Trekking Kalaw to Inle Lake

Railways, Village Weddings, Late Night Parties, Delicious Food, Gorgeous Vistas

Quiet Villages, hidden pagodas and beautiful vistas awaited us on our hike, which was definitely one of my top experiences in Myanmar. It’s not the most unbeaten track, with multiple tours leaving Kalaw daily, but we opted for a small 3 day group trek and our experienced guide really made our journey feel special, often taking us a slightly different way to avoid larger groups.

Read on for our experience and a little guidance for trekking from Kalaw to Inle lake…

Ruth on our 3 day hike from Kalaw
The Kalaw to Inle Trek is full of beautiful moments and vistas
We slog on through the rice paddies

Choosing a tour

After researching various tour companies we chose A1 Trekking. We walked along to their small office just off of Kone Thae street, Kalaw. We were shown the possible routes, pictures the views in wet season vs dry season (it’s crazy how different it looks).

Inle Hike Price

We opted for a two night three day hike. We paid $53USD (£42.50, 80,000MMK – 2017 prices) each, this included all our food and accommodation.

A1 Trekking’s Price Guide in 2017 – prices are quoted in $USD but you will pay in MMK (it’s always better to pay the local currency)

We were told the group size would be between 2-6 (the price is cheaper the more people there are). Our group ended up having four people. Alex and I and a French couple. The two night three day trek was a good amount of time. There was a lot of miles to cover and by day three we were relieved to reach our destination, having had a great adventure.

Our Kalaw Trek Backpacks – What We Took With Us

As we had to carry everything that we needed ourselves, the less we took the better!

  • Silk sleeping bag liner
  • Towel
  • Warm clothes – it can get down to near freezing temperatures
  • A change of clothes
  • Flip flops
  • Sun cream and sun hat
  • A small amount of toiletries
  • Valuables

I wore shorts and a t-shirt and a pair of Keen sandals – which were lightweight, great for crossing through water, though offered little support or protection. I also packed a few cereal bars and some water too, although there would be plenty of food provided and lots of opportunities to buy water.

A1 Trekking arranged for the rest of our luggage to meet us at our hotel in Nyaungshwe, so we thought that less is more.

All packed and ready to go

Day 1

Mile 0-16, Day temp. 31°c, Night temp 4°c

Our guide Elias met us at our hotel, along with our trekking companions at 8am.

When to Hike Kalaw to Inle – What Time of Year is the Dry Season?

Our trek began on the 27th November

We were incredibly lucky with the weather, Elias explained, as we had started our hike on the first day of the dry season, this meant not only would we experience stunningly blue skies and cloudless days but the landscape would still be verdant and lush before it dries to faded browns within weeks.

Getting to know our tour-mates

We shouldered our packs, and began our trek. 30 minutes outside Kalaw, the road opened out onto lush rolling hills scattered with tall fir trees.

There was something very European about Kalaw. Elias quickly explained that this was because the British brought a great number of fir and pine trees when creating Kalaw.

Then, we descended into our first rice paddy. After scrambling across small streams bridged by even smaller planks of wood our path began to weave in and out of forests. At one point Elias stopped to shave some bark off a menthol tree, (a major part of Tiger Balm) the bark smelt strongly and the tree’s fragrance lingered faintly on the air. Shortly after this some excited Burmese tourists from Yangon asked if they could take a picture with us – after which Elias explained that it is seen as lucky (or at least, a good bit of fun), to have your picture taken with a tourist.

Elias carving out the menthol bark…

Ye Aye Lake – Our First Stop

After a few hours we came to a collection of dams at Ye Aye Lake, where we stopped for our first break. Elias handed out tiny sweet Chinese clementines and locally made peanut brittle. After which Elias advised us we might want walking sticks for the next part of the day.  This was not understatement; minutes after leaving the dam we were faced with a slippery scramble up a steep slope, the sticky clay-like mud making it a challenging ascent.

Passing more lakes and winding over and under fallen trees, the terrain began to change into lush jungle.

Up and up we climbed, until we were rewarded with one of many awesome views –  a rugged hill-line laced with fruit bushes, and in the distance a hill top meditation temple.

