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Archive for January 2013

Forward, stop, back: River rafting in northern Myanmar

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Rafting on the Namlang River (photo by Htien Linn)

Rafting on the Namlang River (photo by Htein Linn)

At dawn in late January, the Lisu village of Mulashidi in northern Kachin State offers a tableau most visitors would not expect to see in Myanmar: villagers wrapped in heavy coats, hats and scarves; women sitting in huddles, warming their hands around small fires; and healthy, thick-furred dogs trotting purposefully along the road as if they have important appointments to keep.

The temperature is about 3 degrees Celsius, and the weather looks even colder to the west, north and east, where white-capped mountains lend a sense of drama to the jagged horizon. The nearest peaks are more than 50 miles away, but it’s the first time I’ve seen snow in Myanmar, which is known more for its tropical climate than for icicles and winter chills.

Dawn in Mulashidi

Dawn in Mulashidi

It is through this stunningly beautiful but frosty scene that I walk toward the Namlang River, along with two travel companions from Yangon, photographers Htein Linn and Kyaw Zay Ya. We’re on our way to spend the day rafting down the river, and although we’re a bit wary about the low temperature, we’re looking forward to enjoying an adventure of the sort that can be experienced nowhere else in Myanmar.

Fortified with a big European breakfast of eggs, bacon, cheese, croissants, toast and coffee, we pass through the village and make our way down to the river, whose beauty matches that of the rest of the Putao region: smoothly eroded rocks along the banks, crystal-clear water, and no sign of trash or pollution whatsoever.

Cold morning in Mulashidi

Cold morning in Mulashidi

Our sturdy expedition-grade raft is waiting on the bank near the Mulashidi suspension bridge, and the rest of our travel party gathers on the spot to prepare for departure. Aside from myself and the two photographers, the group consists of our raft guide, Deepak from Nepal; his assistant Ko Kee, who is ethnic Lisu; and Moh Moh and Doi Nau Aung, who are along to pose for photographs in traditional Lisu dress.

Deepok explains that although there are no dangerous rapids along the 15-mile stretch of river we will travel, we are likely to get a bit wet at the confluence of the Namlang and Malikha rivers toward the end of the day. So we shove the extra clothes we have brought along into dry bags, don life jackets, and jump into the raft as we push out into the current.

The water in most places is less than three feet deep, its lowest level of the year. We are making our trip about four months after the end of monsoon, and about one month before the snow is expected to start melting in the high mountains, where the Namlang and Malikha originate.

Paddling down the Namlang River

Paddling down the Namlang River

Before we get too far, Deepok coaches us on the paddling commands he will use throughout the day. There are only three — forward, stop and back and Deepok issues them not so much as orders as friendly suggestions. All seven of us in the raft have our own paddles and we all contribute to our progress, but there is also plenty of time dedicated to merely drifting along on the current, looking around and taking photographs.

The weather is perfect for a rafting trip. Despite the cold start, the day warms quickly under a cloudless blue sky. Deepok points out the abundant birdlife along the way. Crested kingfishers and great cormorants fly by alone, while common shelducks (with their white, chestnut, black and green plumage) and orange-brown ruddy shelducks congregate in small groups, sometimes floating in the water and sometimes flying overhead in tight, arrow-shaped migratory formations.

We paddle, then drift, then paddle again, through alternating sections of small rapids and tranquil slow-pids (to borrow the term from Ned Flanders). We pass groves of swaying bamboo trees and see only a few villages, including an ethnic Khamti Shan settlement with a single pagoda, an uncommon sight in the Putao area due to predominance of Christianity. We also pass open rice fields, and at one point where the water is unusually deep, several water buffalo swim across the river in front of our raft.

There are other occasional signs of human habitation, such as traditional fish traps made of bamboo secured in the water, and small homemade waterwheels that supply hydropower to village households. Along some sections of rocky shoreline, we see women washing clothes, kids wading in the water looking for snails to eat, or men panning for gold the old-fashioned, manual way by using concave wooden trays to sift through the silt.

High bridge across the river

High bridge across the river

But there is little actual river traffic. The locals use dugout canoes carved from a single tree trunk, but only to cross from one bank to the other. We seem to be the only ones making a long journey on the water.

At two points along the way we need to stop and portage the raft around bridges that are too low to pass under. The portages are easy, a simple matter of seven people carrying the raft for a few feet before returning to the river. At both stops we take the opportunity to photograph our Lisu models standing on the picturesque bridges.

