Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake In Myanmar

Last updated on: 35 Comments

Everything you need to know about the Kalaw to Inle Lake trek in Myanmar.

Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma Feature

As the convoy of buffalo quietly approached, I was forced to shuffle my way off the compressed soil trail to avoid a collision. Only metres from the path the earth dropped steeply, rocks tumbling their way to the valley floor. I kept one eye on the nearing cattle and the other on the land’s edge.

Rising up in the distance were rounded peaks from mountains and flowing hills, casting vast shadows across the farmland. The ethnic Shan lady guiding the buffalo smiled and nodded her appreciation for my necessary movement allowing her to pass. I smiled back and drew a deep breath of the unpolluted rural air.

In a nation that has been oppressed for decades, the stretch of land from Kalaw to Inle Lake still seems like an old-world paradise, free from the political turmoils and frustrations found elsewhere in Myanmar. I hope the smiling Burmese lady feels the same.

Buffalo Lady Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma
Stepping off the trail to allow the buffalo and their owner to pass.

Man Sitting Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma

View Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma

The unassuming country town of Kalaw has rapidly become a tourist hotspot in the developing Buddhist nation of Myanmar. Only 60km from the town’s heart lies the immensely popular Inle Lake, where images conjure of solitary fisherman balancing on one leg as they cast nets across the water, wrapping their other leg around an oar to propel themselves forward.

As Myanmar quickly opens up to tourism and the number of foreigners visiting exponentially increases every month, the trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake is growing in popularity.

Beginning your trek from the centre of town, you slowly gain altitude as you work your way up towards the elevated plains above Kalaw. Mountains and valleys stretch their way across the landscape. A slight haze softens the view from the dust kicked up by centuries of unaltered agricultural industry.

Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma
The path from Kalaw meanders its way along the rural landscape.
Shan Local Walking Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma
A Shan local makes their way across the fields.

Man Black And White Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma

As you trek through indigenous Shan villages bemused children run out from behind bamboo houses to prod and gaze at the foreign human traffic making their way from Kalaw to Inle Lake. Nights are spent on thin, yet comfortable, mattresses in the stilted homes of village elders.

The food is meticulously prepared to be nourishing, traditional and surprisingly delectable. Noodles, fried vegetables, fresh fish and chicken make up the staple diet and the local chefs are always excited to allow tourists to experience the best Shan fare on offer.

Waving Child Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma
A smiling child waves at us in one of the villages.
Barren Landscapes Long Fields Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma
Barren landscapes stretch out across the region.

Lady Walking Carrying Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma

Rest periods between hiking are spent playing games with the local children, using whatever improvised toys are available. A humble sandal can provide hours of entertainment for the kids who have never had access to the internet, television or video games. Life is much simpler up in the mountains between Kalaw and Inle Lake. It is a beautiful thing to observe.

As you approach the final destination of Inle Lake, the descent is rapid and excitement levels peak. Your first glance of the immense lake is unforgettable as it protrudes between thinly-leafed trees like a shimmering mirror haphazardly placed on the bucolic terrain.

Finally launching off on a narrow, timber boat, aimed for the far end of Inle Lake is a glorious feeling. Putting in the physical effort to reach the picturesque reservoir is a rewarding experience, especially as you reflect on the bewitching scenery you passed through to get there. Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake is one of the most memorable adventures you can undertake in Myanmar, and indeed in all of Southeast Asia.

Fisherman Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma
A local fisherman and their unique technique at rowing, fishing and balancing simultaneously.

Lady Walking Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma

Views Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma
Incredible views on the trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake.

Our Three Day, Two Night Kalaw To Inle Lake Trek

After our epic trek in Hsipaw, we had a strong thirst for more adventure. Taking on the three day, two night trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake was next up on our ideal unplanned itinerary for Myanmar, and we were going to make sure we didn’t miss out!

After we checked into our accommodation in Kalaw, we went looking for the best trekking companies in town. We had heard a lot about Sam’s Family Restaurant and his high-quality trekking tours, so we dropped in to talk to Uncle Sam himself. He instilled a lot of confidence in us about his operation and we left feeling good about trekking with him.

Naturally we then checked with a few other companies in town, but didn’t have the same positive relationship that we had developed with Uncle Sam. We decided it would be his company we would trust to take us to Inle Lake.

Check out our article on the money situation in Myanmar.

Our guide, Chosu, was a great young Shan lady who spoke near-perfect English. Our experience with her was that although she was very affable, knowledgeable and caring, she was still just a young girl (maybe 20) who was more concerned with her daily life, constantly on her mobile phone.

Whenever we asked her questions she happily put her phone down and chatted away with great enthusiasm, but always went straight back to her cell phone. Still this didn’t really alter our impression of her. Which 20-year-old girl anywhere in the world wouldn’t be the same?

