Trekking From Kalaw to Inle Lake
Traveling in Myanmar is like stepping back in time, especially when attempting an adventure like the trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake that passes through the lands of 135 different tribes; most of which have neither a shared language nor electricity.
It was pouring down rain on my third day in this new and exciting country which I was still trying to figure out whether to call Burma or Myanmar. I quickly learned that the locals prefer the latter rather than the old British imposed classification.
The city of Yangon was a blast of new experiences with its dilapidating buildings and men dressed in Longyis (sarongs) roaming the streets.
I had booked my bus to a town in the North for later that night and was desperately hoping the rain would subside.
The Kalaw To Inle Lake Trek
The trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake is a two or three-day adventure through some of the most remote parts of Myanmar. Along the way, you can meet locals from 135 different tribes, watch water buffalos play in the mud, visit remote monasteries, and test your limits on the over 30 miles of trail winding through the countryside.
Inle Lake Trek Map
The typical price for a two-day trek is 35,000 Kyat or $22.80 and a three-day trek 40,000 Kyat or $26. However, during the low season (May – September), most companies will offer a 5,000 Kyat discount.
Only a night bus away from the country’s main attractions; this hike is one of the best adventures you can have in Myanmar, and it all begins in the roadside town of Kalaw.
The Town Of Kalaw
Located ten hours North of Yangon and five South of Mandalay; the town of Kalaw is the dusty gateway to the Burmese countryside. With a population of nearly 200,000 and not very spread out, it can seem a little crowded when riding a bicycle through town.
The Town Of Kalaw
Luckily there a few options for accommodations located just outside of town. I stayed at Roma Inn Hostel, which is the only one listed on Hostelworld. The owners are a brother and sister who love meeting new travelers, and the area surrounding the hostel is incredibly peaceful.
They’ve also teamed up with what is; in my opinion; the best trekking company in town; Jungle Kings.
Choosing A Trekking Company
There are a plethora of companies offering competitive prices for the trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake. The one that’s been advertised the most is Uncle Sam’s trekking. While it is no doubt a great company; after talking with quite a few travelers post trek; they were all a little jealous of our itinerary with Jungle Kings. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Each company has their own route to Inle Lake which means an entirely different experience depending on which you choose. Jungle Kings, for instance, has a beautiful hike on day one and includes a stay in a Buddhist monastery. The others apparently have a lackluster start and no monastery.
Whichever company you end up going with, I’m sure that you’ll have a great time regardless, especially as you make your way into the forest of pine.
Day 1 – Kalaw To Kyauk Su Village
Day one of the trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake begins by walking from the center of town towards the northeast. Once you cross the railroad tracks, you will start gaining elevation as you enter the pine-covered countryside of Myanmar.
A Forest Of Pine
After a few hours of feeling closed in by the dense foliage; the trees will start to thin, and a beautiful expansive view of the valley and farms will appear and remain to your right as you continue down the path.
Lush Valley Views
The few hours following a lunch break at Myo Thu’s Restaurant, the views just never seem to stop. Nicely contrasted farms spanning to within a few feet from cliff’s edge dot the landscape as the trail snakes through bright green rice fields.
The Views Just Don’t Quit
We got pretty lucky with a few hours of scattered clouds and small spots of clear blue sky. The added sunlight lit up the rolling hills and oddly beautiful remains of; what I’m sure were; once grandiose trees.
Rolling Burmese Hills
As the sun begins to dim in the late afternoon, you might get the chance to see some water buffalos during bathtime along the route to where you’ll sleep for the first night; Kyauk Su Village.
Kyauk Su Village
The night spent in Kyauk Su offered something special; something I haven’t yet encountered on any adventure in Southeast Asia or the Americas. The village has no electricity, which is kind of astounding considering it’s 2018. Even the most remote places around the world have this luxury.
When the sun went down so did the light, and the dark misty evening gave the feeling of truly being in the middle of nowhere.
Day 2 – Kyauk Su To Teetain
Day two of the journey from Kalaw to Inle Lake begins by walking down a dirt road through a valley of corn. The first hour of which is; in my opinion; pretty dull; except for the occasional passing of a colorfully clothed farmhand.
Long Walks Through The Valley
After a short stop for lunch in a small village named Yekaung To; the trail leads through some beautiful rice farms full of neon-green grass swaying in the wind. The route while beautiful is also a sloppy mess, so be prepared to get muddy.
