Trek to Inle Lake (Kalaw to Nyaungshwe)
- Accommodation: Pine Tree Inn (4,000 kyat/person with shared bathroom) – We arrived at the Pine Tree Inn in Kalaw around 2:30am and slept until 8am. It was definitely a no frills inn and the bathroom wasn’t very clean, but it was fine for one night. Breakfast is included, although it’s not very good.
- Trek Company: Ever Smile Treks (email firstname.lastname@example.org ) – Our guide’s name was Toe Toe and she runs Ever Smile Treks with a few other family members. She is very sweet and reliable, and we would highly recommend doing a trek with her. Brit found her name and contact information online as somebody else had just done a trek with her and said she was great. We emailed her a couple of weeks in advance to get some more information about the treks she offered and she emailed us back a few days later. Her written english is not very good, but she was able to break down the different options and prices. It’s also worth mentioning that a lot of people just show up in Kalaw without booking a trek and then they figure it out the following day. This is fine except for the fact that you’ll lose an entire day just trying to organize the trek. So if you’re short on time I would recommend booking in advance.
- 2 day/1 night trek: 15,000 kyat each, includes food, guide and accommodation in a monastery. You meet in Kalaw where you will then take a 45 minute taxi ride to a small village to begin your trek. The distance from Kalaw to Nyaungshwe (Inle Lake) is too far for a 2 day trek, hence the need to take the taxi in the beginning. When you meet in Kalaw you have the option of dropping off your big pack and for 3,000 kyat they will drive it to Nyaungshwe so it’s waiting when you arrive. Once you reach Inle Lake you will also have to pay for an hour boat ride to take you across the lake to Nyaungshwe, which cost 17,000 kyat total for the boat. The first day you’ll walk for about 7 hours and the second day you’ll walk for about 4 hours.
- 3 day/2 night trek: 15,000 kyat/person per day, includes food, guide and accommodation in a farmhouse and a monastery. If there are more than 3 people in your group than the price goes down to 12,000 kyat/person per day. You also meet in Kalaw where you can drop off your packs and begin the trek. The total distance from Kalaw to Inle is a little under 40 miles. The trek is not overly strenuous and we kept a moderate pace. If you’re looking for an intense trek this is probably not the best option for you, but it’s a wonderful way to see the countryside and local villages. (Note: the trek from Nyaungshwe to Kalaw, the reverse route, is more strenuous, especially the first day which is mostly uphill). Also, Toe Toe doesn’t make much money for all the hard work she puts in, so I’m sure she appreciates any tip you can give!
Originally we wanted to do the 2 day/1 night trek, but we ended up doing the 3 day/2 night one instead. We actually thought we were on the 2 day trek until about half-way through the first day when we asked Toe Toe what time we were supposed to get to Inle Lake the following day and she said we didn’t get there until 2 days later. We were on the trek with another couple and I think there must have been a miscommunication about which trek we wanted to do. It actually ended up working out for the best and I’m so happy we did the 3 day/2 night trek because 2 days just isn’t long enough.
We arrived in Kalaw around 2am (got to love bus schedules in Burma!) from Yangon. We bought bus tickets from our guesthouse in Yangon for the 11 hour trip to Kalaw (11,000 kyat/person). We had to take a 30-45 minute taxi ride to the bus station in Yangon where the bus left at 3pm in the afternoon. We asked one of the other passengers on the bus to wake us up in case we missed the stop for Kalaw. They don’t really announce where you are whenever you stop, so make sure you ask the driver or somebody else on the bus who speaks english to let you know when you reach Kalaw.
Miraculously Toe Toe, our trekking guide, was waiting for us when we got off the bus in Kalaw. We had been communicating with her via email and we told her that we were taking a bus from Yangon but we couldn’t tell her which one we were on and we didn’t know where to meet her once we got off. And since her written english isn’t so good we really didn’t know what to expect. But she was standing right there when we got off the bus with a huge smile on her face! She led us to a hostel to spend the night and told us she’d be back at 9am in the morning to start our trek. I still feel so bad that she waited out in the cold at 2am for our bus to arrive, but I guess she’s used to it by now.
The next morning we set out on our trek. In total there were 7 of us in the group: the 3 of us, a German & Romanian couple, Toe Toe and a male cook who also carried some supplies. The first day we walked for about 7-8 hours through rolling countryside and farms. We also went through some small villages where there were a lot of little monks running around! As I mentioned before, in Myanmar almost all male Buddhists study to become a monk at some point in their youth. Toe Toe told us that one important reason for this is that in order to seem like a respectable bachelor when looking to get married, the bride’s family likes to see that the prospective groom studied to be a monk. Otherwise he’s often deemed unsuitable for their daughter. Apparently it is popular for boys to spend time studying at a monastery during a break from school in order to fulfill this “requirement.” Some boys stay for a week, others stay for years at a time. And of course the ones who are passionate and serious about becoming monks stay forever. This all started to make a lot more sense to us because we kept seeing monks everywhere, and we were beginning to wonder how it was possible for there to be so many!
The first night we stayed at a farmhouse with a family. We all slept in the big room on mats on the floor, and the family slept behind a curtain on the other side of the room. As expected, the conditions were pretty rustic – there was an outhouse outside to use the toilet and the house had no electricity, but it was perfectly comfortable and the temperature was great for sleeping. Our “chef” cooked us dinner and then we went to bed pretty early since there were no lights and we were all pretty tired anyways. Also, before you go on the trek tell Toe Toe you’re a vegetarian if you don’t want to eat any meat. I’m pretty sure all the food was vegetarian anyways, but it’s best to make sure ahead of time. The last thing you want is to get sick on the trek (the outhouses aren’t the cleanest!)
While we were staying in the farmhouse Toe Toe asked if we had any medicine on us to help one of the family’s young boys with his foot infection. I had brought a small first aid kit with me, and Rosie and Brit had a few advil tablets with them, but unfortunately I didn’t have much else. Anyways, she brought us to the boy and his entire foot was completely swollen and deeply infected. I’m obviously no doctor but I tried to clean the wound as best I could with an antiseptic wipe, then I covered it with neosporin and finally I put some large band-aids over the area. I wish I could have done more to help him since we looked like he was in such pain, but unfortunately that’s all I had with me. The next morning he seemed to be doing better, so hopefully the wound started to heal. Toe Toe said the nearest doctor was far away and he probably would only go if it became extremely serious. Since most of the kids walk around barefoot in the village I bet he stepped on a rusty nail, and since he didn’t have a tetanus shot, his foot became really infected. The whole experience just reminded us how fortunate we are and how much we take for granted.
The next night we stayed at a monastery, where some other trekking groups were also staying. I preferred the farmhouse, but sleeping in a monastery was still a great experience. There were a lot of young monks running around, which is always fun to see! Upon leaving in the morning it is customary to give a 2,000 kyat/person donation to the monastery. We hiked until the afternoon when we finally reached the beautiful Inle Lake! We all piled into a narrow long-tail boat and headed out on the lake for the trip to Nyaungshwe, the town where we were staying. It started to rain while we were out on the water and I also started to fall asleep because I was so tired from the past few days. So we were all pretty happy when we reached Nyaungshwe 45 minutes later (and I think we were all looking forward to taking a shower!)
The trek was definitely one of the best experiences of our entire trip!