Day 1 Lunch Stop – Ko Mont Tee View Point Restaurant

On top of one of these beautiful hills was our lunch stop at the Ko Mont Tee View Point. I really didn’t need to pack any cereal bars, we were incredibly well fed throughout our trip. Freshly made chapatis and pumpkin soup complemented Elias’ freshly made guacamole, which he proudly proclaimed, was only made by a few guides, so we were lucky. Even though he was worried he had oversalted it, it was delicious. After more fruit and as much guacamole as we could manage, it was time to re-trace our steps back to the path to continue the trek.

After a few hours we passed a local village and stopped to visit a school and meet some local children.

In the golden afternoon sunlight the path opened out onto a grassy verge. We stopped to do a bit of bird watching.

As evening drew in, we were surprised that our route took us onto a train track, Elias assured us it was quite safe, no more trains would be running today, we began to walk along it.

15 minutes later we met some local boys playing by the side of the track, and we stopped to talk to them. We also had an extra trekking companion at this point, a dog had been walking with us since the last village, Elias thought he was probably walking to the train station, where his owner’s family lived.

Local dogs are very wary of children (who tend to terrorise them) so he was sticking with us for company/protection. Sure enough, he made himself scarce when we met the boys but once we had said goodbye to them we saw him waiting for us a little way up the train track, a little more than a stones throw away (intentionally).

We all fell into step, one behind the other and continued hopping along the railway lines. Suddenly the dog’s ears pricked up and he ran into the bushes on the side of the line, we then heard the sound of a train slowly making its way towards us. Not phased, Elias lead us to the side of the track, where there was a space big enough for us all to stand as an engine towing a single carriage passed at a leisurely speed, it wasn’t a scheduled train – most likely delivering luxuries or even money according to Elias

I felt slightly less relaxed walking along the train track now. At least the trains move very slowly around here. Our doggy friend came back once more and we fell into line again.

As we continued along the track I noticed how, had we not stopped to talk to those boys, we would have made it to this point – if the train had passed us here, there wouldn’t have been any gaps either side of the track for us to avoid it. Ten minutes later, we finally arrived at Myin Daik Station, and I was very relieved to step off of the railway sleepers and onto the platform.

From Myin Daik Station it was still an hour’s walk to our first homestay. Feeling weary, we put one foot in front of the other in the going darkness. Just as it became hard to see in the failing light, we arrived at our wonderfully rustic home for the night, complete with outside squat toilets, a large outside basin to ‘shower’ from and a delicious dinner.

The delicious, delicious food created by ‘chef’, who motorbiked around the countryside to our destinations to provide us with these delicious feasts

Our beds were set out on a wooden platform, in a large room that housed the family shrine. Part of Buddhist etiquette is to never have the soles of your feet facing a shrine, so our pillows were set up so we would have our feet facing out towards the door.

All very weary from the day’s exertions we called it a night, agreeing to get an early start and be on the road again before 7am the next day.

Day 2

Mile 16- 30, Day temp. 29°c, Night temp 3°c

The nights get COLD! The early mornings get even colder, as 6am approached the thought of leaving the comfort of our beds seemed daunting.

Luckily we all shared this view and slowly but surely, after a delicious local breakfast of rice and egg (steaming in the cold morning air), we were all ready to leave by 8am. We said our goodbyes as we thanked our host family and set off. Leaving later meant that the route would be busy, so Elias set a quick pace up the hill and out of the village.

The early morning sun drives the cold away
We begin the hike early
Keep an eye out for the orb weave spiders

Just as we were beginning to feel we had left the main roads well behind we came to one! We stopped at a small shop for some refreshments. A delivery of snacks arrived and we marvelled at how much you can fit on a motorbike!

Full laden…

We left before too may more groups arrived, Elias ever keen to beat the crowds.

It wasn’t long before it felt like we were miles away from main roads again and back amongst beautiful farmland.

Thanks to its more temperate climate and rainfall, the Shan state is Myanmar’s agriculture capital

We passed lots of men and women harvesting the rice, fruit and chillies. We came across Alex’s dream, on the left a whole field full of chilli plants and on the right a field of crimson chillies, left in the sun to dry.

We hadn’t covered that many miles when my left heel had began to hurt. I’d strained my Achilles tendon once before on a long hike and was worried it was happening again. Keen to take the strain off it, I switched to my flip flops. I managed OK despite the the path being pretty uneven, muddy and steep at times; but this was more favourable than aggravating my ankle.

