Hiking to Inle Lake

Nice as Kalaw was, we weren’t really there to see the town. No, we’d put up with the nightmare bus journey so that we could hike through the hills to Inle Lake, stopping off at various hill-tribe villages along the way.

We’d originally planned to do a three-day hike, but after the little attack of food poisoning that had hit half of our party, we decided it was probably safer to stick to two days. There was still no sign of Tony, who we’d had to leave behind half way to Kalaw, but in his place we were joined by the lovely Nieves from Spain, who I’d spent a lovely couple of weeks with in Indonesia before Christmas, and who happened to arrive in Kalaw the same day as us (backpacking really makes the world feel like a small place).

Sam and Frankie were a bit worried that the hike would be a bit much of an effort as they were still recovering from illness, but luckily we were dealing more with gentle rolling hills than great big mountains, and being slightly higher up, it wasn’t even too hot – perfect hiking weather. It was beautiful right from the start – a wonderfully unspoilt pre-industrial landscape of rolling hills and fields still being farmed by hand, using buffalo-drawn carts in place of anything mechanical.

The local landscape

The real highlight of the hike though was stopping in the villages – these routes still don’t see a lot of tourists, and so we were greeted nervously by the villagers in many cases – although when it turned out our guide could also speak various different local languages in addition to his native tongue, it opened a few more doors and helped the villagers to relax in our presence, and had them asking as many questions about us as we did about them. I felt a little bit sorry for the young children though – in almost every case they burst out crying and ran away as soon as they saw us. Not the best reaction in the world!

Pa-O Villagers

Pa-O Villagers

Unfortunately we had a slightly disruptive effect in another village just before lunch – we happened to turn up on the day of a village festival. As we came round the corner, we saw most of the village on their knees at the entrance of a large hut, celebrating the festival. I’m guessing it must have all been a bit dull for the kids, as these ones came running after us as they were fascinated in us (and our cameras in particular). They insisted on posing for photo after photo (and absolutely loving the results). It was all great fun but I do feel a bit bad for disrupting the village festival. Whoops.

Local celebrities

Soon after that we were invited into another family’s home, where we had tea (and where the matriarch of the house quizzed the three boys about whether we were single or not and would we like to marry her daughters or niece?!). That’s certainly the first time I’ve ever been proposed to.

After a long first day we finally made it to our night stop – where we’d be staying on the floor of a teak monastery. Meeting (and chatting) to the rather deaf Abbott was a rather interesting experience, and yet again we had more fun with some of the local village kids who came round to see who the visitors were.

Pleased to see us

Day two of the walk was much easier – as we headed mostly downhill from the village towards the lake (although we were also slightly nervous about the fact our guide warned us we’d need to look out for poisonous snakes escaping from the controlled burning that farmers were doing just a short distance from the path!).

Water Buffalo

The walk was a magnificent experience – the villagers we met are mostly still living a very traditional lifestyle, and were wonderfully friendly to us. I’d love to go back again though at the end of the rainy season (rather than at the end of the dry season, which is when we there), as I bet the landscape looks even better lush and green, rather than the dusty brown we got to see.

Possibly best of all though was the fact that we’d made it two whole days without major incident!

You can see all of my photos of the trek here.

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4 responses to “Hiking to Inle Lake

  1. Hi Geoff. I was delighted to find your blog as we are off to Burma on 9 June – I imagine it will be nice and wet when we get there! I’m looking forward to reading your future posts and, after discovering you are a fellow Brit (where are all the British bloggers?) and that you have been to loads of the same places as us, I’ll be reading the previous posts too.

  2. Hi Geoff, your trip looks great. I’m planning on heading to Burma for three weeks Dec/Jan of this year.

    How did you organise your hike? Is it possible to do longer than three days do you know? Any info would be much appreciated.

    Thanks

    Paul

    pauljstafford@gmail.com

  3. Hello,
    My family (2 adults, 2 teenagers) is planning a trip to Myanmar in December. Do you have a guide that you can recommend for the hiking? Also, any suggestions on other areas of the country to visit. We have lived in Asia for quite a while hence are not looking for “tourist site checklist” types of things. We are more interested in interacting with the locals. Thanks!

    • You should have no difficulty interacting with the locals anywhere – there aren’t that many tourists, and the majority that do come visit on package tours, so independent travellers are in a very small minority, and locals are eager to talk to you everywhere – from the first day we arrived in Yangon, we went out for a walk and numerous people came up to us in the street to chat, including a monk, and an old woman who was born before independence. If you really want to avoid tourists, simply avoid the ‘big 4′ (Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake) and you’d be bound to escape, although I’d have to stress that there are so few tourists, that even in the big 4, if you’re an independent traveller you’ll find it easy to avoid the crowds and interact with the locals. Travelling around by bus instead of plane is another way to guarantee contact with locals (the package tourists all fly around) – although it’s not always the most comfortable way to travel.

      In terms of a trekking guide, I’ve forgotten the name of the company we used, but our guide was brilliant, and we found them at a trekking company on the main road in Kalaw town right by the market (it’s a small town so shouldn’t be too hard to find!)

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