At the second such stop there are actually two bridges the pesky low one and a higher suspension span — that connect the Rawang village of Zi On, on one side of the river, and the Lisu village of Mula On, on the other side. Here we encounter more human activity than we’ve seen all day, with a handful villagers crossing the bridges by foot and by bullock cart during our stopover.

From here it’s only a short distance to the biggest rapids of the day, at the confluence of the Namlang and Malikha rivers, where Deepok has assured us that we will not be able to avoid getting wet.

Oddly, it is here, in the middle of the river, in the middle of nowhere, in the serene slow-pids just before the confluence, that we get the strongest mobile phone signal of the day. I take advantage of the calm before the storm to call my wife in Yangon and say hello, I love you, I have to hung up now so I can plunge through a stretch of treacherous, ice-cold white water.

The Lisu girls, Moh Moh and Doi Nau Aung

The Lisu girls, Moh Moh and Doi Nau Aung

But I exaggerate. Deepok tells us that the rapids are only Class 2, meaning we can expect little more than some rough water and a few jutting rocks, which can be easily negotiated with basic paddling skills (which for me basically means avoiding dropping my paddle in the water).

We approach the confluence, with the Malikha River coming in from the left and continuing with increasing swiftness to our right. As we watch, a motorised long-tail boat that ferries locals between villages in the area – the only regular river transport we have seen on the entire trip – gets stuck for a few tense minutes in the middle of the rapids, requiring some careful redistribution of nervous passengers and mad revving of the outboard motor to get free and continue.

Then it’s our turn. “Forward,” Deepok suggests, and we paddle out of the Namlang and into the Malikha, instantly getting swept downstream with the swift current.

Just as Deepok had said, there are some rocks jutting from the fast-moving water, one deemed dangerous enough that a wedge-shaped bamboo shield has been built to deflect any boats (or perhaps floating bodies) that might come too close. At one point we hit a smaller rock that almost sends photographer Htein Linn flying into the water, but he regains his balance and manages to stay in the raft. Overall, though, the section is more fun than harrowing, and is just tricky enough to bounce us around a bit and drench us with frigid waves.

After the rapids we enter the most beautiful section of our journey, a narrow ravine with steep, jungle-covered hills and rocky cliffs on either side, and occasional stretches of sandy beach along the deep, slow-moving water. The current is so sluggish (no-pids, to coin a term) that without the aid of paddles we would simply sit there all day.

Even so, we’re in no rush to get anywhere, and we alternate between casual paddling and just floating along, enjoying the sight of cormorants flying high overhead and admiring the twisted riverside rock formations, some of which, with the help of some imagination, resemble animals such as elephants and crocodiles.

We also drift under a rickety suspension bridge that spans the river far overhead, which prompts me to wonder aloud what it would be like to jump from such a height, the plunge from which would allow one a few seconds to contemplate the wisdom of leaping into empty space, and to pray that the water was deep enough. This triggers a conversation between me and Deepak about our past experiences foolishly hurling ourselves into pools of water from the sides of cliffs and the tops of waterfalls.

Rock formations on Spirit Island

Rock formations on Spirit Island

We eventually reach the end of the ravine, passing from the no-pids, back into a stretch of slow-pids (where we can see big fish swimming around the raft), and then through another brief section of rapids. By now it’s mid-afternoon, and we beach the raft on Spirit Island, home to a strange landscape of sand beaches and lunar rock formations. The eeriness is heightened by my discovery, during a brief exploratory walk, of a sun-bleached cow skull lying near a small pool of water.

Spirit Island is the camping site for two-day rafting excursions, but for us it’s the end of the trip. Support staff from the rafting company who, travelling by car and motorboat, had preceded us to the island have already set up a lunch table shaded by two big traditional umbrellas. We dine on corn chowder, potato salad, fish burgers and Myanmar beer. As we eat we watch the cold, clean river rush by, on its way south to Myitkyina and the confluence of the Ayeyarwady River, and then on to warmer climates in central Myanmar, the delta, and the Andaman Sea beyond.

Travel Myanmar 2013

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The front cover of The Myanmar Times special supplement, Travel Myanmar 2013, features a photograph I took  in February 2012 along the Namlang River, near the village of Mulashidi, in Myanmar’s northern Kachin State. The girls are wearing the traditional clothing of their Lisu ethnic group. The snow-covered peaks of the eastern Himalayan foothills are visible in the background, about 50 miles away.