We soon came to our second rest point of the day (I could get used to this!), where we were offered tea and snacks got a chance to see some traditional weaving.

The bag the lady was weaving would take her 3-4 days depending on the size and complexity and she sells each bag for around £2 each.

A Traditional Shan-Burmese Village Wedding

Before we had a chance to leave this village we came across a wedding. Elias spoke to some locals who explained that anyone from the neighbouring villages were free to come and go as they please as the two day celebration unfolded. We were then invited to rest and enjoy some tea salad with the wedding guests. Today was to be a day of many breaks and snacks! We sat ourselves in the shade of tents erected especially for the occasion and got talking to some of the serving women, dressed in beautiful traditional formal clothes. The colour of their head scarf represented their tribe.

Me with some wedding guests – their headpieces were absolutely gorgeous
They invited us into their shelter
We drank tea, ate their sweet sunflower seeds and even pickled tea leaves

It was very humbling to encounter such generosity in a place where everyone lives a very simple, humble lifestyle.

Reluctant to leave but aware there were still a lot of miles to cover today, the pace quickened once more. 

Our path took us over a rickety bamboo bridge and through fields filled with the thrum of honey bees and the flutter of tiny white butterflies which feasted on the nectar of mustard flowers.

Through fields of corn and yet more chillis we finally spotted a village in the distance. It was extremely hot by lunchtime and we were pleased to get off the path and have another glorious rest.  After our food it was time for a short siesta. After a brief encounter with some tiny puppies…

…we were finally on the road again. Climbing a particularity steep hill, we came across a coppice of trees that opened onto a small collection of beautiful, crumbing old  pagodas, which Elias fondly termed a ‘Mini Bagan’.

I loved this place (and actually preferred it to Old Bagan, when we did visit that later). As we left, we passed some of the oldest and most stunning banyan trees that I’ve ever seen.

The countryside slowly grew more rugged, the suns golden reflection lit the limestone rock of the mountains ahead of us.

It turned out that the village we were heading to was found through a valley in these mountains, up a steep path. As we began the trip up, we met a bit of local traffic, as many tour groups converged with farmers driving oxen carts back from the fields.

As we trod the dusty red path – lined thickly with bamboo either side –  towards the village, the descending darkness began to blanket us once more. We noticed how much colder it had become already. When we reached our home-stay, hasty ‘showers’ were on the cards before it grew much colder.

Pat Tu Pauk Village – Party Central For Tourists

We walked up through the darkening evening, and the smells of wood fires and hot meals rolled past us, urging us on to get to our homestay for the night. We were expecting a quiet little hilltop village – but in fact we were greeted by a group of young tourists hanging out of a Myanmar beer-clad hut shouting “Welcome to the party in Myanmar guys!”.

Elias later told us that Pat Tu Pauk had turned into a bit of a spring board for hiking in the local areas, and it now hosted big parties of travellers who stayed up until the wee hours drinking and singing – all the while villagers and monks alike are trying to sleep ready for a hard day’s work.

It’s a fascinating blend of old Myanmar – an isolated farming village and monastery with no power and no running water – filled with tourists from across the world, and a huge cell tower loomed across the horizon. A sign of things to come for these remote parts of the world.

The Homestay

There were no hot showers on the trek, just cold water from barrels  to wash with. As it got down to 6°c at night, 4°c the previous night, I definitely didn’t brave washing my hair or washing that much at all! As quick as could be and bent double behind the low concrete wall shielding me from the houses opposite (the walls around the washing area were certainly not built to hide a tall woman), I washed, dried and hastily put on all my warmest clothes!

A little cleaner and very much refreshed we enjoyed another relaxing evening and another delicious meal, accompanied by a kitten that fell asleep on Alex’s lap and a few cold beers. Perfect.

Chef cooks us up a feast, and the kitten makes herself at home

Day 3 mile 30-43, Day temp. 34°c, Night temp 5°c

By day three my ankle was painful with every step I took so there was no way I was wearing my Keens. Elias was worried I was choosing to wear flip flops, explaining that the path would get even harder today. For our half day hike, cramming 13 miles into half a day, on the hottest day so far… this was a daunting statement, and he wasn’t exaggerating. 

We were extremely relieved when we stopped after the first couple of hours, when we finally came to a road again. 

