Photograpy and thoughts from a life worth living. Currently traveling indefinitely through SE Asia, the Mediterranean region, Europe, India, and more. Contact me via the links below! Photos shot with Ricoh GR and GoPro Hero 3+ Black.
Pankam Village, Myanmar. After a half day of tiresome trekking, we happily arrived at the home of the night’s hosts greeted with tea and, thankfully, lunch shortly after. As mentioned in previous Myanmar posts, the villagers living in these hills are among the most welcoming I’ve encountered anywhere in the world, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more hospitable, joyful family than the one we stayed with here. It turns out that our hosts made up the family of the village’s highly esteemed Chief, who has been voted into leadership by it’s roughly 1,000 person population every two years for the last 17 in a row. While ultimately we didn’t get to meet the man, we had a wonderful time spending the night amongst the family’s three generations of women. Pictured above are: the Chief’s wife, Main Khen Muu (71); their daughter Ayea Law with her five month old daughter, Sen Sen Oou; his sister Naing Quyt (65); and the restless six year old grandson Muang Thin, who proves that playing “guns” crosses all cultures. Myanmar is overflowing with good people like these.
The steep trek from Hsipaw to the hilltop Paluang village of Pankam is one of the most popular trips organized by Mr. Charles’ Guesthouse in Hsipaw, and for good reason. The roughly five hour climb takes you, like everywhere else in the Shan state of northern Myanmar, through endless rice, tea, and vegetable growing fields that dot hills otherwise covered in forest. The further you go around here the less white skin you’ll see, and while this particular village of about 1,000 people sees a handful of tourists it still is, for the most part, unspoiled. Children along the way laugh and wave while riding their “pet” buffaloes, and men and women happily pose for photos while going about their daily routines. The simple (yet difficult) life produces some utterly fantastic people, none better than the folks you come across in the Myanmar hills.
The train from Mandalay (or in our case Pyin-oo-lwin) to Hsipaw in northeastern Myanmar is an extraordinarily slow yet fascinating climb through steep green hills for over eight hours (note that you only actually travel about 140 km, to emphasize the slow). Weathered, cobweb-lined rail cars and a ridiculously bumpy track overtaken by vegetation make for an amusing ride, where corn can almost be plucked from its stalks via the window and you’ll have no choice but to feel the pile of leaves beneath your feet continue to grow as weeds and twigs clatter against the rusty walls and your torso. Eventually the greenery dips into the Gokteik Gorge, traversed via the remarkable Gokteik Viaduct which was built by Pennsylvania Steel Company contractors way back in 1901. At the time, the 318 ft high and 2257 ft long structure was the second highest railway bridge in the world and remains Myanmar’s longest. Today, trains crawl across inch-by-inch to avoid stressing its aging infrastructure, which combined with the gorgeous views is ultimately the highlight of a brilliant rail journey.
Inle Lake, Myanmar. It takes a boat trip around the serene lake’s vast network of canals and marshland to appreciate how interconnected the locals are with the body of water their lives depend on. Located in the Shan state surrounded by picturesque blue mountains and scores of Buddhist monasteries and pagodas, the lake is dotted with floating vegetable gardens, stilted bamboo houses, and over a dozen villages populated by the local Intha tribe. The most unique of the sites has to be the traditional fisherman, who simultaneously balance on their skiffs with one leg and row with the other wrapped around an ore, all whilst fishing with their free hands (unfortunately I don’t have a good photo of this, but a Google search should suffice!).
En route to Inle Lake we stopped in a small Pa’O village, where our first meal was prepared in this welcoming man’s home alongside his wife and grandchildren (none of whom spoke a word of English). I cannot stress how friendly the villagers are in the Burmese hills; we ate lunch and took a short nap on the floorboards before moving on.
One of the most popular treks in Myanmar (or all of SE Asia for that matter) is the 60-70km trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake and the Irrawaddy basin. Three days of trekking takes you through rolling green hills, ridges and plataues overtaken by fields of rice, sunflower, corn, okra, peanuts, ginger, garlic, sesame, beans, turmeric, coriander and several other crops and spices. The route is gorgeous and the views are endless, but it’s the people that make the trip so remarkable. Life is difficult in the hills, but you wouldn’t know that from the wide smiles and excited waves that come from the locals as you pass. After winding through dozens of remote hill tribe villages, forests, and farmland and spending two nights chatting with your guide and local hosts about language and life, you’ll be left with an immense appreciation of the hospitality and culture that radiates from the Burmese people.
Two Germans, one Austrian, one French, one American, and three Pa’O villagers trekking together from Kalaw in central Myanmar to Inle Lake. If you do the trip, book it with Uncle Sam’s trekking company - a great organization run by even better people. Not only is it one of the cheapest options, but having been in the business for almost three decades Sam goes to great lengths to ensure a quality trek with amazing local guides, many of whom have been living with his family for several years learning English and gaining valuable trekking experience. Our group, pictured above along with myself and our guide, had a fantastic time being led by Jola - ask for him if you go here!
Bagan, Myanmar. This vast landscape alongside the Irrawaddy river is home to the largest and most dense concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas, and ruins in the world. With seemingly endless temples - over 2,000 of them - Bagan is unlike anywhere else on earth, with possibly the only comparable place being the ancient city of Angkor in nearby Cambodia. It’s impossible to say which is more impressive, as both are incredible in their own right, but what’s eye-popping here is that these lands used to hold over six times as many temples as can be seen today (estimated to be over 13,000). It’s clear that excavation work on the relatively untouched lands is barely in its infancy, as digging up the foundations that have laid here since the 11th and 12th centuries will take generations and half of what used to be here is now hidden under the adjacent river. Nevertheless, everywhere you turn multitudes of temples and spires are in view, varying in size but equally beautiful and spiritually important. The stupa dotted skyline is truly one of the most unique sites I’ll likely ever see, and I’m happy to have experienced it before it evolves into the tourist mecca it is destined to become. Hopefully the preservation work here is able to keep up with the rising visitation numbers, but unfortunately that seems increasingly unlikely; the fate of this remarkable place has yet to be determined.