Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar: the best thing we have ever done

“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.

One thing we really wanted to do in Myanmar was the 3-day 50km trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake. It ended up being the #1 highlight of the trip!

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.

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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.

Child monks

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Waiting for the train to leave

Waiting for the train to leave

 

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.

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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.

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Monk

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Woman sifting rice

Woman sifting rice

Buffalo

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Kids chasing bubbles

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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!

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Pa'O girl

Pa’O girl

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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.

 

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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.

P&S xx

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Longboat on Inle Lake

Longboat on Inle Lake

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.

19 comments

  1. Lorraine

    Yay I finally found you two!!! What an amazing site and the photos are so amazing !!! Don’t you love the kids? And all those chillies ain’t half bad either ! Awesome trip!!! Think of you both everyday!

  2. Lorraine

    Yay I finally found you two!!! What an amazing site and the photos are so amazing !!! Don’t you love the kids? And all those chillies ain’t half bad either ! Awesome trip!!! Think of you both everyday!

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  12. This looks like a wonderful experience — bringing bubbles for the kids is a brilliant idea. I’m definitely going to remember that for my next trip.

    Speaking of bubbles…I know it can be really hot in some countries, but you might consider meeting locals halfway within their own cultural context and consider wearing even a very light 3/4-sleeve shirt left unbuttoned and longer shorts, as that would go far in respecting traditions of modesty among women. I’m most definitely a feminist, but I also know that my own family really, really appreciates it when visitors make even small gestures of likeness rather than assume that all their choices will be filtered out by the foreigner, first-world bubble of immunity that tourists seem to carry with them everywhere.

    It’s a tiny suggestion, but one that — because of first impressions from even a very long way away — will go far in breaking down stranger distances. You two obviously love traveling with integrity, and your writing reveals an open-minded approach to the people you meet. Perhaps this might influence just a little your future encounters as you continue exploring. Most SE Asians will rarely share their discomfort or disapproval, especially with a visiting stranger, so you will be treated well whatever you wear. It’s really just about crossing the bridge a few more steps to meet others closer in the middle.

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  14. Paula

    Thank you for useful information.
    I am going in upcoming October.
    Should I do overnight after bus from Yangon in Kalaw or trek?
    I might be alone, is it safe for a woman ?

    • Petra
      Author

      Hi Paula, awesome – you’ll have a great time! Note that we visited Myanmar nearly 3 years ago so things have probably changed since then. It depends what time your bus arrives from Yangon as to whether you want to start the trek straight away. There isn’t much to do in Kalaw so you wouldn’t be missing out if you didn’t stay there! On our trek we were in a small group, so if that was your situation I’d say you’d be fine. Have fun!

  15. Tre winship

    Thank you for this. My duaghter and her friend are with Eversmile at the moment so this helped me share a little of the experience. The photo of the Oxon is amazing, have you sent it in for a competition, if not, you should

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