We watched as the group behind caught us up, then got picked up in the back of a truck, I was envious! A little ways down the road we we made it to the ticket office, where we were to buy the Inle lake entrance fee (tourist tax) of around 15,000MMK (£7, $10USD), which is meant to go towards preserving the lake and developing the community in the Shan State.

Inle Lake entrance fee kiosk – 15,000MMK Fee that lasts for 5 days. Though once you are in you would rarely be checked if you stayed for longer

We walked along the road for a while, stopping for a break at a small collection of roadside shops.

Despite being incredibly foot sore, my injured ankle, the tough hiking and the heat it was all worth it. The views on day three were the best yet. 

Spectacular mountains covered in dense, lush jungle contrasted with red earth which reminded me of the Australian bush. how amazing that we had seen landscapes akin to European pine forests, dense jungle and the bush! What beautiful country Myanmar is.

Finally, Inle Lake is in sight!

Looking out at our route and descent towards Inle, we had one final challenge: a steep scramble down a muddy rocky maintain path, complete with giant mosquitoes hungry for fresh blood!

After a walk with a few lost cows, we finally made it to the point were we had to say goodbye to Elias (after an exquisite lunch at Green Gold, G&G Restaurant, of course)

Chef pulled out all the stops for our last meal!

We walked down towards our boat and began to see the beautiful wetland fields that surround the lake.

It was finally time to say goodbye to the excellent and knowledgeable Elias, who had seen us through this incredible sunny adventure.

We boarded our small longtail boat and were soon on the water, cruising past beautiful floating gardens…

Boarding the longboat
The lake is a highway for boats of all shapes and sizes
Inle Lake’s floating villages

…houses on stilts and incredible wildlife including  kingfishers, greebs and trees filled with stalks.

Out on the lake we passed the famous paddle boat fishermen (although he wasn’t the real deal, we later fund out, just someone posing for tips!)

The not so fisherman posing for tips

 …and after an hour came to the town of Nyaungshwe, our destination and rest. What a way to arrive! Many days of R&R are in order and a nice hot shower.

We truly recommend A1 Trekking and especially Elias – what an incredible adventure.

Boating on the Nyaung Shwe Canal

Let us Know What You Think

Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below if you enjoyed our content, or if you would like to add anything. Take a look around the site for more travel tips and advice.

When it comes time to leave and you are wondering where to go next and how to get there, check out our Inle to Bagan via bus post.

Ruth on our 3 day hike from Kalaw

Adventure Ready

Chapter 3: Adventure Ready?

“It’s a real shame, I feel, in life, to wait until you are ready. In my opinion there is no such thing as ready, there is only now.” – Hugh Laurey

So many people asked me if I felt ready to go traveling over the months leading up to our departure date. The honest answer was “no.” Actually it was more like “NO!!!”. I sat somewhere between excited and terrified. But the only thing that seemed more impossible than going was not to.

It felt like a bit of a crazy time in life to go, we turn 30 later in 2018. Alex and I talked about all the other life changing choices our friends and family of a similar age are making or have made; to buy a house, get a dog, have a baby, marry, move forward with their careers or even buy a real nice car (or van)….

Don’t get me wrong, I want a lot of these things… but I want to travel more. I went travelling on my own aged 18. I made a promise to myself then to get a work visa and use it before 30. The last 10 years haven’t been easy. It hasn’t happened as quickly as I thought it would, however, it’s happening now and I’m entirely grateful for that.

I guess this is what ready feels like.

Trusting the Path We Tread

The first few days of our travels really shone a few truths back at me. It made me question my preconceived ideas of a country I had previously had a very negative experience in and made me look at how to trust my intuition and break down barriers. The sheer enormity of our decision to leave the comfort of our Bristol life came crashing down around me and I had to wade through all the fear to find the truth in our circumstances: this was absolutely the right path for me to be taking in in my life right now.

My Preconceived Ideas

I had a lot of preconceived ideas about Thailand. We booked our flights there mainly out of necessity, they were cheap and Bangkok would be a great launching point for other countries in South East Asia.

I harboured a lot of fear about Thailand. I’d arrived there, 10 years ago, as a solo traveller on the end of a three month trip to Australia and I was ready to come home. My original plans to meet a family friend’s family had fallen through and I knew nobody there. This was the first time I had visited a country where I didn’t speak the language and had nobody to meet or stay with who I trusted. I was 18, I was terrified and I would have not admitted this at the time.

