[MYANMAR] Kalaw to Inle Lake Trek

This is my first travel post on this blog and if you take a moment to look around at other posts you’ll quickly gather the type of person that I am. As such you should use the info that I’m not a budget backpacker to inform this review of our trek and how much it affects your interest in doing a trek like this. But I thought I’d do a review of the trek because I hadn’t seen much update in the past few years and I thought people similar to myself would want some perspective.

Roadside stop on the way to Kalaw

I think our trek really started when we arrived in Kalaw at 3pm after a long bus ride from Bagan. There were many guides waiting to greet us at the stop, all of whom quickly backed off after we mentioned we had already booked with Sam.

At Nature Land Hotel II, where we spent one night. I would not recommend this hotel.

When we arrived at Sam’s Family Restaurant an employee (presumably one of his grandkids) explained the different treks offered and how they would work. We already knew that we wanted to do a 3D2N trip based on the Lonely Planet and other blog reviews. However, she also explained that there was a longer or shorter version of the trek. I don’t have the difference in distance but it essentially amounted to a difference of an hour on two days.

The shorter trek would have by-passed the hour long forest trek, lake and viewpoint on the first day, and most people were opting for the longer trek. Overall I would say that the difference in price for the tour is negligible if you’re not pinching pennies. If you want to do 2D1N or a shortened version of the 3D2N then go for it, don’t depend on these blogs, trust yourself and what you’re comfortable travelling with.

Contrary to the advice I’ve just given we decided to go with the ‘longest’ trek because it’s what the other people had all signed up for and we wanted to make sure we were part of a larger group.

We ended up being paired with a Dutch couple who were extremely nice throughout the entire trip. Even if that meant having to wait for us to catch up with them more than a few times. In the end I’m glad we chose to do the longer version of the 3D2N trek because we hadn’t really had the opportunity to meet travellers.

DAY 1 – 6 hours
Part of the reason we decided on the longer tour was because we did an hour long forest trek, saw a lake and headed up to the Nepali Viewpoint for lunch. Being Canadian I’ve done lots of nature walks through the woods, and so I found the walk through the forest in Myanmar to be mostly uninteresting. The lake was also very lacklustre, but the Nepali viewpoint was extremely beautiful.

The lake “view.”

Now every time I read the blogposts on these treks I’ll hear “the food was the best we had in Myanmar,” or “You’ll never be hungry.” The lunch stop on the first day quickly dismissed that notion from my mind. While the viewpoint was an absolutely beautiful setting for lunch there was only a small bowl of curried cabbage and a few cold chapatis. Maybe it’s just our South Asian background but my boyfriend Desmond and I were both disappointed, especially compared to the Nepali dinner we had had the night before in Kalaw (which was amazing).

Nepali Lunch Viewpoint

And if you’re someone like me who eats a lot of small meals throughout the day rather than 3 large meals I’d highly recommend buying snacks at the shops you pass so you have something to munch on during the long breaks between meals (especially between lunch and dinner).

We passed through a couple Danu villages but didn’t really get to speak with any Danu locals. Except for one young woman who yelled that she loved foreigners and a few people who asked if Desmond and I were Nepali. I did snap a photo of a beautiful Danu girl who was people-watching from her window.

Danu girl.

On the first day we also walked along a train track for 30 minutes and then had tea at a nearby train station while Don-Din gave us biscuits as a snack.

Oncoming rickety train.
This woman ran the train stop shop and everyone within a 100m radius.

We spent the last 30 minutes of the trek walking up a rather steep hill (although at the time it looked much more like a mountain). Of course the Dutch couple made it up quickly, but I had to stop at least four times. I’d never considered myself to be unhealthy but I quickly realized I was nowhere as fit as I thought I was. Every day I walk about 20 minutes each way to school and back, but I haven’t stepped foot into a gym in over a year.

We then waited about 2 hours after arriving at the village for our dinner to be prepared. Apparently our cook had decided not to come last minute but this dinner was the best meal we had the entire trek. It included watercress, long beans, a chicken dish, and a few other sides to go with the rice.

In that village we didn’t really get the opportunity to talk with anyone except for our host. He was very nice and sat with us for a couple of hours while having tea but I think we were all glad when our guide and host decided to call it a night.

Two of our host’s very cute grandkids enjoying a mango.

I use the term mattress loosely, but they were about 1 inch thick. This wasn’t a problem for me but I imagine if you have back problems or are at all sensitive about the mattresses you use then you’ll have a lot of trouble. They also gave us tons of blankets, so whilst I brought a sweater based on another blogger’s review I’d say it’s wholly unnecessary if you’re going in June/July.

DAY 2 – 7 hours
We all woke up rather early (around 6AM) and after a good breakfast of egg and toast we left at 7:40 to start a 45-minute climb up a mountain. During this trudge up the mountain our guide Don-Din told us that the village we were to sleep in that night was a further two mountains away.

