Trek to Inle Lake
While reading other travel blogs, we discovered that there is a 3 day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake. It's about 61 km's and consists of 6-7 hours of walking a day. We went with Ever Smile Trekking company to book the trek since it came highly recommended. They did a great job preparing us for what to expect and what to pack. They transported our big backpacks for us, so we only needed to pack a small day bag with some extra clothes, toiletries, and water. The cost was only 40,000 Kyats ($30) per person for the whole trek. It included a guide, all sleeping accommodations and all meals. The only thing we had to worry about was buying water along the way.
We met our group at 8:30 am the first day. Everyone introduced themselves and our guide exclaimed that we were all family now and we needed to help each other along the way. Blake and I knew we were in for a fun adventure but we didn't realize how lucky we'd be with a great group of people! We had a couple from New Zealand and Germany, another couple from Portland, a guy from the UK currently living in Amsterdam, another guy from Germany, and a guy from Hong Kong. On the second day, we added two more people; a girl from Amsterdam and a guy from Singapore. Our guide, Jewel, was from one of the villages that we would be hiking through on the first day. She was a ball of energy right away and made everyone feel at ease.
We set off around 9am through the city and eventually made our way into the forest. Blake was in heaven with all the different plants, spiders and caterpillars. We ventured through the mountains and saw tons of green tea hills where they were harvesting the leaves. We stopped for lunch at a spectacular viewpoint that overlooked the mountains and a valley. We had a delicious guacamole with potato chips, Nepalese chapati, dragon fruit and oranges. By the end of our morning trek and lunch, everyone had gotten to know each other a bit and we were feeling like a team.
After a long lunch, Jewel informed us that we would be hiking through 3 villages and would stay the night in the third village. I spent some time walking with Jewel and learned a bit about her life in Myanmar. She is 24 and has been working as a trekking guide for 6 years. She was one of the first ones with the company. She recently had a baby, named Moon, and led trekking tours all the way up to 3 days before she gave birth! Jewel is a tiny little thing but nothing short of a badass. She made jokes the whole time and was always laughing at something.
In the first village, we saw them roasting and drying the tea leaves. We stopped for a break to try some of the green tea. Jewel also had all of try the betel nuts. It's popular in Asia for people to chew the nuts but it turns your teeth red and can cause oral cancer because of the tobacco effects. It wasn't the tobacco kind, so I indulged. We stopped in Jewel's village next and had tea again at her parents house. It was a lovely teak and pine house with lots of space. We also got to meet baby Moon, Jewels daughter!
We continued our hike walking on train tracks and passing local farmers. We arrived in the third village just after sunset. Baby Moon was dropped off by Jewel's father so she could be with her mom. We took time to get settled and the brave ones in the group took bucket showers. The shower consisted of a few tarps that made the area more private, a large bucket of water, and a small bucket to scoop the water and pour it on yourself. I wasn't brave the first night and decided my travel size febreeze would have to do.
For dinner, our host served us traditional Burmese food with rice and tons of vegetables. We had snow peas, cucumber salad, a bean sprout/noodle/tofu dish, fish curry and more! We did some star gazing after dinner and then headed to bed. We slept in a big open room with a raised wooden platform (off the cold concrete floor) with a thin pad as a mattress. All of us slept in a row with separate pillows and blankets. I felt like I was in elementary school again, having a sleepover.
Breakfast was at 6:30 the next morning. We had pancakes (more like crepes than a traditional American pancake), fruit and of course green tea. After breakfast, Jewel introduced us to Thanaka. You'll notice in our pictures that the women wear a light yellow paint on their faces. A lot of the men do as well, but it's often applied more conservatively. Thanaka is made using ground bark. They grind it down with water using a slate slab until it becomes a paste. It's supposed to keep your skin clear, soft, and protected from the sun. I was amazed at how many women still follow this tradition all over Myanmar, even after getting more of a western influence with cosmetics and skincare. Almost every woman, including babies, wears Thanaka daily. Jewel applied it to each of our faces before we started our trek.
The second day trekking felt harder to me. It seemed like we were going up hill a bit more. We hiked through the countryside and saw chili peppers, ginger, sesame seeds, wheat, corn, and rice patties. It felt like we were walking through a painting or postcard. We made it to lunch around 1pm and were served fried noodles and plenty of fruit. The amazing scenery continued in the afternoon as we hiked through more farms. We were all exhausted by the time we got to our village for the night. The accommodations were similar to the night before. This time, I braved a bucket shower. Luckily, we arrived when it was still sunny and warm out so the water wasn't too cold. I was hot from walking so that helped as well.
We all shared some beers and Blake asked if we could purchase some local rice wine. Dinner was more vegetables, chicken, and rice. After dinner, they made a fire for us and Jewel told us some stories about the village.
We set out around 8am on the third day and hiked for about an hour and a half before taking a break for tea. We continued our hike until 1pm with several small stops along the way. We were fortunate to come across some ancient banyan trees that were several hundred years old. Just before the end of our trek, Jewel let us know that we would be passing through a forested part with tons of mosquito's. We were prepared and sprayed ourselves down with insect repellent. Jewel wasn't kidding. There were mosquito's everywhere! My worst nightmare... we made it through and walked a bit further until we finally came to Inle Lake. We were rewarded with lunch; more guacamole, chips, fried noodles and an egg.
A short boat tour was included in the trekking price but everyone decided to pay an extra 2,000 kyat each (about $1.50) to extend the boat trip until sunset. We said goodbye to Jewel, the best guide ever, and we were on our way. We had 5 people in one boat and 6 in the other. We toured the floating villages, the floating gardens, and tons of Burmese handicraft shops. It included a silversmith, umbrella making, wooden boat making, cigar making, and weaving shops. Our last stop was Nga Phe Kyaung, also known as the jumping cat monastery. Supposedly, the monks used to train the cats to jump through hoops. Now the monastery just has a few monks living there that collect donations from the visitors. Our boat driver took us out to the middle of the lake just in time for sunset. We saw local fisherman as well as some dressed up fisherman looking to make a quick tip.
This trek was one of the most memorable experiences I've had traveling over the years. We were so lucky to have such a great group of people and an even better guide. I would do it all again, just as soon as my muscles recover!