The first bad move I made was booking a private bus south via a travel agency on the Khaosan road. This was at a time where I wasn’t technically savvy enough to use TripAdvisor! I didn’t know it but these buses had a notorious reputation, they still do. Most stories result in items being stolen. Fortunately, I was extremely careful with my valuables and arrived at my destination with all my belongings safely. However, others on my bus were not so lucky and had items stolen out of their hold bags.

This experience left me with a residual prejudice when we arrived in Thailand that most people would be out to scam us in some way. Our experience when we arrived in Bangkok (click here to read this post) couldn’t have been more different from my preconceived ideas and slowly my perceptions shifted.

Trusting in People

Humanity is fundamentally good and people are not out to get you. This is what I’ve come to realise the longer I travel for. It was true when we arrived in Bangkok and it is true now, where we are currently on a small Thai island. People are kind, helpful and friendly or just indifferent and want to be left alone. Yes there are places you have to be more careful, especially in busy cities, at night and in tourist hot spots. It always pays to be streetwise and follow a few simple rules.

  1. Be aware of your surroundings
  2. Know where you’re going
  3. Research scams
  4. Be mindful of where your valuables are
  5. Trust your gut feelings, don’t be afraid to say no or walk away

Trust People Travelling
Having my hands rubbed with a traditional indigo plant

Relaxing About Food

I’ve also become way more relaxed about food the longer we’ve been away. I had gastroenteritis on Koh Phangan ten years ago and was convinced it was from some prawns, but in reality it could have been anything from ice to ketchup. It took me a while to eat prawns on this trip, but I am and I’m fine.

My general rule of thumb is local food is probably safer as restaurants are used to cooking it safely.  I’ve had one bout of sickness since we’ve been away and Alex hasn’t had anything.

Trusting ice in our drinks and tap water to brush teeth has made life a whole lot easier too. Having ice in my drink in a new country can bring on a little Delhi belly, but after a day or so all is fine again.

One of our first meals in Myanmar – Lucky Seven Teashop in Yangon

Putting up Barriers

With my attitude relaxing and this perspective shift, I’ve come to realise that the only barriers are the ones we put in front of ourselves.

Skipping back to our first few days travelling, this is an example of how I put barriers up around me, which hold me back-

19/10/2017, our third day in Bangkok: We got a local scooter taxi to a swimming pool which was recommended by our wonderful Airbandb host, Nitiya. We arrived a 11.30, however, the pool opened at 1pm.

I started to come up with so many excuses about why I shouldn’t wait to swim – I only have bikini, culturally will it be okay to wear this? What if it’s mainly men, will I feel comfortable? But it’s lane swimming… I just wanted to lounge by the pool. Will there be somewhere safe to leave my stuff? – Without knowing any of the answers to these questions I was willing to walk away because it was easier than breaking down these barriers.

I sat for a moment. Took a breath. Looked around at the beautiful day and found myself deciding to trust this. Sometimes we spend all our energy wishing for something or looking for signs that we forget to just enjoy the current moment or trust our gut instinct.

At that moment on day three of our travels, I started to feel lighter and enlightened.

Having a swim in the warm waters of Con Dao

Breaking Down Barriers

Breaking down barriers is something that is a constant practice for me now. With every step into the unknown one arises and whilst travelling, steps into the unknown are frequent. Therefore, breaking down a barrier by facing an unknown fear is a mindful practice everyday. Looking head on at what is holding me back and addressing this is scary. It can often mean admitting I am wrong or changing my perspective.

Booking our tickets to go travelling, I realise now, broke down some pretty big barriers and I know I have lots of friends who wish they could ‘take the plunge’.

It took three things for me to manifest where I am now:

  1. Saving…sacrifices were made: saying no to events and not shopping had to become a priority.
  2. Planning…as well as planning our travel itinerary it was putting stuff in storage, asking family and friends to look after plants and getting organised.
  3. Booking…committing, after all that research actually buying a rucksack, booking that flight. This bit was the hardest part as it meant we were committing to a big life changing decision.

Trusting in Signs

Another huge part of booking our adventure was to trust the signs.

