3 Day Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake
The mini bus was packed full when they came to pick us up in Bagan. It took from 8:45am until 3pm to get from Bagan to Kalaw. My bag was literally hanging off the roof for more than half of it. Thank god for Rick who secured it with clasps to his bag and ropes.
Once in Kalaw we headed for The Railroad Hotel. We had a massive king size bed and a duvet! We decided to head towards Sam's Restaurant to look into booking a trek to Inle Lake the following day. We found Charlie, Jorge, Ali & Peter, the four guys I would be trekking with for the next three days over the course of 60 kilometers. Charlie was from Germany and loved passing out winks on a daily basis. Jorge, a very sweet man from Colombia, Ali, a very intelligent Iranian man, and Peter, a Lebanese ladies' man.
We booked the 3 day trek for 40,000 kyat ($30). This includes three meals a day, a guide and your accommodation in the village families' homes. I recommend buying snacks & water to bring along with you. Many tourists use Kalaw as a starting point for their trek to Inle Lake, but there isn't much to do in Kalaw so there is no need to spend much time there. The Railroad Hotel was very cheap ($7 per night) and offered a very comfortable bed.
After a massive breakfast at the Railroad Hotel we headed towards Sam's family restaurant to start our trek. We met our guide Zaw, a 21 year old local studying English at the university. He was the youngest in his family and made the income for his whole family. He is only paid 18,000 kyat ($15 USD) per group of six for the three day trek. He had other expenses that came out of the 18,000 kyat: groceries, payment to the cook (his best friend), and payment the families who let us chill in their houses for lunch and then sleep in others during the evenings. I mention this because it is VERY IMPORTANT to tip these guides, they work their tails off and get minimally compensated.
We started our trek through the city of Kalaw and then it finally dropped off onto a trail. We climbed up and down hills and found ourselves upon ginger farms and rice fields. Zaw loved to sing and he taught us a few songs in Burmese that we sang along the way. We went through villages where it was mandatory to marry someone else born in that village. We are talking 200 homes max in these villages. Very small and spread out with each village being about five kilometers away from the next. Zaw informed us many locals never leave their villages. Many villages don't have water, electricity or even motorbikes/transportation to get around.
Zaw took us to his family's home for lunch where we met his mother, nephew and niece. His family lived in a small village about eleven kilometers from Kalaw. They had farmland that produced turmeric, green tea leaf and rice. They grew to eat, not to sell. His mom has a tooth infection that spread to her brain which caused her to go deaf. Sadly, she will likely die from this infection. She was the sweetest lady. The lunch was delicious, we had vermicelli with vegetables, rice crackers, and tomatoes followed by fruit and sticky rice for dessert. Always served soup first and green tea as well.
The boys all fell asleep after lunch and I went down to hang out with Zaw, his best friend (our cook), his mother, nephew and friend. We hung out in his kitchen which was just a room with mats on the ground and charcoal fire pit with a few pots full of water. Items such as coats and towels were hung on the wall and a bag of rice is used as a seat.
Zaw made enough money for the family to build them a house about a year ago. It's not nearly finished but it's very nice compared to the bamboo hut they lived in at one point. His mother was so sweet offering tea every ten minutes. It was nice to see Zaw interact with his family. He only sees them once or twice a week because of him staying in Kalaw to lead the treks. Charlie and Jorge soon came to join and we learned how to make the cigar leaf cigars, a Burmese staple as both the ingredients grew in their backyard.
For all the dog lovers out there: If you say "Callu Callu" to the dogs they will follow you.
Zaw put tenaka on us which is natural sunscreen that comes from wood. He put it in certain patterns depending on if you are male or female. Once the sun started to go down we set out on our trek again. Another ten kilometers to go... We walked along a railroad track that was built in the thirties by the English to transport goods that is now closed, as well as, through more villages filled with rice fields, watching men and women in their longees plowing the land by hand and children riding water buffalos.
After two and a half hours of walking we finally made it to the village we were going to sleep for the night. We stopped at a small shop down the street to buy eggs, watermelon, water and a few other snacks. The family had a massive house with another seperate house for us to sleep in, but the space was also used as a storage unit. The toilet was a small shed with a hole in the ground and the mountains created a beautiful backdrop for their property.
That night we had a ton food for dinner and the best part was the lettuce tea leaf salad. Zaw's friend barely used oil compared to everywhere else in Myanmar. We had dishes that included white rice with watercress, tofu with bean sprouts, grilled okra, a hard boiled egg, soup and salad.
