Traveling through Southeast Asia without camping equipment didn’t give us too many opportunities for long hikes. In Kalaw we were able to arrange a hiking trip with homestays along the way. Finally we got to have a real adventure in Myanmar. Along the way we learned a lot and made some good friends with our fellow trekkers. On the last day we reached Inle Lake which was a beautiful payoff after our kilometers of trekking.
Day 1 – Sunday, February 22, 2015
Our van dropped us off on the main road through Kalaw. We didn’t have a hotel reservation, but had looked up the names of several recommended guesthouses. As soon as we were off of the van, a man showed up asking if we needed a hotel. We told him we were looking for the Eastern Paradise, for which he immediately produced a business card for and walked us to the hotel. We were able to get a large room for $25.
Our next order of business was to arrange a trek to Inle Lake for the next morning. Trekking to Inle Lake from Kalaw is a very popular activity and there is no shortage of guide companies in Kalaw. Typically the treks are either 3 days / 2 nights or 2 days / 1 night. We knew time would be an issue for us, and so we decided to look for a 2 day hike.
Our hotel heard us ask about trekking and put us in contact with a very well spoken guide from Ni-Ni Trekking. He was great and answered all of our questions about logistics. Unfortunately, he didn’t have anyone else signed up for a two day trek the following day which meant we would be paying slightly more money than if we joined a larger group.
We also went to Ever Smile Trekking. We found that the trekking set up at Ever Smile was exactly the same as Ni-Ni. We also found out that the two companies are owned by relatives. Luckily, Ever Smile had two groups we could join, so the cost would be lower (see below for cost breakdown).
That night for dinner we ate at Thirigayha, The Seven Sisters. We were worried when we saw two large tour buses in front of the restaurant, but it ended up being one of our better meals in Myanmar. One part of the menu was Shan food, a culture within Myanmar, and that is what we ordered.
Day 2 – Monday, February 23, 2015
The next morning we ate breakfast at the hotel and then went to the trekking office at 8am. We were put into a shared cab with other trekkers while our luggage was loaded onto a tuk tuk to be sent to our hotel at Inle Lake. The shared cab took us to the village of La Mine. Had we been doing a three day trek, we would have hiked that distance on day one. Instead, we were dropped off outside of a village house where a group of 3 day trekkers had spent the previous night. (Apparently a noisy rooster kept them from sleeping well that night). We were all surprised to find that instead of forming our own group, we would be joining the 3 day trek for their remaining 2 days.
Our group was one guide and 8 tourists. Besides for ourselves, our group consisted of two Kiwis, two Chileans, and a brother and sister from South Korea. The group was very social and we really enjoyed hiking with them. Our guide, Phu Phu was a small 24 year-old girl and a complete sweetheart.
Our trek started along dirt roads which ran between villages. It was a warm day, but didn’t feel like we had gone so far before we reached the next village, which I think was Pin Nwe. At the village we joined an old lady who was weaving a cloth on a handmade loom. The work was long and tedious. While watching her we were served tea and snacks. For 500K we could purchase water. Kittens ran around and we enjoyed our break until a group behind us showed up to take our place.
The rest of the trekking continued on unpaved roads and dirt paths between fields. We stopped several times for breaks in shady areas. The scenery was nice, but would probably have been better during the wet season when everything is green instead of yellow and parched.
We stopped for lunch at a house in the next village (maybe Paw Ke). Phu Phu disappeared into the house to help prepare our meal while we relaxed at a table. Lunch took a while to be prepared, but we were finally served bowls of chow mein noodles with eggs while plates of fruits were put in the center of the table. After eating Phu Phu told us we’d be waiting another hour to avoid walking while the sun was at its peak. In all I think we were at lunch over 2 hours before starting to hike again.
The hiking in the afternoon was similar to the hiking in the morning. As we neared Thi Thein village, where we would be spending the night, we started to notice a lot of other trekkers on the path. We heard that in the summer up to 500 people do this trek a day. In February, when we were trekking, it is still likely that 200-300 people pass through each day.