It might be a place that intrigues, that keeps popping up. It might be the feeling you are just in the flow or it might be seeing a sign again and again. These things are often easier to dismiss than follow, but if we choose to follow our intuition I believe great things start to unfold.

An example of this for me was a woman and her son I met in Thailand in those first few days. Firstly the fact she was travelling with her teenage son really inspired me that you can travel with children. Secondly, she mentioned her intention to go to Myanmar. We had initially wanted to go to Myanmar then wrote the idea off, mainly out of fear and uncertainty as there is unrest in the country.

However, after meeting Maggie something shifted and I thought of all the people I knew who have been there and loved it. There had been lots of signs already, I just hadn’t felt brave enough to see them. However, all of a sudden those reasons not to go didn’t seem valid any more. My perception of what seemed scary had shifted. After all, the thing that had seemed most scary (getting on that plane and arriving in Bangkok) had happened and not only had I survived, I fully felt like I had landed exactly where I needed to be, so Myanmar… sure, why not?

Bagan Temples
View across Bagan

Gratitude

I also started to arrive at a place where I felt completely content. I was grateful for the shift in my perception. I began to see how blessed I was to have the experiences I was having. I had read an article on the plane about Jeff Goldblum, in it he states “practice attention to gratitude, everyday.” – click here to read.

So I did. And I have been doing. We are now nearly 3 months into this journey and there have been ups and downs. There have been hard days, homesick days and also just plain sick days but, remembering to acknowledge my gratitude and to focus on what I have, not to what I lack, is a great way to cultivate contentment. Also if I miss somebody or am missing a certain food I just add it to my gratitude list, as missing things makes me see that I am grateful for it.

Gratitude is Happiness

I’d like to leave you with something I wrote in those first few days in Bangkok –

“Just enjoying this moment and knowing it is enough is happiness.”

So, with an open mind and heart may I continue to learn from those I meet on my adventure. I am grateful for this.

We Wander to Wonder

Heat rises from my face. Sweat drips and trickles past my temples. We deliberate, shall we turn back?

For hours we had been looking for the waterfall we trekked to two days earlier. After an epic two hours of rough terrain we stumbled into the next village. What has taken us the best part of the morning is an easy 20 minute walk along the main road.

Damn it.

We sat and ordered lunch in a simple local restaurant. After we felt rested, conversation turned back to the elusive waterfall. The temptation to plunge into cool mountain water was a hunger that could not be satisfied as easily as our empty bellies. It was hot and we wanted release. Our decision made, we decided to go just a little further up the only main road we hadn’t been down yet.

After another 20 minutes we found a higher river. My heart skipped. With a new found energy I bounded up the path and walked quickly along the precarious edge of a rice paddy, one foot out of place would mean tumbling over a precipice into the river one side or sinking into knee deep mud the other.

Following the narrow path over boulders and onto a ledge, I found it; a patch of river higher than the village. Down stream women washed clothes. Up stream two boys played at fishing. Peeling my muddy shoes and socks off, I could not wait a second longer. I was in. The water was so refreshing on my feet. I waded further, climbing boulders until I found a pool wide enough and deep enough to swim in.

As I lay on my back and let the current gently pull me further into the pool I felt it: One of those moments when life is perfect. I looked up and could tell Alex felt it to. This is it – in this moment – this is why we seek. This is what keeps the wanderlust alive in our veins. We wander to seek. To seek places like this. And in seeking we wonder. And in this moment I wondered at just how wonderful life can be. And how blessed I was to be. Just be.

We wander to wonder.

Con Son Island, Vietnam

Week 2, Con Son Island

Con Son wasn’t originally part of our Vietnam itinerary.  After booking our flight to Thailand for the 17th October, we arranged to link up with friends in Vietnam 11 days later. This suited us, as we never intended to stay in Thailand for very long, but use it as a stepping stone for our onwards travel. We ended up spending days 1-4 in Bangkok before flying to Ho Chi Minh City. The plan was to find a nice beach south of the city for a mini holiday before our friends arrived.

Before doing much research we thought it would be easy to head to Vietnam’s south coast from Ho Chi Minh City. Unfortunately, we soon discovered that there were not any holiday style beaches south of the city. With our flights to Ho Chi Minh already booked and over a week there until our friends flew in to meet us, we needed to come up with a plan.

