We had been longing to go trekking again for a long while, so when we learned that there is the possibility to do a multi-day trek from a small town called Kalaw to Inle Lake, we were very excited. There are different options for trekking in the area, from short day hikes to two or three day long treks. Aside from getting to explore the countryside, there is also a cultural aspect to the trekking as you get to sleep in locals’ homes in remote villages.
Preparations in Kalaw
Having spent some great days in the ancient city of Bagan, we took a minibus for six hours to Kalaw. After settling in we headed to town in search for a trekking company that could take us out the next day. Other travelers and the Lonely Planet recommended Sam’s Trekking, so we went to their offices in the center of town first. We were told that it wasn’t a problem to start trekking the next day, we just had to choose if we wanted to go with a group and for how many days. We decided to go on a three day trek, starting from Kalaw and ending on the shore of Inle Lake. The trek was going to be 60 kilometers in total, split up more or less evenly over the three days. We were going to sleep in locals’ houses in villages, so we only needed to bring water for the first day, clothes and personal items. Our main backpacks would be brought to Inle Lake for us and dropped at the hotel we chose (reservations prior were necessary). In total it only took us about 15 minutes to book the trek and we ended up paying US$35 each for all three days (we’d be going with a group of up to nine people which effects the price). The only thing not included was the entrance fee for Inle Lake of $10 USD.
With our bags packed, we went back to the Sam’s Trekking office early in the morning to meet the rest of our group and our guide. There were tons of people in the office who were getting ready to go on different treks, so we ended up waiting a while before our group was ready to go. Once everything was set we were introduced to our local guide, who spoke very good English, and got a farewell from Sam in person. Our group ended up being nine people plus the guide. The first half hour of the trek led us through Kalaw and the outskirts of town, were we met our guide’s assistant, another young local girl who’s English wasn’t so good yet. After that, the well maintained path led us through a forest and past a beautiful water reservoir.
We hiked along a dirt road overlooking valleys and mountains before getting to our lunch spot. For lunch we got delicious Nepalese food, tons of fruit, and we had the option of buying cold drinks while overlooking a beautiful valley. After lunch the trail led us downhill for the most part, passing an old monastery and a small village. For almost an hour we followed the tracks of a railroad before having a short coffee and cookies break at the railway station. Just before getting to the village where we would spend the first night, we had to climb up a small hill. From there we were rewarded with great views over rice terraces and the village down in the valley.
The village was quite small, with no electricity or running water and locals generally live off of farming and opening their homes to hikers. It only took us a few minutes of walking through the village to get to the house where we would be spending the night. The wooden house had two stories, the first floor was only a barn for the animals, while the family lived on the second floor.
There was a basic outhouse and a water fountain in the back, where we were offered to take a shower. The water was freezing and there weren’t any walls, so most of us just had a quick bucket wash. The room we would be staying in was big but basic otherwise. There were nine thin mattresses spread out over the room and each of us got two think blankets for the night, as it can get quite cold. While we were waiting for our guides to prepare dinner, we had the option to buy some cold beer and soft drinks from the family we were staying with. We all sat on the terrace, relaxed and observed the village life at the end of the day. Dinner ended up being just as delicious as lunch, with tons of different local foods to try. We all went to bed happy and with a full stomach.
We got woken up around 7:30am to breakfast and coffee. We started our hike on an uphill stretch, which was longish but never really steep and we were rewarded with stunning views over the valley and the village behind us.
We continued past dry fields and along a mountain ridge for about four hours before arriving in a small village where we had lunch. Lunch was a ton of food again, we got soup, fried rice, and a delicious tomato peanut salad. Well rested and fed, we walked on along a small dirt road. The rest of the afternoon ended up being an easy hike, the only challenge was the heat as the trail was really exposed. Just as we all started to complain about the heat, we arrived at a nice river where we got to cool off.
After that refreshing stop, we continued trekking for another hour or so until we reached the village where we would spend our second night. The village looked slightly bigger than the first one, but otherwise our accommodation was pretty similar. This time there was a proper wall to take a bucket shower behind, and even though it was a little inconvenient, it was very refreshing. We were able to buy some more cold beer and our guides prepared another great dinner for us. We definitely didn’t go hungry on this trekking trip!
We started the day with delicious fresh pancakes and fruit made by our guides. Day three would be the easiest and shortest of the trek, and we only walked for about four hours. For parts of the hike we followed a gravel road to Inle Lake where we passed by a small booth and had to pay US$10 each to enter the area (all visitors to Inle are required to pay this fee). After this we left the main road and followed a small path downhill to the southern lake shore.
The trail led us past an interesting looking wooden ramp, which looked like a high viewing platform. Our guide explained that the platform is used at the start of the rainy season to shoot homemade rockets off it. The rockets are supposed to bring rain to the dry land, and groups of people work together to built the rockets (they can cost up to US$100 to build). Then they have a competition of whose rocket gets closest to a target. The winner gets a lot of money (around $1,000) and bragging rights. Unfortunately this time of the year we didn’t get the privilege of seeing the rocket shooting contest, as it would be a blast for sure.
The rest of the walk was very easy and we reached the lake and lunch spot shortly after noon. After our last lunch on the trip we split up into two groups and hopped into long boats. The boat took us along floating gardens and through a small town built on top off the lake. Fifteen minutes into the trip, the boat stopped at a small dock next to a silver smith’s shop. We got to watch some locals melting silver and pressing it into small strings to make jewellery later. We looked around the shop for a while and then moved on with the boat to the next stop.
Another small shop selling standard souvenirs was stop #2, but the women in the shop made it interesting. There were two longneck women from the Karen tribe sitting inside and weaving skirts. While they didn’t mind us taking pictures and seemed happy enough, the whole scene seemed a little strange anyway. We had hoped to get to see some traditional long neck women, but planned for it to be in their village and not just a few of them working in a shop. We decided to try to go see them in another place in Myanmar before leaving the country.
After this stop the boat took us across Inle Lake to the main town Nyaung Shwe, where most of the cheaper accommodation can be found. The boat ride took about 30 minutes over the open lake, and finally dropped us off at the main dock in town. Our amazing guides walked all of us to our hotels where we said our goodbyes after having spent three amazing days trekking.
What to bring
Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake isn’t much different than other low altitude treks we have been on when it comes what to bring. Sleeping in homestays with blankets and mattresses make it a bit more comfortable and easy to pack. If you decide to go on a multi-day trek, we’d recommend you bring:
- Water for the first day, after that you can buy more in the villages
- Small backpack with a change of clothes and personal items
- A towel and items to shower
- A headlamp or flashlight for the nights
- Toilet paper
- Warm clothes for the evenings and mornings (it gets really cold)
- Comfortable shoes – they don’t need to be boots, and flip flops if you intend to shower