The supplement also included a photo feature that used several of my images, plus one taken by my wife Pauksi:

Ayeyarwaddy River, Sagaing Region

Ayeyarwaddy River, Sagaing Region

Near Katha, Kachin State

Near Katha, Kachin State

Ethnic Chin woman, Kanpetlet, Chin State

Ethnic Chin woman, Kanpetlet, Chin State

Myeik Archipelago, Tanintharyi Region

Myeik Archipelago, Tanintharyi Region

Mahamuni Pagoda, Mandalay (photo by Pauksi/Thandar Khine)

Mahamuni Pagoda, Mandalay (photo by Pauksi/Thandar Khine)

Written by latefornowhere

January 24, 2013 at 5:28 am

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized

Trekking for the timid in Putao

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Putao trek.09

The Malikha River in northern Kachin State

Myanmar’s far northern Kachin State is one of those places whose reputation for wildness has achieved near-mythical status, a far-flung, unspoiled Shangri-La that would seem more at home in the pages of a Tintin comic than in the real world.

It was here, in the foothills of the Himalayas, that British botanist Frank Kingdon-Ward embarked on 10 epically grueling expeditions from 1914 to 1956, during which he cataloged dozens of unknown orchids and other plant species. In the 1990s, American biologist Alan Rabinowitz, dubbed the “Indiana Jones of wildlife conservation” by Time magazine, followed local rumors to a mountain village and found the last 12 surviving Taron, a race of four-foot-tall pygmies who had mysteriously decided to stop propagating, and will themselves into extinction. He wrote about them in his book Beyond the Last Village (2001).

And Joe Slowinski, one of the foremost snake specialists in the United States, met his demise at the village of Rat Baw, the victim of the bite of a many-banded krait. He had the double misfortune of dying on September 11, 2001, a day when newspapers had bigger events to report than the passing of an American herpetologist.

Flatland trekking in the Putao region

Flatland trekking in the Putao region

Now a new type of adventurer is descending upon the far north, the sort who comes not to make scientific discoveries but to spend a holiday trekking in the proximity of the eastern Himalayas, which separate Myanmar from India to the northwest, and from China to the northeast. The name “Myanmar” does not usually evoke images of snow-capped mountains, but they’re here in abundance, including 19,295-foot Hkakabo Razi, the highest peak in Southeast Asia, conquered for the first time in 1996 by Japanese mountaineer Takashi Ozaki and U Nama Johnson from Myanmar.

Characterized by Kingdon-Ward as one of the “richest regions” for flora and fauna in the world, the mountains of northern Myanmar are home to a dazzling array of rare orchids and flowering rhododendron, as well as strange animals like the takin, which the botanist described as “half-goat, half buffalo”.

Villagers wash vegetables in a stream near Kaung Mu Lon village

Villagers wash vegetables near Taram Dam

Most visitors these days never reach the high peaks, which require at least a week of expedition-grade trekking to penetrate. Shorter visits are generally limited to the broad valley south of the mountain range, whose main settlement is Putao at 1500 feet above sea level. The town, located 50 miles south of where the high mountains begin, is the gateway to the region, its rudimentary airport served by three turbo-prop flights a week. Despite its gateway status, even Putao would be considered “out there” by many travelers – electricity is sparse, telephones landlines are rare, and mobile service is spotty to nonexistent. The single “stoplight” in town is a simply sign on which green, yellow and red circles have been painted.

There is plenty to keep adventurous travelers occupied in the Putao valley, which is home to the Lisu, Rawang and Kachin hill tribes that migrated from the Tibetan Plateau more than 400 years ago, as well as the original Hkamti Shan inhabitants who had settled in the area long before. Fishermen still prowl the snow-fed rivers with small spears, and hunters stalk animals using crossbows and poisoned arrows.

One trek through this lowland area took me from the Khamti Shan village of Kaung Mu Lon to the town of Machanbaw over the course of two days, a total distance of about 17 miles. Besides myself (an American), our multi-ethnic group consisted of two Bamar friends from Yangon, a Bamar chef, two local porters (one Rawang and one Khamti Shan), and Thomas, our Karen guide.