Looking at the map again I noticed Con Son. After a little research we were intrigued. However, at over 3.5million VND each for flights (GBP 120), it wasn’t looking like the cheapest option and this almost changed our mind. But, I’m definitely glad we went, as the extra bit of money we spent was definitely worth it, and I’d go again for longer next time.

We visited Con Son as the weather was beginning to become more changeable (the start of the low season), we had a mix of rain and sunshine on our visit.

As our tiny plane descended into Con Dao airport, it felt a bit like we were entering Tracey Park Island from the Thunderbirds!

The runway takes up the entire width of that section of the island and nothing but a concrete wall separates it from the beach. There were few western tourists, and most of these seemed to be staying at the Six Senses, which was way above our budget at £360 a night!

We had been told we could rent motorbikes from our hosts at the Airbandb homestay we had booked, but we hadn’t anticipated being picked up from the airport on a motorbike!

Our host, Hue, spoke very little English and her French husband Lionel was away on business when we arrived. She introduced herself as we came out of the tiny arrivals room and asked if we rode motorbikes.

“Errrrrr…” Alex looked at me, shrugged and said “Yes?!”.

She loaded my small carry on case onto her own bike and kindly carried my 36 litre rucksack on her back, Alex loaded his 65 litre rucksack onto his lap and I got on the back (after helmets were handed out). Luckily, their place was five minutes from the airport and our first motorbike journey was an easy ride.

Thus began our introduction to driving motorbikes. If you are planning your own trip, get your international driving licence before you go to avoid voiding any insurance you might have. UK residents can find out more about getting theirs, here.

Our rides from the airport

We didn’t know it at the time but Con Son would would turn out to be our highlight of Vietnam. The cheaper flights often sell fast and it is a popular destination of many Vietnamese holiday makers, keeping the island a path less travelled by western tourists. We discovered this is rare in Vietnam, especially if you head to any of the top destinations like Ha Long bay or Hoi An. I’m not sure if it will remain so, as we saw lots of roads being built to more secluded places.

After dropping our bags off and eating some of Hue’s amazing and very reasonably priced food I decided I needed to give driving the motorbike a go. Learning with someone on the back isn’t the easiest way to learn, however, I managed OK (apart from when I ran over a snake).

Con Son's quiet roads
Con Son’s quiet roads

We spent our days driving round the island, exploring local beaches and sampling local food. The main town has a long promenade with crumbling French-style streetlamps – where you can see turtles and rarely dugongs. You can also pick up some amazing street food here including Banh Mi.

Our first banh mis!

There’s also a lovely little beach that we swam in at dusk one evening.

Swimming at dusk at Bai Lo Voi

We did an epic trek one day which involved walking down the beach on the north side of the island. The walk to Đầm Tre needed timing correctly with the tide, or else we would be stuck wading through the sea around the airport’s runway wall. The walk along the beach took an hour or so, followed by a jungle trek. For more information about this walk, click here.

The wildlife on Con Son is amazing and included giant black squirrels, crab eating macaques, not to mention the turtles, and possibly dugongs and dolphins.

After a long slippy walk through the jungle, we arrived at a Rangers Station, and despite not having a ticket, they let us through and we swam out into the coral reef. We didn’t venture far out enough to the deeper reef that was in a healthier condition, but there was still some amazing snorkelling.

I sat on a rock and watched Alex swim out further as storm clouds began rolling in.

We made a dash for shore and got caught in the start of a wonderfully tropical rain shower. There was nothing for it but to recline in a hammock and see if it would pass, but as time ticked on we became increasingly aware that we needed to make it back along the beach before high tide, and that we had a two hour hike ahead of us.

So we slipped and slid back along the forest trail, through newly formed streams that cascaded across our paths, before eventually navigating along the beach and back onto the bike.

Driving along Con Son’s coastal paths was such a delight, and we were often joined by one or two white herons, who took flight as we passed.

On our second to last day Lionel arrived home and he recommended a good spot on the local beach to snorkel, which was wonderful, despite the poorer visibility due to the rain.

You know you’ve fallen in love with a place when you really don’t want to leave, and that’s how we felt on our last day, when we finally did have to say goodbye. In fact, we nearly didn’t leave as we almost missed our flight, only realising when we double checked our departure time during a leisurely lunch on the beach, and then having to make a mad dash back to pack and then rush to the airport, but maybe that’s another story!

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