As we stopped by a village to get water around 10am we ran into a hilarious old man wearing a US ARMY jacket who did a great impression of Rambo. The laughter waned though when Don-Din told us the man was already drunk on whisky and started to explain the effects of alcoholism on rural hill tribes. I was appreciative for Don-Din’s openness on an issue he could have easily avoided for fear that it made his country or people look bad.

Pa’o man putting a show on for the camera. The Pa’o love orange.

We also walked about 2 hours along a straight road which was the highlight of the trek for me, because I didn’t have to constantly look at where I was placing my feet, but could instead enjoy the view.
It was also on the second day that Don-Din told us he had heard about Canada from a past trekker and was saving towards a plane ticket to come work here. He spent a good 20 minutes showing Desmond job postings on a Facebook page called Work in Canada and asking us what a forklift driver did, if the minimum wage was really $11.25, and what Calgary was. We didn’t get to connect with many locals on the trek but I’m very glad for the relationship we built with our guide over his desire to live in Canada.

Our guide Don-Din and us.

We had lunch at a convenience store which consisted of fairly plain Shan noodles, which was fine if a little lacking in carbs, so naturally we stocked up on some chips.

When we finally got to the village we’d be staying at we were all extremely relieved. It hadn’t been a particularly strenuous day, except for the morning mountain climb but it had been long 7 hours. And I can’t imagine what it would have been like if we had been doing it at another time of year and the sun had been even hotter. The village welcome was only improved by the cheeriness of the woman running the convenience store and four older men who offered to trade water for our beer.

The extremely cheerful convenience store owner.

The food on the second night was quite good too, fried rice with a fried egg. I didn’t really get to speak with the host as I was so tired and my ankle was throbbing from all the walking we had done. I could barely make it up the stairs, but as soon as I hit the bed I was out.

DAY 3 – 4½ hours
Even after going to bed early the night before we all felt like we were startled awake at 6:30, and after a delicious breakfast of pancakes we headed off. I genuinely thought I wouldn’t be able to do the walk as my ankle was hurting so badly but I didn’t want to be a bother so I just trucked through and put most of my weight on my left leg.

We had just made it to the Inle Lake regional zone toll area when the rain started, and it didn’t seem so bad at first. But then it didn’t stop for the next 2 and half hours and it made the rest of our trek hell. Neither my McKinley nor Desmond’s Columbia raincoat prevented the rain from getting our arms, hair or chest wet. I quickly replaced my raincoat with a PVC version from a convenience store for $3, and although it was muggy and smelled like plastic it did a far better job at keeping me dry than my $50 one.

We walked on the trail instead of the road and I must have fallen at least 3 times. It seems once you fall once you become more prone to it. Desmond probably fell about 5 times, his backpack taking the brunt of the beating. Our shoes also became extremely muddy and heavy, losing all traction and making it more difficult to walk. For this reason I would be very cautious about trekking in rainy season, we were lucky that it only rained the last day. Because of how annoyed I was with the entire situation I don’t think I would have been able to last three days of rain.

I had wisely decided to bring a pair of olive green Aritzia joggers on this trek which had set me back $75. I had ignored all the backpacker comments about ‘not buying new clothes for Asia’ and ‘not bringing new clothes to Asia.’ I was stubborn and I learned my lesson the hard way.

Our shoes by the end of the trek.

The mud clung to me and my overpriced pants and not even the hotel laundry was able to get the stains out. I still have some hope that oxyclean will save them when I get back to Toronto but they’re definitely ruined for the rest of the trip and the colour is faded to boot.

Even after it stopped raining we still had to climb over rocks for about an hour and a half and it was extremely slow going as I tried not to fall and also tried not to put a ton of pressure on my ankle. If I could have hailed a taxi I would have, and it was only knowing that it would soon be over that kept me going. Well that and Desmond holding my hand and dragging me forward.

At the last restaurant we had a bowl of noodles with a fried egg, some Asian pears and mango. It had stopped raining and we fully revelled in enjoying our dry lunch and being close to the end of the trek.

We then took a 10 minute walk from the restaurant to a dock, passing a school and walking between two canals to reach the long narrow boat that would carry us across the lake to Nyaung Shwe where all of our hotels were located.

The boat driver slowed down so we could see the traditional fisherman but I wasn’t really able to get any good shots of them. They also weren’t doing the poses I’d heard about but seemed to be actually fishing instead, maybe you have to take a second speciality boat tour to really get that touristic experiences.

Final Thoughts
As much as I complained and was unhappy throughout the trek I think it was the first time I actually got that feeling of being a backpacker. Using the squat toilets and not having access to a shower for 3 days made me much more open in the kind of accommodation I can handle. I’m glad I’ve gotten my spending down to about $25 a night for the two of us now.

And while I thoroughly enjoyed Yangon and Bagan I finally have that content feeling of having seen Myanmar, its beauty and its wonderfully warm people. Even though we didn’t get to speak with as many tribes people as I thought we would we still connected incredibly with the few that we did. And because of that I have to recommend this trek.