Beautiful Rice Terraces
You will have a chance to wash your shoes in a river lying directly beyond the terraces. After about an hour farther into the trek, you will reach the hardest portion of the journey. An obstacle the guides call “the mountain.”
It turned out to be nothing more than the leading edge of an elevated plateau because once you reach the top, it’s all level hiking to the next town of Part Tu.
There you will take a short snack break before heading to the final destination of day two of the trek; a Buddhist monastery in the village of Teetain.
The Teetain Buddhist Monastery
The Monastery was probably everyone’s favorite place on the trek. The eighty-year-old dilapidating building wasn’t the highlight though. It was its inhabitants.
A gang of monks in training who were full of life, kept us entertained all afternoon, and what captured their attention was a tiny flying gadget; my drone.
Photo Credit: Caner Ergun
Photo Credit: Tom Cantoni
A few of the boys ran around pointing to the sky and pretending to throw rocks up at the eye in the sky. The others where helplessly glued to my phone screen.
I think it may have been the first time that they’d seen this place they’d lived all their lives from high above.
Day 3 – Teetain To Inle Lake
The third and final day of the trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake is probably the least exciting one of the entire journey. The day begins by walking up a dusty dirt road alongside local women on their way to work near the village of Nan Yoke; where you will stop for some snacks.
The Walk To Work
After a short walk along the top of a ridge overlooking valleys of more rice and corn; you will arrive at a small cliffside booth with a few sleepy guards.
This is where you will have to pay the Inle Zone Entrance Fee. Much like in Bagan and other popular tourist areas around Myanmar; Inle has a one time fee of 13,500 Kyat or $8.79 for five days of free roaming.
Inle Zone Entrance Ticket
The next three hours; after leaving the zone entrance; will be hot and just plain annoying as you push your way through the valley. The agony ends at the crossing of the trail and a paved, two-lane road.
From there it’s about a half hour walk to the endpoint of the three-day journey through the Burmese countryside.
Our Lakeside Paradise
Just a random house amongst hundreds of others at the water’s edge; this was our finish line and a welcomed sight. We had a delicious plate of rice, curry, salad, and bananas, before passing out on the uncomfortable bamboo benches.
After a debriefing from our guide Simon, we hopped in two separate boats that were waiting nearby and motored our way through the marsh.
Our Boat To Freedom
The ride across the lake lasted just over half an hour, and it was the perfect way to end our hot, tiresome journey. We passed by the floating villages and men standing on nearly submerged boats full of seaweed.
The Town Of Nyaung Shwe
Where To Stay
I have no doubts that each trekking company has their own recommendation for the best place to stay in Nyaung Shwe. Most are nice, but you run the risk of being crowded into a small room with all of the other travelers that have also recently finished the trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake.
I chose to stay at a place named Song of Travel Hostel. It was spacious, super clean, and had an amazing staff. It was a great spot to recuperate before an early morning wakeup call to take a tour of Inle Lake.
Inle Lake Boat Tour
Unless you’re on a tight schedule and leaving the same day; which I don’t recommend. Then taking a day tour around Inle Lake is a no-brainer. Hiring a boat cost only 20,000 Kyat or $13, which you can split five-ways with your new friends.
That means only 4,000 Kyat or $2.60 for a five-hour ride around the lake, including stops at markets, silk weavers, a blacksmith’s, a cigar factory, and more.
Inle Lake From Above
Because a day tour of Inle Lake isn’t the primary focus of this post, I will keep the descriptions short and sweet. Enjoy!
Traditional Burmese Market
The daily market in the village of Maing Thauk with surprises at every turn.
Lotus Silk Weavers
Workers pull silk from lotus flowers found around the lake. Lotus silk; who knew?
Inle Lake Stilt Village
A massive network of stilt houses found at the southern end of Inle Lake.
Inle Lake Blacksmith’s
Watch these guys hammer away in quick succession as they form a new blade.
Inle Lake Cigar Rollers
Watch these crafty ladies roll away as you puff on a freshly made stoggie. Be careful; the sweet flavored one is SWEEEET.
What To Pack
Depending on which trek you chose; the two or three day; will determine what you should bring on the trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake.
A general rule of thumb is to pack a shirt for each day and one for sleeping. You will not need to pack any extras from the trekking company and about one liter of water to start is sufficient. There are plenty of places to buy water and snacks.
- At least a 20L backpack
- Hiking Shoes / Sandals
- T-Shirt (3)
- Underwear (3)
- Socks (2)
- Rain Jacket
- Bag Cover
- Insect Repellent
- Sun Cream
- Power Bank (no power on trek)