Walk through extensive plantations and experience the unique cultures of different hill tribes.
Set high up in western Shan State with a relaxed atmosphere, Kalaw the ideal place to visit if you’re looking to do some walking. The town is an old hill station with forrest-capped hills and a cooler climate. A complete contrast to the dusty plains of Bagan and Mandalay. There are lots of short treks around the town but everyone really comes here for is the multi-day treks to Inle Lake.
WHERE TO STAY IN KALAW
Treks start early in the morning so you’ll need to overnight in Kalaw. The town is so small you’ll be within walking distance of the trekking offices wherever you stay. There are some cheap hotel options.
The alternative is to get one of the night buses from Bagan or Mandalay which arrive into Kalaw in the early hours of the morning. You can then hang about until the trekking offices open. If you choose this option, make sure you have already booked your trek.
The trekking routes are pretty but it’s more about experiencing culture rather than encountering spectacular landscapes. Trekking organisations operate year round but it will probably be wet and muddy between June and October. There are a few different operators to choose from and I suggest you book as soon as you arrive in Kalaw.
I went with Sam’s Trekking Guide who offered two options and small groups.
2 day cost 35,000 per person – The trek begins after short drive out of Kalaw.
3 day cost 45,000 per person – Start walking straight from the trekking offices.
Cost includes accommodation and meals but you’ll need to cover the 15,000 kyats entrance to Inle Lake.
It is not recommended to attempt these treks without a licences guide. The trails are not well marked and few people in the hills speak English.
Arrive at 8am to register. You can arrive before 7am if you change your mind and want to join the three day trip.
Most of the walk was flat so it’s a very relaxed trip. We passed Pa-O and Danu settlements and extensive agricultural areas along narrow, dusty footpaths. Many people in this region primarily get their income from farming however, many have started making handicrafts or offering meals to trekkers. You’ll see this when you stop in tiny villages for a cup of tea as part of your journey.
In total you’ll walk about five hours until you reach a village where you stay with a family. In our group it was someone’s birthday so we ended up having a bit of a party with the locals. Lots of rum and whiskey was consumed. It’s amazing how much you laugh when no one understands each other.
We all slept in a large room on the floor with blankets and pillows. I did the trek in March and it did get cold so it’s worth taking a jumper.
We woke up early to walk the remaining four hours to Inle Lake. There were a few steep bit along a paved road but luckily it was all downhill.
At the end of the trail we had lunch then got in a long, thin, wooden boat to cross Inle Lake. It’s beautiful with delicate stilted villages and floating gardens resting on the glistening surface of the lake and its green shores.
WHAT TO TAKE
Your main bag will be driven to Inle Lake so all you need to take is a small backpack with these essentials.
- Insect repellent
- Flip flops: Useful for the evening in the village and your house (toilet will be in a building away from the house).
- Warm clothes: It gets cold at night