Travelling in Myanmar sometimes takes the best out of me. After one of my endless bus journeys I counted time I have spent in a moving vehicle in Myanmar (trains, buses – VIP, ordinary, local, very local) to get to places and I arrived at 8.5 days. By now, I am pretty sure I have crossed the 10 days’ mark. As usual, this story begins in a bus from Bagan to Lashio (amazingly direct bus ~10 hours).
I planned to travel to Lashio in November 2016 with Myanmar Adventure Club, but our trip got cancelled due to the outbreak of the ethnic conflict. The Club went to Kayin state instead and I put Lashio in the back of my mind to revisit later. The chance came when my friend Natalia visited me in January, so we wrote Byron at Myanmar Adventure Outfitters and arranged a three-day adventure with their team.
One of a very few bus rides where I actually got carsick was not an ideal start of a 3 day-intense plan. We arrived to Lashio before anything opened so tired (I think it was around 3am), we both sat in a garage turned in a tea shop and tried to stay awake. In the end we met a taxi driver who helped us find a hotel. That was another mission, the hotels were either full or they couldn’t take foreigners. With his persistence we found a place and crashed for 4 or so hours. I managed to wake up for breakfast which was blend fried rice and orange juice. You can imagine how happy we were to get some granola when we reached MAO’s office.
Lashio is in Chinese hands, besides Burmese script you have Chinese characters and everyone speaks Mandarin. We haven’t spent too much time in the city itself, but it was clearly bustling from all the trade and connections with China and the rest of Myanmar. We were quite happy to leave to get some fresh air during our hike to Mine Kyine. Our guides Aik Pu and Nae Nae were answering our endless questions and I could practice my Burmese. It was useless in the villages, as the people usually spoke their local dialect.
We had home-made sushi as a snack in Mine Kyine after we arrived and Nae Nae took us to take a shower. Now, village shower is weird, given the very conservative way women dress in Myanmar – all covered. But the ‘shower’, they put longgyi, Myanmar sarong around their body and bath in a nearby river. While women & men are separated, they are not necessarily too far. Quite the opposite, guys sit around and watch. Anyway, the shower was amazingly refreshing and we didn’t care that it was an unusual sight for the people, when 2 white girls joined them in the river.
Next morning, we met Alex who replaced Nae Nae in our group and took us to Hidden Tiger Falls for a swim. It was pretty chilly, so I craved all sun rays, but those were quickly leaving us. We enjoyed banana bread at this place and jumped into the water until we couldn’t anymore. We made our way to Ban Khaw for the night and reunited with Nae Nae who told us what it is to live as an orphan in Myanmar. It’s fairly common that the parents send their children to places called Children Homes, or Happy Home or Mother home that take care of unwanted kids. It was pretty heartbreaking to hear that the family has still the guts to ask these kids for money when they get on their feet and start working. Because respecting elders is a long and deep engraved custom in Myanmar cultures, the children must do it.
Our last day was epic. Although, admittedly, chaotic, cold, scary and we almost missed our bus. Byron and another adventurer, Tyler, joined us and we headed to the Dark Horse Falls (after a delicious bowl of Shan Noodles of course – nothing tastes better!). After that it was a lot of jumping, swimming, shivering and exploring hidden caves.
We visited Lashio and surroundings in January 2017 and despite various travel restrictions towards Muse on the Northern border with China, life in Lashio did not give any signals of the conflict. It’s also the base of Burmese military units and thus the ethnic groups have no intention to start fighting there. There is more to Myanmar than just the common tourist path and I hope that with time I get to see a lot more hidden places like these. Especially when I know that my travels support the local communities and offer them additional income. Heads up to Myanmar Adventure Outfitters and groups like yours.
The sad side of tourism in Myanmar is rubbish. Many people are inconsiderate of leaving plastic behind despite signs that Byron & MAO team put up. There’s even a Trash Hero group in Lashio, but their job is a tough one. But hopefully things will change. Other tragedy is the local way of ‘tourism’ – or making things accessible to masses of people. Since making the waterfalls ‘famous’, some local entrepreneurs started constructing a paved road that destroys the untouched beauty of surrounding nature. It remains to be seen what will happen in the near future. The Dutch disease – the natural resource course – might be very relevant in Myanmar’s tourism at the moment.