The hike from Kalaw to Inle Lake passes through highland farmland and villages. It’s a nice way to see the way of life here and being higher up the temperatures are much milder. A refreshing change to the hot dry season weather we’ve experienced down south.
After a grueling bus ride from Mawlamyine in the south we arrived in Kalaw just after 1pm. We found a cheap twin room with a bathroom, but no aircon at Pine Land Inn for just 18,000 kyats, next to the large Winner Hotel. Depending on when you travel you might actually want to look for a place with heating instead as it apparently can get cold here. No aircon was just fine.
Afterwards we walked down an adjacent street to try and find a hiking company to get to Inle Lake. It was worth checking a few of them to get a feel for each company’s knowledge and level of English, but pretty much all of them offered all the usual inclusions, luggage transfer and the boat ride for 40,000 kyats if you join groups of 6.
We went with Sam’s because they seemed the most knowledgeable and organised, and our guide had great English skills. Unfortunately, two people in our group were no shows so the price went up to 50,000 kyats. We opted for the shorter 50km hike and as promised we hardly saw anyone else and got heaps more time in the villages (and to swim). Plus there’s only so much of the same scenery that you can see in one day. I think we made the right choice.
We weren’t in Kalaw long, but I checked out the market and bought some Burmese energy bars (brown sugar from sugar cane). God they were strong. The grow a lot of ginger, tea and garlic here it seems.
We ate some great Dal Bhat (3,500 kyats) at the Everest Nepalese restaurant next to Sam’s and also some lassi (2,000 kyats). The avocado one was a bit too avocado and not really sour at all so I still need to go on the hunt again for an avocado milkshake.
We also had some great curries at 7 Sisters up the main road to the west. We really splurged on dinner that night! (4,500 kyats each plus drinks)
In the morning we had a quick breakfast at the guesthouse and headed on down to Sam’s. There were loads of people there and yet whilst this was just one tour company with about 30 people starting off I’d say we only saw a dozen other people on the hike over the first 2 days.
We walked off through Kalaw and into some pine forest. Along the way we passed some farmers herding their buffalo and the odd motorbike.
After about 2 hours, our first stop was a Danau village where an old couple hosted us for lunch. They were friendly and the food was some of the best we’d had so far! We relaxed in the village for a few hours through the hottest part of the day. We also had some fun trying to talk to our hosts and their granddaughter through a bit of sign language while our guide took a siesta.
From there we followed a path up to a ridge. We passed a lot of chilli fields and stopped to pick lots of these orange raspberry-like berries. When you get up to the ridge you can see into the next valley which at the time were loaded with garlic crops for the dry season.
After a while we reached our guide Kin Kin’s village where we stayed at her grandmother’s house. Her family were Pa-o people. They grew ginger this season and so there was loads of the stuff around.
Again, brilliant food, I think I am addicted to this lettuce salad that comes with peanuts and a little lime.
There was no rush to set off in the morning so we took our time and amused ourselves with the cats that shared the house. Three kittens skittered about testing out their pouncing and wrestling skills. Apparently they weren’t really pets as such but they were free to share the family space.
I think it only took two hours to reach the lunch spot in a market several kilometres away. We ended up having lunch at 11am so we were quite keen to head off again and reach the river for a swim. The scenery didn’t change much until then so after a fairly mundane walk in the heat it was very refreshing to go for a swim.
The view got a little more interesting from here as we climbed a bit to a pass and walked along many rice terraces (no rice during dry season though).
We arrived at another, much larger, Pa-o village where we started to see some other groups. There were still a lot of old traditional houses though. The wooden house we stayed in was more than 80 years old and was handed down through the last few generations.
After sundown the owner, Oo Lo, came to sit and talk with us. He shared a beer with another Australian and we talked about his family and his farming with Kin Kin translating. He knew a lot of individual English words though and seemed to pick up on what we talked about in English.
In the dry season there is less to do, mainly preparing for the rainy season, and so amazingly he was mining his own stone in order to make bricks which would eventually be his new house. I can’t imagine how long that would take when only working on it in his spare time.
I was pretty sick on the third day and so it was just a slog to get to Inle Lake. Head down, focusing on steps and punching it out for 3.5 hours.
I can’t say it was very enjoyable, but we did pass some enormous Banyan trees. I couldn’t have been happier to see Kin Kin turn into a restaurant with recliner bamboo chairs.
After lunch we said goodbye to Kin Kin and met our boat driver.
For the first 20 minutes we headed down an inlet with fishing houses all around. They farm the whole lot and hang plants above the water. It makes me think of mangroves.
In total the cruise across the lake to Nyaung Shwe took about an hour and a half. We must have passed about 30-40 other tourist boats along the way. One of the things that makes the lake famous are the fishermen who teeter on the end of their boats and it’s a bit of a spectator sport.
I have fonder memories of the Tonlé Sap lake in Cambodia so the boat ride was better spent sunbathing.
I wasn’t keen to head out onto the lake again. Everything I’d been reading was saying it was full of floating souvenir shops, fisherman charging for posed photos and the advertising all over the lake pretty much confirmed it the previous day anyway.
We hired some bikes for 1,000 kyats from Bright Hotel (expensive at 25,000 kyats for a twin, bathroom, but no aircon) and road around town for a while. Every restaurant, every bar and every street was full of tourists. On the plus side there was bland western food everywhere which was great in my current state of stomach.
We rode along the waterfront and found this old abandoned temple. Nature had really taken over it and the ruins were now surrounded in farmland.
After that, sounding like a hypercritical tourist, I was done with Inle Lake. We booked a VIP sleeper bus to Bagan from Odyssey travel for 20,000 kyats (regular bus 12,000 kyats). Bagan is probably the most touristy place in Myanmar, but well worth a look anyway.
[Edit] Actually there is one real nice place: Real Nyaung Shwe Bakery, 27 Sao San Tun Road. While waiting for the bus we went to grab a bite to eat at a bakery we’d seen during the day. The lady’s son is a baker so they have fresh bread, good burgers, avocado salad and homemade ice cream.