One of the things I was most looking forward to on my two month solo adventure through Sri Lanka and Myanmar was definitely the three-day-long trek from Kalaw all the way to Inle Lake. For a passionate walker like myself, traveling by foot is just the best way to soak up the most of the beautiful landscapes, and meeting the locals in their villages allows you to truly explore a country.
My newfound friend Laura and I arrived in Kalaw by bus from our motorbike trip in Kyaukme early in the morning and our first mission was to find our hiking agency’s office. We had actually booked a guide a few day earlier via phone through an agency recommended by a friend of mine, but don’t worry if you don’t have the time to make reservations in advance (at least in low season): As we got off the bus, several guide were already waiting for us, trying to sell their tours.
Once we found the agency, met our lovely guide, rearranged our back- and daypacks and had the best Indian breakfast at a local teahouse (after all, we came straight from the nightbus and had to regain forces), we were good to go: The walking is actually pretty easy most of the time and you will walk in mainly flat territories. Unfortunately, the trek is not even remotely as savage as I expected, and there are pretty decent paths most of the time. After a few hours of walking we arrived at the lunchspot, where about a dozen of other travelers were having lunch as well.
During those three days of walking, we passed several villages and saw a lot of different landscapes – from rainforests over pineforests to bamboo forests and from drier areas to waterholes. We walked through forests, on rails and along rivers. We met friendly locals, fellow travelers and many water buffalos. We talked about a lot of random stuff, but also took a lot of time for ourselves to enjoy the silence.
We also tried to find out as much as possible about Myanmar and luckily, our guide was able to answer most of our questions. We got along very well with him (even though I think he was sometimes annoyed by the two girlies that we were ;)) and we even convinced him to let us chew some of his Betel. We were hoping to get high, but actually it was just disgusting…
We spent both nights with local families, where we always had the most delicious dinners, before falling into our “beds” super early and getting a good night’s rest. The beds were actually just blankets on the floor, but we were so tired from all the marching that we slept like babies anyways. (If you are as paranoid about bugs and spiders as we are, taking a little sleeping pill won’t hurt,…) In the mornings, we had a yummy, hearty breakfast before heading out quite early in order to beat the heat. The meals are actually prepared by a chef who follows you to each stop on his motorbike and were by far among some of the best I had in Myanmar.
While you do pass a lot of very small villages that feel trapped in another decade, you can definitely feel how tourism is ever growing in Myanmar, and that those villages are not quite that hidden anymore. I still recommend this trek though, as it’s a very good way to see more of this beautiful country and its beautiful people. And also because it just feels super rewarding to finally arrive at Inle Lake after three days and 70km of walking in the Burmese heat. Laura and I actually have not been drinking for the entire week, so I can tell you that the first beer after all this exercise felt very good. Almost as good as the first shower…
Hiking To Inle Lake – What To Bring
Clothe-wise, basically all you need is a clean shirt and fresh underway for each day, a toothbrush and maybe a raincoat (depending on the season). Sunscreen and a hat are also a big plus. But the most important thing are without a doubt wet wipes (aka the-most-essential-thing-to-have-in-Myanmar): You will hardly encounter any fresh water during your three days of hiking and I most definitely wouldn’t count on seeing much toilet paper either. So again: You can leave your towel at home, but I promise that you will need those wipes! Food and accomodation are included in the trek, so apart from a bottle of water, you don’t need to worry about provisions.
Just keep in mind that you will have to carry your backpack for the whole three days, so you definitely don’t want for it to get too heavy! The rest of your belongings will be brought by car or motorbike to the final point of the hike, so make sure to really bring everything you may need. In addition to all the things mentioned above, I brought one pair of trousers/shorts to change according to the weather as well was my sneakers (for walking) and my flip flops (you will be happy to have those in the evenings). Since you walk for more than eight hours each day, headphones and music might be a good idea as well. A walking stick is a big plus.
Kalaw To Inle Lake – Good To Know
Expect to pay about 75USD for the three day tour. If time is scarce or you are physically unable to do the long tour, you can also opt for the shorter two day hike. Bring enough cash to buy water and maybe some snacks along the way, as this is not included in the tour. Do not forget to bring tips for your guide and your chef as well!
We went with A1 Agency and were very satisfied with our guide and chef. However, from what I saw and heard from other travelers, I think the prices/offers of all the companies are pretty much the same. So it might be a good idea to just show up in Kalaw, meet some of the guides and just go with whoever you like most.
You will arrive at Inle Lake in the afternoon on the third day, from where you will get to the city of Nyaung Shwe by boat – not before getting a custom tour on the beautiful lake. The ticket for the small boat is paid in advance to your tour guide. Most backpackers don’t have their accomodation in Inle Lake sorted beforehand, so don’t worry: There are plenty of guesthouse and you will be able to figure it all out once you arrive in Nyaung Shwe.