With snow-capped Himalayan peaks visible far to the north, the highest point we achieved during our walk was 1630 feet above sea level, which we reached at the very beginning via a short, steep scramble to the top of forested Noi Zaw Hill. From the small pagoda at the top, we enjoyed a commanding view of the crystal-clear Malikha River (which flows south to meet the Namkhan River near Myitkyina, both joining forces to form the Ayeyarwady River), as well as beautiful Kaung Mu Lon. The town’s main pagoda, at the foot of the hill, is said to be 2000 years old at its core, but in the year 2000 a new pagoda was built over top so the ancient structure is no longer visible.

A Khamti Shan woman in Kaung Mu Lon, with the village's namesake pagoda in the background

A Khamti Shan woman in Kaung Mu Lon, with the village’s namesake pagoda in the background

We started walking from Kaung Mu Lon shortly before noon, crossing a small stream and entering the Rawang village of Taram Dam 1. With a population of 200, the village did not take long to pass through, but a few steps later we were in another village, known as Taram Dam 2. This was the pattern for the first day, which seemed like a walk through a never-ending settlement of wooden houses, bamboo fences, stone walls, gardens and agricultural land: One village merged into the next, sometimes separated by streams or rivers, but other times the boundary was so subtle that we had to rely on Thomas to tell us when we had crossed the invisible line between towns.

That’s not to say that the villages were all the same. For starters, the Kachin, Lisu and Rawang, who make up about 70 percent of the population of the Putao valley, are mostly Christians, and their villages are unusual in Myanmar for their lack of pagodas and monasteries. Christianity was established in far northern Myanmar in the 1950s by American missionary Robert Morse (who also translated the Bible into Rawang language), and Baptist and Catholic churches abound in the region.

Meanwhile the Khamti Shan, the valley’s original settlers, tend toward Buddhism. In addition to being home to pagodas and monasteries, Khamti Shan villages are like huge gardens due to the ethnic group’s status as the main vegetable growers in the region. It is typical for each house, built on raised floors with thatched roofs, to be surrounded by a lush array of edible plants, including celery, cabbage, potatoes, and white and yellow mustard. As elsewhere in Myanmar, mustard is used in the Putao area not only as a food ingredient but also for making plant oil, which is thought to have medicinal value: It is spread on the belly to relieve stomach pain, for daily use as well as for women who have recently given birth. Uniquely for the Putao region, mustard oil is also used for cooking in the same way that palm, peanut, sunflower and other edible plant oils are used elsewhere.

Khamti Shan women wear traditional dress at their home in Kaung Mu Lon

Khamti Shan women wear traditional dress at their home in Kaung Mu Lon

It’s said among locals that Buddhist taboos against harming animals have also helped turn the Khamti Shan villages into refuges for wild birds, which seem to understand that in Buddhist villages they are less likely to be shot out of the sky with a traditional slingshot or crossbow than in non-Buddhist villages. Khamti Shan villages do seem to be alive with birdsong from dawn to dusk, but I wondered if they might simply be feasting on the garden produce rather than hiding from hunters.

One advantage of our walk through the never-ending village sprawl on the first day was getting the chance to meet the locals. In Kaung Mu Lon we were invited into a house to share tea with a Khamti Shan woman and her daughter. Later in the day we met a group of Rawang four adults and three children – who were on the last leg of a 10-day journey starting from their village near the Chinese border. They had walked 114 miles, carrying their infants and personal belongings across high mountains and through dense jungle, to visit their parents.

We also met the pastor of a church in Kan Jo Lisu village, and a few minutes later a Buddhist man who was repairing his bamboo fence gave us California oranges from the tree in his front yard. (Robert Morse is credited with introducing citrus fruit to the Putao valley, after he noticed that the residents were suffering from vitamin C deficiencies.) We also stopped to talk to men who were panning for gold in the river near Nam Khan 2, which was our stopping point for the day.

A Rawang woman picks fruit in

A Rawang woman picks fruit in Nam Khan 2 village

We spent the night in a small lodge owned by a Rawang family. Our reward for a day of walking was a candlelight dinner (from lack of electricity, not for romance) featuring vegetable tempura, bean soup, brown rice, sweet and sour pork, Rawang-style chicken, long-bean salad, seaweed salad, and cake for desert, all washed down with Myanmar-made Red Mountain Estate wine. Afterward we sat with our hosts around an indoor fireplace talking about nature, animals and, inevitably, ghosts.

