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

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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.