921′) where we stayed overnight at a teahouse.  They have these small lodges along the trail for trekkers.  Most are very simple, with very thin walls, shared bathrooms and luke warm showers.  They are very cheap and range from $3-6 a night per room.  You’d think camping would be cheaper, but its not because you have to hire a porter to carry the tent and any cooking supplies as well as sleeping bags and other gear.  Despite the warmth we encountered during the day, our first night was very cold and we were grateful for the thick blankets provided (though we still slept in two layers of clothes).

After breakfast, including delicious fried bread, we left Hille to climb 3,280+ steps.  And we’re not talking your normal house steps.  Some were tall, some were loose, and some were wet.  It took about 2 hours.  And then there were more steps.  We took it pretty slow though we even passed some groups.  After lunch, which is generally Dal Bhat (rice with lentil soup) we trekked through an oak and rhododendron forest, where it started to rain.  Luckily, we had our rain covers and jackets (though Riki’s leaks).  We took cover during the worst of it and after some more steps and 7.5 hours total, we arrived in Ghorepani (elev. 2874 m / 9429′).

On Wednesday, we left our bags in the teahouse and started climbing Poon Hill at 4:45 am.  It was pitch black, but we had lights and so did the 300 other people climbing up to see the sunrise.  There were more stairs and we arrived about an hour later at the top (elev. 3210 m / 10531′).  The view was incredible and we were luckily that it was very clear.  This was the highest elevation we encountered on our trek and it was frigid.  We each wore three pairs of pants and most of our other clothes.  After taking a ton of pictures, we descended the mountain back to Ghorepani to eat breakfast and pick up our bags.  Our trek continued up a steep ridge that was engulfed in clouds and pretty chilly.  There was a bit of snow too and the whole thing was pretty eerie.  After about 2 hours it starts raining as we trek through incredibly lush forests.  More Dal Bhat for lunch and more rain.  We tried to wait out the rain, but eventually gave up and headed through more forest and along a creek that lead to an incredible waterfall.  The rain let up following a very steep and wet descent through moss  and fern covered forests.  Our day wouldn’t have been complete without more steps and the final segment was a steep uphill out of a valley to Tadapani (elev. 2590 m / 8497′).  Only 6 hours trekking.  Tadapani is mostly just teahouses, not many people besides those running the trekking-related businesses.

The fourth day was a short one.  We began at 9 am and trekked through beautiful rhododendron forests, with light red flaky bark.  It was cool and moist and also covered in moss.  For a change, we went downhill the whole way and arrived 2.5 hours later in Ghandruk (elev. 1940 m / 6364′).  After eating lunch with great views of Annapurna South and Fishtail mountains, we headed to the Gurung Museum to see some local artifacts.  Ghandruk is a much larger town, as it is only an hours walk from the nearest real road.  They even have a small brightly painted monastery.  We played cards that evening with our guide and tried the local liquor made from millet seeds.

Our last day trekking started with a downhill walk out of the forest and into more open rice terraces and scattered houses.  Then we reached the dirt road where there is a bus that we could have taken back to the beginning of the trail.  We opted to walk and had great views of rice terraces and even saw some monkeys playing in an area that had a large landslide last year.  After 6 hours we reached Nayapul (elev. 1070 m / 3510′) where we picked up a car and drove back to Pokhara for 1.5 hours.

We spent Saturday resting our sore muscles (surprisingly we were more sore from the downhill than the uphill) and doing laundry.  The place we sent our laundry managed to lose 6 of our socks.  Notice I don’t say pairs of socks, because that’s not what happened.  When you only each have 4 pairs of socks, losing 6 socks is devastating.  The hotel reimbursed us for the socks (kind of) and now I have one set that just doesn’t match.  Oh well.  So we are down 10 socks so far as Riki left two pairs drying in the bathroom in Hanoi.  Otherwise, we haven’t lost anything else (that we’ve noticed).

Sunday we took the 7 hour tourist bus back to Kathmandu to meet up with my parents for the rest of our Nepal travels.

Check out our pictures below.

Trekking Info:

We had a great guide – Raju – who is based in Pokhara and does longer treks and day trips/tours in Pokhara.  Contact me for his info.  He was very knowledgeable and kept us at a perfect pace throughout our trek.

The teahouses seemed to be pretty similar and the rates were pretty fixed in the Annapurna region.  This is where we stayed:

Hille – Dipak Guest House (thin walls, but decent beds and thick blankets)

Ghorepani – Super View Guesthouse (good view, but gross toilets and very low ceilings)

Tadapani – Himalaya Tourist Guesthouse (pay shower, smoky common area, excellent view in the morning)

Ghandruk – Heaven View Lodge (warmish shower, VERY clean, private bath available)

Pokhara – New Annapurna Guest House ($20, very clean, but if you do laundry make sure they do it in house because if they are busy they send it out and that place is terrible – not clean and lost our socks)

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