The lodge did have a bit of a haunted house feel, its dark and creaky wooden interior illuminated by flickering candles and eerie light from the nearly full moon. In the early morning hours I was jarred from sleep by the sort of horrendous cacophony that I thought could only originate from a host of demons issuing forth from the darkest pits of hell. It took me a few frantic seconds to realize that the din was nothing more than the enthusiastic snoring of one of my Bamar travel companions in the next room.

The temperature that night dropped to 3 degrees Celsius, but there were plenty of blankets to keep us warm. In the morning the village was shrouded in thick, wet mist rolling off the nearby river. I took a solo walk around the town while everyone was still sleeping. The only sound was the dripping of water from trees and rooftops, and the only creatures stirring were a few cows loitering on the dirt road that ran past our lodge. The tranquility was shattered when ear-splitting Myanmar rock music erupted from a stereo in one of the village households, a 6:45am alarm that I imagine few neighbors could have slept through.

Misty morning in Nam Khan 2

Misty morning in Nam Khan 2

We ate a breakfast of noodles, fried beef, toast and coffee, thanked our gracious hosts, and started walking through the fog at 8:30am. The village had come alive since my morning excursion. We talked to a woman who was pounding rice flour using a foot-powered mallet, then photographed two young men on motorcycles who were carrying a big fish they had pulled from the river.

We followed a stone-paved road out of the village, and the trek quickly took on a different character from the previous day. Whereas on day one we had seen one village blend into the next, now there were wide open rice fields where horses roamed free, forestland where birds sang in the trees, and clear streams trickling over rocks and through meadows. We barely saw anyone else as we walked through the mist.

The sun broke through around 10am and the temperature immediately rose, but as with the day before, it never became too hot for comfort. We passed through the Kachin village of Inwayn Baw, from which we had a view of Ma Ket Mong village across the Malikha River. Our path followed the bank above the river, and looking down we could see groups of men searching for gold using concave wooden trays to sift through the silt. We entered another forest, then passed through the Kachin village of In Bu Baw, and then found ourselves surrounded by trees yet again.

Not long after noon we reached the big town of Machanbaw, home to Rawang, Kachin and Khamti Shan, as well as to Bamar civil servants from around the country. The town was the site of northernmost Myanmar’s original British colonial administration starting in 1913, before Fort Hertz was established in Putao in 1925. The far north had been considered a “punishment station” by the British, a place to send officers who had been banished from Yangon for disciplinary reasons.

The pool table in the old British Club in Machanbaw

The pool table in the old British Club in Machanbaw

Remnants of the colonial era are still visible around Machanbaw. Many of the old officer’s houses still stand in the middle of town, as does the moldering British Club. This sprawling building is now abandoned, and daylight streams through broken windows and cracked walls. The place is mostly empty, with the odd exception of an old pool table that still stands in one room. In better condition is the two-story British Commission House, which is now the Guba Guesthouse. Set on a wide lawn on the outskirts of town and overlooking the Malikha River, it has the feel of a well-tended rustic cabin. It is also said to be haunted by the restless spirit of a woman with dark hair reaching down to her waist.

We ended our small adventure by climbing the second hill of the trek, this one not as high as Noi Zaw but leading to a legendary site just outside of Machanbaw: a rock outcropping that looks like a petrified dragon. According to local lore, the dragon was once alive, prowling the area and feeding on people until one day it crossed the line by eating a pregnant woman. For this transgression the gods punished the creature by turning it to stone.

There’s a shrine near the head of the dragon with a small golden pagoda, and evidence of offerings for good fortune can be seen on the outcropping: candle wax on the dragon’s head, and broken egg shells and dried yolk around the dragon’s eye. Students also chip off bits of the rock, or “dragon scales,” before exams for good luck. Locals claim that if you visit at night, you can sometimes see the dragon quivering in its sleep.

The eye of the stone dragon

The eye of the stone dragon

We hadn’t brought any eggs or candles to make our own sacrifices, and I wasn’t too keen on furthering the destruction of a landmark, natural or otherwise, by chipping off pieces of the rock. We took photographs and, letting sleeping dragons lie, walked back down the hill to finish our trek.

This story was published in slightly different form in The Myanmar Times Travel Supplement 2013.

