Another hike? Ok, one more!
When researching Myanmar, formerly Burma, we kept coming across overly positive reviews for “The trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake”.
And now that we’ve discovered a new found “love” (we use this word loosely) for hiking, we wanted to see for ourselves. Over the course of 3 days and 2 nights, our legs walked a total of 63km / 40 miles through hill tribe villages, rice paddies, vegetable & chilli gardens, across train tracks, jungles and occasionally, hot scorching dirt roads. Although the trek was quite long in terms of length, the difficulty level was easy to moderate.
Which Hiking Company to Choose for the Kalaw to Inle Lake Trek?
Kalaw is full of companies offering hikes, yet despite them all going on the same route, they range immensely in price. 3D/2N hikes start as low as 40,000 kyat and as high as 90,000 kyat ($34 USD to $80 USD). This cost is all inclusive but you will have a 12,500 kyat ($11 USD) fee to enter Inle Lake. The more you have in your group, the cheaper it becomes.
We went with Ever Smile, based on recommendations. We were extremely satisfied & surprised (considering the cost) with the quality of service/food/guide & email responses from them. What sold us was their use of emojis all through their emails. We figured they must be fun ;). In the end, we paid 40,000 kyat, $34 USD each, the total for the 3 days.
This included 3 meals a day + snacks & tea, our guide, accommodation, the boat across Inle Lake & transport of your big bag to Inle Lake. If you do the math, that is a bloody bargain! We’re practically saving money by being on this hike.
We’re Going on an Adventure!
Within the first hour of walking, we soon realised the heat was going to be our hardest battle. This sun was HOT. So much so, Jacob turned to his umbrella, Asian style for the majority of the day. As we walked along the open dirt road, occasionally through the shaded jungle and across the open fields, we passed by waving locals, grazing buffaloes, ginger, fruit and vegetable plantations until we reached our first stop of the day… lunch & shade, which couldn’t have come soon enough. The viewpoint for lunch had spectacular views of the valleys, mountains and villages below.
The Home Stays / Villages
Our first night was spent at Ywar Pu Village. Each village has between 10-900 people living in it and they all speak their own dialect & wear their own traditional clothing. They were so warm and welcoming, from the moment we arrived.
Only a small number of villages in Kalaw are allowed to house foreigners, although slowly, the rules and regulations are becoming more relaxed. Our sleeping arrangements at the homestay felt like a high school sleepover, all in the same room, in the attic of a house, on a paper-thin mattress made from bamboo. We have to admit however, we did sleep better than we have in some other ‘beds’ around the world! 25km of hiking will do that. Once you see past the shared sleeping arrangement and begin to appreciate that you have a roof over your head, you’re laughing.
On our second day, we witnessed the Da-Nu and Pa-o Tribes. These tribes wear traditional headwear that distinguishes them from others, along with their full black clothing. I tried on the colourful traditional headpieces and we watched an elderly woman weave bags, scarves and the headwear – something she has been doing this since the age of 20!
Along the trek you have constant views of bright green coloured fields, much of it crops of rice and corn. We’d been very fortunate with the weather on our previous days but our third morning, we set out into a mist of fog. The rain had greeted us with its presence the night before and the grounds had turned into a muddy mess. The rainy season wasn’t quite over yet!
If you’re afraid of spiders, well don’t look… but it had to be shared! We were amazed by the number of cobwebs lining the outskirts of the paths. It was fascinating to see the size of these webs and some of them holding up to 40 spiders! Shotgun not walking through it.
The Thadingyut Festival (Festival of Lights)
The Thadingyut Festival, also known as the festival of lights is the celebration to welcome Buddha’s descent from the heaven after he preached to his mother who was reborn in the heavens.
It is a very special celebration for the people of Myanmar, especially for Buddhists. During this festival, people light many colourful lights and candles, visit pagodas & pay their respects to their elders, siblings and teachers whilst often forgiving the young for any wrongdoings.
It lasts for three days: 1 day before the full moon day, the full moon day and the day after the full moon. The last of the 3 days happened to fall on the evening we spent our first night on the trek. The village we stayed in had a celebration with music, dancing, singing, chanting, the releasing of firecrackers and a lot of colourful illuminations. The locals were more than happy to share this religious experience with us and it was very interesting to be a part of. Notice the shorts? He knew we were coming.
