Many people’s favourite experience while travelling Myanmar is the fantastic 3 day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake. Here’s a 2019 report with photos fresh off the trail!
PREPARATION / ARRIVING IN KALAW
Both the 3 day, 2 night trek and the shorter 2 day, 1 night option start from the sleepy mountain town of Kalaw. You can either arrive early in the morning and head straight out onto the trails or arrive one day early and spend a relaxed afternoon in this cute little town… We definitely recommend the next day as you will have so much more energy for the trails and have more time to soak up the Myanmar mountain town spirit.
And while we’re talking about spirits, if you have an hour to spare on your evening in Kalaw, definitely drop by “Hi Snack & Drink”, a fabulous little local bar whose signature drink, the rum sour, is not to be missed. On most nights at Hi, you get to enjoy mingling with locals and listening to them play the guitar and singing Burmese songs.
If you arrive a day early, don’t worry about booking a guide in advance as Kalaw is teeming with local companies offering slight variations of the same treks. You can just walk around town and drop in at various companies, compare their offers and choose one. Most of the time, the transport of your excess bagagge to Inle Lake is included in the price, so just pack what you need for the 3 days and you’re good to go!
The 3 day trek starts off early in the morning and quickly leaves the outskirts of Kalaw town behind. You walk up through green fields and moist forests. The jungle sounds are amazing – we heard birds we’d never heard before – and if you keep your eyes open, you’ll meet with some fascinating local wildlife. Your guide can tell you more about what you see.
As it gets hotter, you will stop for lunch at a hill crest with amazing views onto the surrounding ethnic minority villages, tea plantations and orange trees. The food arranged everywhere by our company was great, diverse and nourishing and even getting a vegan version was never a problem.
Wherever you stop nearby any dwellings, you can expect there to be local kids who eye you with curiousity and would love to enjoy some playtime with you; smile and don’t be shy! They don’t have and don’t need any fancy toys. Whatever items are around will do and if all else fails, there is always tag, peekaboo and dancing :)
The landscapes you walk through change ever so slightly with each kilometre and they are BEAUTIFUL. Be sure to take your eyes off the trail and soak it all in periodically.
At the end of the first two full trekking days, you will stop in a local village in the afternoon and find your homestay. The lodgings are humble but clean and lovely; you are going to sleep in an upstairs room shared with your fellow trekkers on thick mattresses with colourful blankets and pillows. The bathroom is a shack outside with a bucket of water to flush while the showers are stone-walled enclosures with a large water bucket that you pour over your body to make it wet, soap up, and rinse. The water may be cold, but feels delightful after a long hot day on the trails and afterwards, I promise you will feel more alive than you have in a long while.
The second full day of trekking is dominated by rolling green hills, meadows and farmland dotted with trees. You follow the train tracks for a while (“Walk faster, the train is coming!”) and stop for sweet Myanmar tea, fruit treats and cookies at a train station in a little valley.
In the afternoon, you will arrive at your homestay village – or a monastery – exhausted, but probably in a peaceful mindset from all the moving, the beautiful sights, the fresh air, and the smiles exchanged and laughs shared.
Although the trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake is firmly on the list for backpackers in Myanmar now, the small villages still feel pristine and unspoiled. So before dinner time, take a bucket shower and enjoy a little walk around. Smile at people and shoot them a friendly “Mingalabar” (hello) and you’re sure to get some smiles back :)
You will have noticed by now: the pace of life here is slower; people are working hard to make their living, but they also seem much less stressed out. The local cats share this lifestyle.
Finally, the last day – only half a day of trekking left! – has you and your fellow seasoned trekkers slowly climb up, up, up until you pass over a ridge. The climb is not too hard but sweaty, and the views are appropriately beautiful and rewarding. Then, after a tea break, the trail ever so slowly winds down into the basin that eventually holds Inle Lake. You traverse wide fields, climb up and down hills, and follow cattle trails. Don’t forget to take a while to admire the wildflowers that bloom among the path; it’s hordes of red-orange-yellow lantana in July.
Finally, you will arrive at Inle Lake, have a late lunch and take the included boat taxi up north to Nyaungshwe town, the hub of Inle Lake and home to our beautiful Song of Travel Hostel. Once you arrive, we are happy to greet you with big smiles and check you in over free tea and coffee and our free afternoon snack. Then we will hand you a fresh fluffy towel and let you have the (probably) best shower of your life.
Warmly welcome, we can’t wait to meet you and hear your stories from the trail!!
EXTRA TIPS & TRICKS
Easily the most rewarding thing you can do to prepare for the 3 day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake is to write down a few simple sentences of Burmese to memorise and use on the trek. Most people you meet on the way are locals who do not speak any English but are absolutely lovely and as curious about you as you are about them. A few words in their language will light up their day and get you the most genuine smiles and interactions to remember!