Flowers Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma
Local ladies put together a flower arrangement for a village elder, who passed away one night while we stayed in the neighbouring house.
Picking Berries Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma
Our group picking wild berries to make fresh jam at lunchtime.
Chosu Guide Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma
Our friendly guide, Chosu.

The food was incredible and we were never short of dishes to eat. In the villages we stayed or ate in we were always welcomed into neighbour’s houses to drink fresh green tea with them. They never asked for money and were always up for a laugh.

Playing games with the children was without a doubt a highlight. Their zest for life, despite living in conditions that Westerners may find below adequate, was inspiring. The local indigenous population always wore a smile and seemed genuinely curious in us.

Our trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake is still to this day one of the main highlights of our trip in Southeast Asia. Definitely put a few days aside in your schedule so you can complete the hike yourself.

Landscapes Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma
Flat landscapes drop away steeply as they reach the edge of the valley.
Man Buffalo Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma
A man quietly sits outside his house as some buffalo make their way through the village.
Food Meals Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma
Dinner at one of the homestays. We were definitely not going to go hungry on this trek.
Lesh Manicure Children Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma
Lesh receiving a manicure from some children. They were using crushed fruit for nail-polish.

Can You Do The Kalaw To Inle Lake Trek Independently?

We met an Argentinian man who did not have much money, and as such couldn’t afford the cost of a guide. With an adventurous spirit, he opted to do the Kalaw to Inle Lake trek independently. He copied down a map of the area he saw in a restaurant from memory, and headed off with just his backpack and some cash on him.

Our friend managed to reach Inle Lake with little problems. Whenever he got lost he would ask a local farmer for directions to the next village, and they happily pointed him in the right direction. At night he simply walked into a town and asked for a place to stay. People would direct him to a registered homestay where he could pay for food and board.

The trails are meandering and confusing, obviously with no signage. Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake independently is definitely possible, although it would be a difficult undertaking if you have no experience with this kind of thing. Our friend perhaps got lucky with how things worked out for him, so think long and hard before you choose to do this yourself.

Also the option of simply staying in anyone’s house in not possible due to government regulations. Local people can get in A LOT of trouble for housing foreigners illegally. Take this into account before you set off from Kalaw and go knocking on a stranger’s door.

Need accommodation for Inle Lake? Click here to check to book through Agoda.com

Young Boys Wooden Cart Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma
Young boys play games on a hand-made timber cart.

Buffalo Cart Farming Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma

Ice Block Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma
Jazza buying a flavoured ice block in one of the villages. Total cost was 10c.
Boys Buffalo Farming Working Trekking From Kalaw To Inle Lake Myanmar Burma
Shan boys riding their buffaloes home after a long day working in the fields.

 

Have you done the Kalaw to Inle Lake trek? Let us know what you thought of it by commenting below.

About the author

Alesha and Jarryd

Hey! We are Alesha and Jarryd, the award winning writers and photographers behind this blog, and we have been travelling the world together since 2008. Adventure travel is our passion, and through our stories and images we promote exciting off-the-beaten-path destinations and fascinating cultures as we go. Follow our journey in real time on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

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35 COMMENTS

  1. Paige

    So between the Hsipaw trek and Kalaw trek, which did you prefer?
    Thanks!

    Devesh Bhatt

    So fantastics pictures, extremely it’s difficult to describ it, yet it’s an excess of brilliant this nature.

    Because of offer with your movement enchantment.

      Alesha and Jarryd

      Thank you so much.

    TICIANO

    40k (24 dollars) for 2 nights, 3 days , guide and food? Seems very cheap. Am i missing something? Thanks!

      Alesha And Jarryd

      Hi Ticiano, this article was from 2016 and prices may have changed. There was a large group of us also so the price is cheaper then also. If you are only one person, the price will be a lot more expensive.

    Kara Bui

    Thanks for great sharing! I was in Myanmar 4 years ago , about 2014. I had an amazing experience in Golden Rock. I and my husband were transferred by a truck to the top of mountain where the Rock is located! Oh my God, my heart seemed to be jumped out of my chest. There have so many road curves while the driver drove quite fast. I and some girls shout loudly because of frightening and yes, a bit excitement; while men are get extremly excited with the road!!! Anway, we reached the top safely in the end and had an nice day there. Thanks God !!! Have you been Golden Rock? Come and enjoy! :)) Unforgetable experience!!!!

      Alesha And Jarryd

      Hi Kara, What an awesome experience. We never got to the Golden Rock. Our visit was expiring and we had to rush back to the Thailand border. We will have to go back to Myanmar and explore it more.

    Adam

    Uncle Sam was great! This was the highlight of our Myanmar trip!

    I remember the towns on the way had just gotten electricity when went in late 2014

      Alesha And Jarryd

      Hi Adam, I think they did too when we were there. It is a gorgeous place of Myanmar. 🙂

    Ricardo

    Awesome post!!!
    My wife and I have just arrived in Myanmar and we are definitely doing this trail in a few days.
    Cheers!