We had very low expectations for our meals, after all, we were paying just pennies for them! However, it is safe to report, we loved the food and the sheer quantity of it!
We had a private chef who travelled with us, and he went ahead between the villages on his motorbike collecting all the ingredients for the next meal. Every morning we woke for sunrise and the table was already set with fruits, coffee, tea, pancakes/french toast. For lunch, we had rice/noodles, vegetables & light snacks and for dinners, they were the best of all. 7 shared dishes, with a variety of fresh vegetables, rice, noodles, eggs, and meats. Plus peanut brittle for dessert. Mmm yum.
Moral of the story: You won’t go hungry!
The Simplicity of Life
The most important thing we learnt on this trek was how simple life can be. We’ve travelled a lot but there was something about Myanmar that really fascinated us. We experienced first hand what these people live with & what they don’t. Everything is handmade, from natural resources such as bamboo and wood. Their houses, huts, clothes, toys and all of their food is locally grown in the gardens and fields surrounding their villages. Everything is so simple, and everything just works.
So many things we take for granted in our everyday lives, one of them being a hot shower. It’s what everyone feels like at the end of a long day, right? Well, not here. At the end of every day, we were greeted with a shared shower, separated by a wall & a communal well filled with cold water and a stainless steel bucket. How are we supposed to shower in this? Well, fill the bucket up with water and pour it over your body! Simple! I loved it, Jacob hated it. He can barely swim in the ocean if it’s colder than 25 degrees.
Inle Lake Boat Tour & The Phaung Daw Oo Festival
Our trek finished with a 1-hour boat ride with 5 others towards the town of Nyaungshwe. Nyaungshwe is the base for exploring Inle Lake and has the best range of accommodation options and restaurants. There are hotels on the lake but expect prices of $200 USD and above a night.
The best way to see Inle Lake is by boat and they can be rented the day of. One boat, seating up to 5 can be anywhere from 15,000 – 25,000 kyat ($13 USD – $23 USD). You have the boat for the day and the driver will take you around to various workshops to see how lotus weaving is done, silver is made, cigars are filled and how umbrellas are made from bamboo.
Although this was probably the most touristic thing we did in Myanmar, we still enjoyed it. Seeing all the wobbly electrical wires, the houses built on the lake and locals going about their day, washing their clothes, showering, cooking, playing, it really was nothing short of fascinating.
Fortunately, for a second time, we had the opportunity to witness another famous festival in Myanmar. The Phaung Daw Oo Festival, only celebrated in Inle Lake. This festival runs over 17 days and we were there on the final day. During this festival colourful boats (barges) flock to the lake to ceremonially row five small golden Buddha images around the lake, all whilst being watched over by 1000’s of spectators, both locals and tourists. These large barges are accompanied by dozens of rowboats carrying upwards of 30 people per boat who dance, make music and row alongside the larger barges.
What to pack for the Kalaw to Inle Lake Trek
- Good walking shoes (it is muddy!)
- 3 socks
- 2 pairs of pants (ladies, although it is hot, be respectful to the Myanmar culture and don’t pack your short shorts)
- 3 shirts
- Warm clothes to change into in the evenings
- Sleeping bag liner
- Water bottle
- Wet wipes/toilet paper
- Hand sanitizer
- Toiletries (toothbrush/toothpaste, band-aids, ibuprofen, itchy-bite cream!)
- Sunscreen/Bug Spray
- Poncho/Umbrella – For the sun or the rain!
- Cash for tips/snacks/water along the way. Water ranged between 300 – 500 kyat ($0.25c – $0.50c USD)
Note: If you’re doing this hike in the monsoon season (whyyyy!) bring an extra pair of pants/socks. It will be very muddy, slippery and wet!
This hike was extremely enjoyable and we highly recommend it. It was entirely different from our previous hikes in Nepal, Peru, most notably the lack of steep hills & stairs, thank god. What made the hike so memorable – apart from the landscapes – was our guide. She shared her love of Myanmar passionately and communicated it to us very well.
Forget reading about Myanmar online or in a book, get out there and speak to these amazing people and learn from the locals. If there is one thing to do in Myanmar, this would be it. Myanmar people are so friendly and genuinely happy to share every part of their country with you & most of the time, they want nothing back in return.
Married days survived; 590