We made a fire that night and Zaw and his friend sang and played guitar. We all joined in with pots, pans, and sticks, etc. It was a full moon and beautiful, but it did get nippy throughout the night.
I woke up around 5:50AM the next morning shivering. The green mountains were dusted with morning dew. I tried to do yoga but a dog kept walking in between my legs so it made it nearly impossible. The local who lived there offered me flip flops because my feet were so cold on the dirt ground. I made some homemade ginger tea and sipped on it while watching Zaw and his friend cook breakfast. The breakfast was eggs, toast and fruits and a pound cake type thing.
Massive mountains and trees filled up our morning and soon transformed to flat landscape with randomly placed trees the farther and farther we walked. We stopped at a bus stop and played the bamboo ball hackey sac for a while and soon after found bamboo stacks where we made our bamboo walking sticks. Zaw thankfully made mine after I watched the bamboo give Charlie hundreds of splinters all over his hands. We trekked through wheat farms and found loads of rice and barley, stopping by a large tree, the only tree where there was shade and played baseball with a water bottle and a stick.
We stopped at a village and watched an elderly woman weave scarves and bags. She was probably around the age sixty, but she looked eighty as many of them do because of all the hard work in the sun and lack of good health care. She served us dried snap peas and crunchy noodles, along with green tea and sticky rice. Charlie and I bought scarves that are supposed to be worn on the head. Each village has a different print and style and they can be purchased for $3.
We stopped for lunch about an hour away just as it started to get unbearably hot. We stopped at a very nice home with many children running around. The food was noodles and avocado salad and potatoe chips some fresh tomatoes and tangerines and apples. YUM! I smoked a nice cigar leaf and took pictures of all the ginger and tomatoes and rice bags they had below their house. The three women working there were very sweet with the thanaka their faces, head scarves and longees on. They were drying out red chilis in the front of their house.
Around 3PM we started our trek again. It was quite hot and the next village was about two and a half hours away. The trek was a lot of up and down, but at the top of the mountain we had the backdrop of the limestone mountains where we all stood in awe of the Earth's beauty. The end of this trek was a lot more green than the beginning, thankfully.
As we walked Zaw explained how they use the pine tree as aroma for headaches while tumeric and ginger for natural remedies, as well. We were soon at the village, but not before having to pass a large herd of very angry cows that were trying to protect their young. We got up the last hill and into the village where we would stay the night. We took showers out of the well. Well kind of, I rinsed my head off with a bucket of water and then soaped up my body with a bar of soap I found on the ground. They had 5 very sweet childen who kept bringing us buckets of water from the well. It was the cleanest I had felt in forever.
The family's house was on a big piece of property with a storage shed, toilet shed, a detached kitchen, two story home & a big water well smack dab in the center. The house was quite large, but I think the family slept in the small kitchen that night.
We had snake beans, watercress, egg and tomato omelette, rice, soup, snap peas, tea leaf salad, a hard boiled egg and some tofu for dinner. I swear Zaw has the best menu of any of the Trekker guides. Everyone was ready for bed by 8:30PM. I will mention you sleep on a mat, on teak wood floor. It's not luxurious, but it does the trick.
We woke up early the next morning about 5:30AM and had breakfast by 6AM so we could beat the sun and get to our final destination quicker. It was a majestic hike this day. Full of lush greenery across the hills and purple flowers coloring the sides of the path. It was more of uphill, downhill and rock climbing.
We made it to Inle Lake in three hours. Stopping at a restaurant where there was cold water and food! Lunch consisted of fried rice with egg, soup pears and apples and a tea leaf salad again. We all paid $1 for the boat that would take us through the floating villages of Inle Lake. Waving to Zaw as we sped off through the small line of water!
If you have time for a three day, sixty kilometer hike and have a good set of knees I say 'Go for it!' I loved all three days because they were all unique. From meeting Zaw's family & playing with the village children, seeing how they live their daily lives. It was exciting to see what types of changes you noticed from village to village, whether it be the different patterned head scarves to the way the houses were laid out, the types of food available for us to eat & even the drastically changing landscape over the course of three days. It was the best food I ate while in Myanmar and the experience was priceless. I highly recommend doing Sam's Family Trek and remember please tip the guides! They work really hard and $10 goes a long way for them. Enjoy!