“Hands down, the best thing I did in Myanmar was a trek” was what I kept reading on travel blogs while doing research for our trip to Myanmar. We were keen to do something a bit different on this trip, so it was settled – we were going to do a three-day 50 km trek through Myanmar’s hill country from the town of Kalaw to Inle Lake.
Fast-forward a few weeks, and during our first week in Myanmar we had fallen in love with this chaotic but charming country and its people. The trek was one of the things we were looking forward to the most on our trip, and the morning we got to Kalaw (following a horrible overnight bus and searching for our hotel at 4 a.m.) we signed up to do our trek.
The following morning we set off into the forest. Fortunately our group was small, with only four of us plus our guide Ilias (a Burmese-Pakistani ex-painter who could speak six languages and was trekking in worn-out sneakers and with a broken school bag). The forest was luxuriant and cool to walk through as we escaped the heat of the sun, and we passed by peaceful reservoirs, tea plantations, and grazing buffalo before reaching our lunch stop for Nepalese curry and a Coke at the aptly named ‘The Viewpoint’, which had a stunning view over rice paddies towards mountains in the distance.
The rest of the day involved inspecting local wildlife we found along the trail, including a green lizard that Ilias swore was a guinea pig – something was lost in translation there! We came across inquisitive child monks heading home from school, families drying chilli peppers and corn cobs in their front yards, and gaggles of women and children in traditional dress heading to the local market. Walking along train tracks towards an oncoming train was something I’d never imagined doing, though the train was only moving at a snail’s pace.
After sunset we arrived at our accommodation, a very simple home with paper-thin walls that you could see right through and mattresses only a centimetre thick. Our hosts were incredibly gracious people though, making sure we had chilled beer and enough blankets.
Early the next morning we were up and out the door. The second day’s scenery was all farmland, and we walked through miles of rice paddies (and had a go at threshing the rice – by hand!), massive fields of cabbage, mustard, chilli peppers, potatoes, and more. The local people always had a smile and a wave for us even though they were hard at work, and the kids liked to run along beside us. We had brought some bubble-blowing liquid with us and smiled as the kids squealed with joy and chased the bubbles.
Balancing along the edges of rice paddies and trying not to fall into the water-filled terraces, we continued on through the fertile landscape. At one stage we were stuck behind an ox-driven cart on a narrow section of road, so Ilias stopped to flirt with some of the local Pa’O tribe girls working in the rice fields. We couldn’t understand the language but we got the gist with the girls breaking out in giggles and smiles. Nothing changes in the nature of male-female romantic interaction, no matter where you are!
Next night’s accommodation was in a much nicer home – this one had concrete walls and slightly thicker mattresses. Luxury! After getting a shock while heading to the outside bathroom and startling the oxen who had been brought inside for the night, it was lovely to see the stars over the dark, dark countryside.
Day three was the final stretch to Inle Lake, and it was the hottest day of all. Our legs felt like jelly as we walked along roads made from chunks of gravel and scrambling down narrow sandy tracks. Nevertheless, the changing landscape as we drew closer to the lake kept us occupied, and finally the perfect blue of Inle Lake came into sight!
It felt like an age until we reached the lake but that cold beer and noodle dish beside the cool, lapping water was absolutely worth it.
The final part of the journey was a longboat trip across the length of the lake to the town of Nyaungshwe, and it was a joy to feel the wind in our hair and the spray in our faces. The trek was hard, but it was an amazing experience to get away from the towns and roads – we hardly saw a motorised vehicle in three days! Myanmar certainly left a stamp on our hearts and we will be back some day, for sure.
We trekked with Eversmile Trekking Service in Kalaw (run by a woman called Toe Toe), and it cost us 12,000K each per day, plus a quarter-share of 15,000K for the boat at the end of the trek. There were other costs here and there, such as buying drinking water daily and if you wanted Cokes or beers at night-time.