Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar: The 3 Day Trek
As a fair-skinned Brit, I was relieved to arrive in Kalaw, Myanmar, having spent months in the Southeast Asia heat. The Brits used Kalaw as a hill station as, at 1310 metres above sea level, it’s cooler than the rest of the country. Following Anglo-Burmese Wars, Myanmar became a British colony in 1824, gaining independence in 1948. Kalaw is also a popular base for trekking as it is high up in the hills of Shan State. We decided to do a 3 day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake to try to get a feel for local life in the villages on the way.
There are a whopping 135 different ethnic groups in Myanmar, all with different cultures and languages. On this trek we passed through a couple of different tribes and learnt variations of ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ that we’d already mastered in Burmese.
We were drawn to Myanmar as it is ‘off the beaten track’ so we were disappointed to hear this trek is actually quite popular amongst the tourists that do get to Myanmar. We chose to go with Jungle King as they advertise they do a slightly different route to other groups.
The trek cost just 38000 Kayt ($25) each, so as you can imagine our guide’s wage was not much at all. We all grouped together and tipped him well. This is so important as we just wouldn’t expect to do essentially a 3 day shift for this amount. Please remember this when travelling lesser-developed countries!
Kalaw to Inle Lake: Day One
We set off on day 1 hiking surrounded by beautiful views of surrounding mountains. We passed through crop fields with a huge range from corn, chili, rapeseed oil, bananas, peanuts – the lot! And buffaloes – lots of buffaloes! We found this entertaining until our guide told us they can become really aggressive. There were a few near misses, but we survived! We had a really lovely group and bonded well, naming ourselves the ‘buffalo soldiers’, which became the ear worm of the trip.
Along the way we passed through a local village belonging to the Danu tribe. It was really quiet as most of the residents were working in the fields, the kids at school. We passed through the school and there were lots of giggles and high fives as they probably wondered what on earth we were doing there. After 20km, we arrived at our homestay for the night within the Pa-O tribe.
We were placed with a lovely couple in their traditional home made from bamboo. The house was on stilts, as most are, and at night their buffalo slept beneath us. The host was heavily pregnant, and with the lack of a nearby hospital, we all started to weigh up which of the 5 of us had any skills in delivering babies… Thankfully, we didn’t have to!
After a bucket shower, and a delicious home cooked meal on the fire, we all settled into bed, giggling at the noise of the buffalo breathing beneath us. After an amazing breakfast made from locally grown fresh produce such as avocados, we set off on day two.
Along the way we passed by many locals doing their everyday things. Separating chillis to sun dry them, washing clothes in buckets of water, carrying crops between villages. I was struck by how hard they work, to get so little, yet how happy these people were.
With Kalaw long behind us, the heat (and for me the blisters!) were getting to us. One of our fellow buffalo soldiers put some pants on her head to keep the sun off her neck. One by one we all followed suit and my god does it help!
We stopped by a nearby river to cool off before doing the last leg of day 2 to a monastery where we stayed the night. All of the Jungle King groups were staying there, so we shared the main hall, divided by bed sheet curtains for each group.
We hiked a total of 55km and arrived at the stunning Inle Lake on day 3. The following day, we reformed the buffalo soldiers and all split a long boat (total cost 15,000 kyat) to visit different parts of the lake. We visited a floating village where fishermen and their families live, and saw the famous ‘long necked ladies’.
This tradition comes from a nearby village but it’s not 100% clear why it came about. The girls from the age of 9, start to wear these rings on their necks, and increase them with age. The sign in the shops say they do it to protect themselves from tigers. Our guide told us they do it because they believe in a specific Nat (spirit), that looks like a dragon so they do it to look like it. There are other theories on the internet, it seems the true meaning has been lost, perhaps in the name of tourism, or in communication.
We visited Inpawkhon floating village, the only place in the world to weave lotus plants into textiles. We were shown around the workshop and got to see how the incredibly skilled people handweave lotus, silk and cotton. Of course there was a gift shop, but it was very reasonably priced even for a backpacker budget when you consider the hard work that’s gone into them.
Unique souvenirs in hand, we headed back on the boat towards Nyuang Shwe, the easiest town to visit Inle Lake from. We loved learning more about the different ways of life in Myanmar, both on land, and on water. It was an incredible reminder that to be happy, we don’t need much at all, after all.
Are you travelling to multiple countries over the next few months? Looking to share your story and get a little extra pocket money? Apply to become a Travltalk contributor now!