When tourists swindle locals (and themselves)

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Thanboddhay Pagoda, Monywa

Thanboddhay Pagoda, Monywa

She walked into the reception area of Monywa Hotel, sporting disconcertingly casual attire: knee-length shorts and a short-sleeved blouse, both made from flimsy white cotton fabric decorated with a floral print.

She was a 20-something European tourist, but she was dressed like a 12-year-old at a slumber party.

My wife Pauksi and I had just checked out of the hotel, and we were gathering our bags for the trip to the bus station.

This dreadfully dressed girl had just checked in, and said she was looking for fellow travelers to share transport costs to the main sites of interest around Monywa, including Bodhitataung, Thanboddhay Pagoda and Hpo Win Daung.

Finding no other foreigners booked into the hotel, however, she was trying to figure out how she could manage these excursions on her own.

Did I mention that the girl’s right arm was cradled in a makeshift cloth sling? (I didn’t ask.) As she spoke, she flapped her injured arm like a chicken wing, explaining that her impairment prevented her from taking a motorcycle, so a safer but more expensive tuk-tuk was the only option.

The woman behind the reception counter dutifully explained the pricing for a half-day trip to Bodhitataung and Thanboddhay Pagoda: The hotel’s deluxe tuk-tuk could be hired for 12,000 kyats (US$14), or smaller tuk-tuks could easily be found outside for about 8000 to 10,000 kyats.

“I won’t pay more than 4000 kyats for a tuk-tuk,” the girl responded.

After a brief but awkward silence, the receptionist looked at Pauksi and said in Burmese, “She won’t find a tuk-tuk for 4000 kyats. The driver won’t make any profit at that price.”

I relayed the message in English to the hapless solo traveler. She stared blankly into space for a moment, sighed and said, “Maybe I’ll just spend one night in Monywa then, and take the bus to Mandalay tomorrow morning.”

“Suit yourself,” I thought. I wasn’t inclined to argue, or try to convince this girl that she really should make some effort see what Monywa had to offer. It was her loss if she didn’t.

But I did wonder: Why travel halfway around the world (she had told us she was from Belgium), and then allow a mere 4000 kyat to prevent you from actually experiencing or seeing anything? And more important, why come to a developing country and then demand services from locals at insultingly low prices?

If this girl wanted to fleece someone, it might have been better for her to stay home in Europe and shoplift a new wardrobe from her friendly neighborhood H&M department store.

A boatman at Inle Lake once told me that one of the toughest aspects of his job was dealing with tourists who wave outdated copies of Lonely Planet in his face and insist that they enjoy a day out on the lake for the same price printed in its obsolete pages.

Boatman at Inle Lake

Boatman at Inle Lake

Never mind that during the five years since the guidebook was researched, diesel prices and living costs would have increased significantly.

That’s not to say that there aren’t unscrupulous characters who prey on foreign visitors to Myanmar, as illustrated by the grotesquely inflated room rates charged by ravenous hoteliers last tourist season, a move that might result in short-term profits but has helped give the country a bad reputation as a travel destination. And of course there are the occasional taxi drivers who suggest payment of 3000 or 4000 kyats for a 1500 kyat ride.

During a recent visit to Inwa near Mandalay, I watched as two self-consciously scruffy Australian backpackers feigned cool indifference as they declared to the pony cart drivers that they would pay no more than 1000 kyats for a ride through the ancient capital.

A nearby sign indicated that pony cart tours, which usually last at least two hours, cost US$5.

In Myanmar it is, of course, par for the course to bargain for a fair price. But these backpackers weren’t haggling in good faith; they were simply trying to swindle locals who weren’t exactly raking in the big money on a day-to-day basis.

Horse carts at Inwa

Horse carts at Inwa

It was clear from the exchange that if the Australians continued to insist on their unreasonable rate, they would end up standing there all day. But I didn’t intervene.

Certain types of backpackers love to boast about the travails of their travels, about how they eschewed package tours and easy destinations for rugged, off-the-beaten track exploration.

So I figured I was doing them a favor by helping make their trip a little tougher. And they could go home and proudly tell their friends about how they baked in the tropical sun while the horse drivers wandered back into the shade, ignoring demands for an obnoxiously low-cost tour through Myanmar’s remarkable countryside.

This story originally appeared in slightly different form in The Myanmar Times weekly newspaper (Oct 29-Nov 4 2012). A significantly altered version also appeared in Southeast Asia Globe monthly magazine (December 2012).