      Alesha And Jarryd

      So awesome Ricardo. We hope you have an amazing time. 🙂

    san

    Hello, Thanks so so much for insightful and mesmerizing write-up. While I’m reading it, I feel like I’m with you guys travelling along. I, myself as a Burmese, and I like trekking but I am lost within my own country probably because I’m overseas for a decade. I am so interested to go for this trekking after my “ride behind the Kalaw” (not sure you heard before it is recently gained popularity among local bikers). Anyway, to cut a long story short, I am now decided to also go for trekking from Kalaw to Inle. Btw, where do you guys head to after arrived at Inle?

      Alesha And Jarryd

      Thank you so much for the compliment. We loved this area of Myanmar. After Inle Lake we headed to Bagan. We really enjoyed the hike. All the best and have fun on the hike when you do it. 🙂

    theflyingsurgeon

    I walked Kalaw-Inle lake, on my own, without a guide in February 2017. I downloaded the track from wikiloc to my GPS, and had no problems whatsoever. Without a GPS it would be more difficult (though not impossible), and you would be forced to walk on the gravel road. With GPS you just follow the track you have downloaded, and thus I walked on trails similar to those on guided tours, except I chose to walk the entire trail in two instead of three days.

      Alesha And Jarryd

      That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing.

      Robert

      May I ask where you stopped and stayed during the night?

        Alesha And Jarryd

        Sorry Robert, it was so long ago and we can’t remember the exact names. Our guide picked them out one a night. We stayed in local houses.

    Caroline

    Hi, when did you do the Trek? and how where the temperatures?

      Alesha And Jarryd

      We did this trek back in 2014. Sorry I can’t remember the month. The temperatures were not too bad maybe on the warm side during the days. We slept in homestays along the way and were warm at night.

    Hannah @GettingStamped

    So bummed we didn’t do this on our Myanmar trip…

      Alesha And Jarryd

      Next time…… ; ) Hope you guys had a blast in Myanmar.

    Josh

    Hello, We are planning a trip to Myanmar and your posts are very helpful. Regarding the trek, do you know if there are also options for a one-day or two-day trek? How does that work? Where do you start? Do you still do the last part down to Inle Lake? OR do you strongly recommend the three-day trek? Thanks, Josh

      Alesha And Jarryd

      You can do shorter tours or longer ones if you are interested. Chat to the people at the tour companies to organise it and work out routes. Sorry we can’t help you more Josh.

    Erica

    Hey guys,

    While doing the trek, do you bring all your stuff with you? Hoping someone takes care of it, because I’d love to do this but I have mild scoliosis.

      Alesha And Jarryd

      Hi, Erica. You stay in local guesthouses so all you need is your clothing snd toiletries. The guesthouse provide all the blankets for sleeping and your food. It was a great hike.

    Heather

    Hey guys. Love the blog! Currently in Bagan and considering trekking from Kalaw to Inle. We have pretty hefty rucksacks with us though. Is there any way around this? Perhaps to take our day bags and have our main bags brought to Inle?

      Lesh Jazza NOMADasaurus

      Pretty sure Uncle Sam can get your bags delivered Heather 🙂

    karen

    We are going to Myanmar at the end of September. Do you know how hot it will be and how strenuous the trekking is? We will do 10 miles 2 days and 6 the last.

      Lesh Jazza NOMADasaurus

      Not too sure on the weather Karen. Maybe check Google. The trekking wasn’t too strenuous.

    Dorene & Troy

    HI guys! Thanks for the easy link to all your Myanmar posts, these are great! One question, we would love to do the Kalaw to Inle Lake Hike – – we just have a tonne of gear and pretty big packs for a 3 day hike! – Did you carry it all with you? or were there options to transport some of it with the Uncle Sam’s trekking? THANKS!

      Lesh Jazza NOMADasaurus

      Hey Dorene and Troy. Uncle Sam’s will transport your luggage for you (for a fee, I think).

    Natasha Amar

    Nice post! I think trekking with local guides is a great way to contribute to the community. Bookmarking this for when I’m in Myanmar 🙂

      Lesh Jazza NOMADasaurus

      Thanks Natasha! Definitely something you should not miss out when you get to Myanmar. You will love it there! 😀

    Petra @ The Global Couple

    Great post! We did the trek with Eversmile in late 2013 and LOVED it. It was one of our favourite travel experiences to date and quite frankly life-changing. The local kids were so amazing!

      Lesh Jazza NOMADasaurus

      Awesome to hear you had a great experience with Eversmile. We have had heard good things about them since we left Myanmar. I agree that it definitely a life-changing experience. Travelling to Myanmar in itself is incredible! Thanks for reading, Petra. Happy travels! 😀

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