In Thi Thein our group was participating in a home stay. A local family was letting us stay in the main room of their house. The house was cinderblock construction, and like most village houses, it was built elevated with the living quarters above an open storage area. The upper level was divided into three large rooms. None of the rooms were furnished or decorated. Each had a single electric light and one room had an area for a cooking fire. We were each given a thin mat on the floor, pillow, and heavy blankets. The bathroom was an outhouse downstairs and around the side of the building, without running water. The shower, which was avoided, was a bucket of cold water with a meager bamboo wall around it. The main dinning table was also outside, and this is where we spent our evening.
Our group assembled around the table and enjoyed some local beers while the family cooked dinner in a single room structure nearby. It was dark when dinner was served. Dinner was similar to lunch – we were each given bowls of rice while the center of the table was filled with bowls of fruits, chicken, and lots of vegetables. We were also each given bowls of pumpkin and ginger soup which was one of the best parts of the meal.
Day 3 – Tuesday, February 24, 2015
I think we started to stir early in the morning, and I could hear the locals going about their business and starting their work, but no one wanted to get out of the warm blankets until Phu Phu came to wake us. Breakfast was outside on the table, and our homestay family had prepared french toast and fruit.
The trekking that day was supposed to be an easy day, but looking at the map we seemed to think there was a long distance to travel. I think trekking was a bit harder on day two because of the rocky terrain and lack of shade. Our break was at a small restaurant on the side of the road who offered us free samosas. We took another, longer break near a bunch of cows grazing in a field before we started the final stretch of the hike which was down a long dusty hill. At the bottom of the hill we emerged near the village of Than Thaung and had to pay the tourist tax of $10 to enter the Inle Lake area. We also stopped at a restaurant in Than Thaung where we were served lunch, which was very similar to the other meals along the trek.
After lunch Phu Phu walked us to a cigar factory where local women sat rolling cigars by hand. We learned that the tobacco was from other areas of the country, but that the leaves they roll the cigars in were locally grown. Jon had purchased a pack of the small cigars to sample with the guys that evening for 500K (50 cents).
Than Thaung was near the south end of Inle Lake. Nyaung Shwe, the largest city on the lake where our hotels were, is on the north end of the lake, so the last leg of our journey was via boat. Phu Phu led us to a waiting boat and bid us farewell. All 8 of us sat on the floor of a long, thin boat with an engine mounted to the back. This was the best part of the hike! The boat took us through very narrow canals cut out of lake vegetation and past houses on stilts. After 20 minutes the greenery ended and the lake widened into a smooth sheet. We passed other tourist boats, fishermen, and villages. Several of the other boats had flocks of seagulls following them. We found out why this was when our boat driver started to toss popcorn into the air attracting gulls to fly along with our boat. The fun quickly ended when some falling popcorn turned out to be falling poop instead and Jon wasn’t so lucky.
At the north end of the lake, the lake narrows into a river that the town of Nyaung Shwe is built along. Boat docks protrude into the river. We docked at one, paid for the boat, and headed to our hotel to clean up. Before splitting up with our trekking group we made plans to meet them later for dinner and celebrate completing our trek.
The trekking price was given to us as ‘per person, per day’ and varies by the number of people signed up in each group. The prices can range between $18 – $30 depending on the group size. For our experience in a full group of 8 people it cost $18/person/day for a total of $72. That fee includes the homestay, a trekking guide, and meals while hiking. It does not include water or other drinks. There are many costs that are not included. I have listed the costs we incurred below.
- $3 bag fee: it cost $3 per bag to have them shipped through the tour company to our hotel in Nyaung Shwe.
- $15 cab ride at start of hike: To join the 3 day hikers we took a cab to La Mine. The cab was $15 which we were able to split between 5 trekkers.
- $10/person entrance fee to the Inle Lake area.
- $15 boat ride at end of hike: To cross the lake at the end of the hike we took a boat which cost $15 that was split between the 8 trekers.
- Drinks: At most stops water was 500K. Soft drinks and beers were around 1000K-1500K.
Also Try (Kalaw):
- Everest Restaurant Nepali food – We had heard good things about this restaurant and found that several of our fellow trekkers had enjoyed their meal of biryani there.