It was soon down to the final two days of our trip and our plan was to end it off with a trek from Pindaya towards Kalaw. The entire trek would take slightly more than a day, and this meant that we would have to spend one night in a village in the mountains. I had never experienced staying in a rural village before and thus it was something I eagerly anticipated. Thus, we packed our necessities into a small bag and set off from our hotel at 9am in the morning.
The trek was overall a rather relaxing one, without too much difficult or steep terrain. We saw many interesting and beautiful sights along the way such as plantations of orange trees as well as organic tea leaves. With the trek situated at nearly 5,000 feet above sea level, this meant that we were treated to many spectacular and panoramic views of the countryside along the way. The villagers we met along the way were also very friendly, with one even offering freshly plucked oranges right out from her plantation.
Lunch during the trek was particularly interesting when we stopped by a local village. To my surprise, the local guide who was leading us on the trek had brought along cooking ingredients. He was going to be the one cooking lunch for us and we were only stopping by the village to use its kitchen. The village kitchen was unlike any other that I had ever seen before as cooking was done using firewood rather than gas. Nevertheless, the food that was cooked turned out brilliant and overall, we had a simple but hearty meal. Additionally, I learnt that the local trekking agency had helped to renovate parts of the village in exchange for the use of its facilities to host tourists during lunch. As it was a mutually beneficial arrangement for both parties, I could see why the villagers were very happy to host us in their homes.
Our trek for the day was soon over and the place we were staying at for the night was a monastery at Taung Myint Gyi village. I learnt that the role that monasteries played in the rural villages was extremely significant and akin to community centres in Singapore where many village-wide activities would often be carried out. Village weddings could also be held here, and the advantage was that the couple would only need to donate a token sum that they wish to the monastery, hence keeping costs much lower.
Overall, staying over at the village monastery can be described as a refreshing experience. The facilities there were basic and while there were electricity and lights, there was almost next to nothing to do once the sky darkened. Thus, this was why people living in these rural villages would often start and end their day early, basically according to when the sun rises and sets. It might be a simple and slow-paced life where villagers’ daily activities mainly revolved around working in the fields but for stressful city dwellers like us, this was exactly the type of life that we often find ourselves craving for when bogged down with endless piles of work.
The next morning, I was woken up by the early morning Buddhist chants and it quickly dawned on me that I had just experienced one of the most interesting things of my life to date – staying overnight in a rural village monastery. It was indeed an experience like no other.
It was soon time to leave, and we packed our bags and continued our trek towards Kalaw. The road there was similarly stunning, and one of the viewpoints that our local guide brought us to showcased Myanmar at its finest. Trekking right to the top of this viewpoint, we could see the never-ending vast fields of crops of many different colours and shades and it was simply picture-perfect.
We finally reached Kalaw in the afternoon. At first sight, I could tell that this was yet another quaint mountainous Shan State town blessed with cool weather. While we did not have much time left to spare, we still managed to explore parts of it on a motorbike. Given that this former British hill station is situated at 4289 feet above sea level, one significant highlight would be visiting the famed Kalaw Viewpoint. As expected, the view there was breath-taking with all the surrounding mountains and lush greenery, making it an ideal photo spot. And with that, it wrapped up our trip around the Shan State this time around. Due to time constraint, our visit to Kalaw was rather short, but I was still able to witness enough of its undoubted beauty to say that I will be back one day for more.
Overall, this trip around the mountainous Shan State showed me another side of Myanmar, an adventurous side which I never knew existed. I saw many amazing sights, completed a long trek and even stayed overnight in a village monastery. Every one of them have been magical experiences that I would never have imagined myself going through when I first left Singapore for Myanmar. The Shan State was a place that used to seem so mysterious and unknown. But after witnessing first-hand the beauty and serenity of it all, it is safe to say that it will certainly be amongst the top few destinations that comes to mind whenever Myanmar is mentioned in the future.