Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake – a non-trekker’s review

(Warning: There’s a picture of poop in here.)

I decided to visit Myanmar on a whim – Peter was already planning to go on a trip with YF and Krystle and asked if I wanted to join them. Visiting Bagan was one of my plans, so I agreed to joining them, not knowing that they included a 3 day trek in between.

I’d initially wanted to just take a train down and meet them at Inle Lake – but lack of momentum to plan something on my own had me joining them.

It will be easy, they said.

It’s a very popular route that many tourists do, they said.


Hip hop wear, lounge wear, hipster wear and active wear, L-R.

I am obviously dressed for the occasion.

We went with Ever Smile – which came highly recommended by other tourists we met along the way. Didn’t book in advance – just turned up. We did the 3D2N trek which cost us about USD$45, including meals and a place to stay.

The friendly owner, Toe Toe, who explained that there were 2 options – 2D1N / 3D2N that took you through either the different hill tribes or the jungle. The boys had enough of jungles from the NS so over the hills we went.

What to expect:

Pack 2 bags – one goes with you, and the other gets sent to your hotel at Inle Lake. You obviously want the one going with you to be ALAP (as light as possible). Please see Krystle’s bag below:

Or one of our newfound friend’s tiny backpacks (she basically put most of her belongings in her boyfriend’s bag)


You then walk over 60km, taking in sights of rolling hills, vegetable plantations, tea plantations, get to stay in locals’ homes, eat local food and see many puppies.

The hills are alive!


A photo posted by ? Steph Phua (@stooffi) on

What to bring / tips: 

  • Wear a good pair of walking shoes / hiking shoes which fit well, so your feet don’t slide around
  • On the same note, cut your toenails
  • 2 tops, 1 bottom, 2 sets of undies. The one you are wearing on the first day can be reworn, right? We recommend activewear because it’s light and compact.
  • Thicker clothes for the night – a fleece jacket was enough for Krystle and the uniqlo ultra light down did the trick for YF. Bring along thick pyjama pants too.
  • For washing your baddeh – powdered sheets (Biore Sara Sara is what I used) and dry shampoo OR if you’re not afraid of being seen naked and cold showers, bring a small bottle of shampoo-soap and a small towel
  • Toilet paper
  • Ear plugs + eye mask for the night. I was kept up by a wailing baby.
  •  Torch light for the night as well
  •  A water bag is a good idea because you can just sip as you go. It gets quite cumbersome having to lug out a large bottle of water.
  •  A hat / cap and sunblock for the merciless sun

            What they don’t tell you:

  • There are very few breaks in between – we did a solid 3-5 hours of trekking with just about 2 stops of about 2 minutes in between for water breaks. This means that you don’t have much time to do stuff like take out your bottles from your bags while walking, or take out cameras from your bags while walking. And you have to pee really fast.
  • Our guide’s English was pretty limited and we expected to be downloaded with more information on the tribes, how they lived etc. Instead, for the first day we pretty much just walked past where the tribe people lived – no contact with them at all – and weren’t given much info.
  • There’s not much interaction with locals / villagers, which was expected with the “homestay”
  • It gets really really cold at night and in the wee hours of the morning. I was quite flippant about this and didn’t bring anything warm. I regretted, of course.
  • There are no charging facilities. So bring extra batteries for phones / cameras.
  • There are no decent places to take a shower. (See picture below) Toilets are pretty much holes in the floor. It also gets waaay too cold to take a decent shower by the time you reach your stay.
  • The boat ride to Inle Lake is on a really tiny, narrow wooden boat (putting this out there because I expected a bigger boat.)

Showering area at one of the homestays. You make do with rain water. No hot water!

Where we slept – elevated rooms in wooden / straw huts that were separate from where the locals lived. They provide you with a pillow and about 2 blankets to stay warm.

We had to huddle around a fire to keep warm outside

The food:

Is actually quite decent. Our guides hired a local chef who went ahead to prepare our meals before we arrived. We got lots of fruits and vegetables, their version of curry, and staples like chappati, rice and noodles. There’s also always tea and coffee, and Coca Cola at rest stops. My favourite dish was the avocado salad which was quite surprising – I didn’t expect to have something like guac there. Avos are in abundance in Myanmar, and mixed with fresh tomatoes, onions and a hint of lime. I could eat it all day.

The experience:

Most of the trek is on uneven muddy paths, so I spent quite a lot of time looking down at my feet. At moments I remembered to look up, I’m pleasantly surprised at the scenery. Take this from someone who wouldn’t travel just to look at mountains and sunrises. The nice thing is that everything is really untouched, and it’s rare to see that side of a country, even for a short while.

It was also nice to live off a backpack for a while, get disconnected, walk through paddy fields, inhale nature and see people live simply. I was lucky to have good company. If I didn’t I would see myself being terribly bored and frustrated, because there’s nothing else to do but walk. 

Physical – there are moments when we’re climbing uphill I felt like I was going to keel over and die (/heavybreathing) but it all turned out okay. Didn’t suffer from aches or anything, just some bruises on my big toes because they were jamming into my shoes when going downhill. 

Dew on silkworm webs in huge agave plants in the morning – one of the little beauties you come across on your morning trek.

The people:

The few people you see in villages along the way are generally not quite bothered by tourists. Most will smile and greet you (say “mingalaba”) and go along their way.

Local vegetable hawker selling goods along the railway Weaving old Lady who had everything in arm’s reach so she didn’t need to get up – she served us snacks and tea, and sold some bags where she was.

Kids, kids, kids. They were the most curious and the most friendly! Krystle actually bought a bag of chupachups which made a lot of the villagers’ kids very happy and had them trailing her.

All in all, it was an interesting trip. Something I would never have done if I was doing the planning! We all felt that 3D2N was a tad long – 2D1N would actually suffice. It’s enough to have a taste of the scenery and experience village life (since it wasn’t a full on immersion anyway).

It’s also something I’d do once and not again.

Completed my first 3D2N trek! #proudofmyself. #psykmyanmar ?: @yunfeis A photo posted by ? Steph Phua (@stooffi) on

Check out more photos of our trip / hike through our hashtag on Insta: #psykmyanmar

Ending this off with an interesting common sight we saw along the trek – flowers stuck into poop-cakes. Maybe the villagers felt this made it less of an eyesore?

May it inspire you to find the beauty in all the shit you might potentially step on.


Happy 2016

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