We also tried the palm juice that they boil into the palm sugar and make the most amazing sweets out of - some with coconut and some flavoured with tamarind - a real sugar rush!
Snack time Myanmar style - fermented tea leaves with various toasted beans, nuts and seeds served with sweet tea. Note the beautiful lacquerware box they are served in - traditionally made near Bagan.
Next it was off up to the hills. We went from the flooded plains of Bagan through drier areas where the local people have to carry their water home, back into lush jungle like foliage up the hills. We were looking forward to enjoying the coolness up there, but first we had to stop and visit the spiritual home of the Nats up Mt Popa.
Only 777 steps stood in our way - oh and some monkeys (we were warned they would try and nick things - especially food!), so off we went - nothing to stop a good sweat!
Some one lost a sprite...
Looking back down from the top!
We didn't see any yeti on our climb (slow stepping hermit monks) :(
When we arrived at Kalaw - an old hill station back in British colonial times - a few of us decided to try the local $1 rum - it went down well!
The next morning we were up to hike to a local village for lunch. On the way we saw a lot of different crops being farmed - the area is known for its mandarins and fruit as well as different types of rice depending on whether the paddies were hillside or by the river in the valley.
Lots of Myanmar people are farmers - 75% or so - there are lots of different tribes with their own identities and different crops and dishes, that are traditional to grow - some of these dependant on the tribal location (eg rice needs a lot of water, so rice production is concentrated in some parts, other areas like Shan state have noodles as their traditional meal).
We stopped for tea and beans and a dress up session halfway and then continued to a different village to have lunch.
View of the village in the mist
At lunch we met the charismatic Tommy Aung Ezdani. He is incredibly interesting - he stood as a politician in the 1990 elections alongside Aung San Suu Kyi and they won. However the ruling junta refused to recognise the result and threw the elected politicians into jail - Tommy was there for one year. His background includes a degree in international conflict management from Birmingham university (he won a scholarship to go there) and he is now the executive coordinator of the Rural Development Society which operates around Kalaw to benefit the local tribes.
Aung San - hero of Burmese independence, although he died before he saw it - & Aung San Suu Kyi his daughter, who was under house arrest for 15 years and even missed the death of her husband as she didn't want to risk leaving the country in case the ruling junta didn't allow her back in. She is now out of house arrest and working with the government on their path to democracy.
He is very inspiring - the local villages have better schools, clean water supplies and even libraries because of the work the RDS does. He runs an 'orphanage' in Kalaw town, however not all the kids are orphans - some parents send children to Tommy to ensure they are looked after if anything happens to the parents (there are still some tribes in skirmishes with the government).
When we visited the orphange it looked more like a boarding school. The buildings include school rooms, a computer room and living quarters. The kids were very shy to talk to us, even though they were being taught English, however we saw some traditional costumes from their tribes and they demonstrated traditional dancing and singing (before going into a rendition of One Direction's 'You don't know you're beautiful'! teenagers are the same everywhere!). We reciprocated with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Heads shoulders knees and toes - need to practise my karaoke skills sober!