Kalaw – Inle Lake Independent Trekking Guide
Before I embarked on this adventure, I was stunned to discover that no one had written about how you can do this walk independently and without a guide. I like to do things myself, which is why I took the leap and learnt how to do it (or how not to do it!) and would share it with others wanting the guidance - which I would have loved to have before I began.
Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake is pursued by many backpackers nowadays, however, it is not commonly done without a guide. We decided to trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake independently, without a guide in just two days. The trek is hard going, as you will be carrying all your things with you. If you are like me, you may even be carrying 15 months worth of backpacking kit the whole way! This walk isn't easy, but it is worth it! You will walk through small local villages, witnessing the daily lives of the locals; you will see the abundance of fresh chillies being grown and dried, alongside many other crops; you will see breath-taking views; and you are going to have some pretty sore limbs.
Know before you go
Before beginning this trek, you should consider the time of year. If you are planning to trek in the rainy season, or the non-peak season (November - April), you may as well quit whilst you are ahead! We were informed that staying at the guesthouse without a guide is illegal, however because it was peak season, the police weren't there to keep tabs and were in Kalaw instead. Had it been the non-peak season, it would of been impossible to have found somewhere to stay, and sleeping outside would not have been pleasant because of how cold it gets!
Which brings me to my next point. Trekking in the day is incredibly hot! and night time it is incredibly cold! So be prepared for both types of temperature before you go. The guesthouse will be in a jungle-type shack, but fortunately the blankets are nice and warm and you won't get cold whilst sleeping.
What to expect on the trek
Scenery - The scenery along the way is beatiful, and differs from day to day. The first part was my favourite bit (Kalaw - Lamine). You walk along the high tracks, along the red muddy road, gazing out at beautiful scenery. It is far away from any noise, making the walk incredibly pleasent and peaceful. The next section (Lamine - Part-Tu) will pass through small local farming villages, chilli fields, rice paddies, many Banyon trees and also monestries and stupas. This is a wonderfull part of the trek and really gives you an insight in the daily lives of the locals in the countryside. The third section (Part-Tu - Inle Lake) consists of a high road with beautiful views, and then a steep climb downhill over rocks and through the trees down to Inle Lake.
Food - When you eventually find somewhere which serves food, it is really delicious, filling and cheap. However, there aren't many places that serve food! The only place we found serving food along the way was at Khon Hla and the guesthouse in Part -Tu. Maybe we missed the places you could eat? You can buy snacks at Lamine, but don't expect a meal here! Most meals consist of rice or noodles with a fried egg. Alongside it you will typicaly get some vegetables, fruit and some soup. Also stock up on plenty of green tea set on the tables in front of you! The meals are very cheap - around 1000KS.... And the dinner and breakfast will also be included in the price at the guesthouse in which you stay.
Accommodation - The accommodation will be very simple and basic. But you are after all trekking through the countryside! I loved the simplicity of what you get. Usually you will be in a family guesthouse or a jungle shack. The showers are traditionally bucket showers, where you pour cold water over your head! Blankets are provided, as is dinner and breakfast. It costs around 10,000KS per person.
Difficulty - There are few climbs up and down, but nothing very mountainous or very difficult. What made the trek difficult is the fact that when you do it independtly you are going to have everything with you! I was carrying about 15kg of weight on my back and front and it make it hard, especially in the heat!
Terrain - At times, the terrain can be very muddy, so expect some dirty trainers by the end of it! The ground is uneven from cows walking along the same track when the earth was wetter. It is a dirt or dust track nearly the whole way, On the final day, you will walk down a steep hill, down slippy rocks and also along a road for a mile or so.
What to bring/ what you need
You are going to want a sturdy pair of shoes, although if you like you could walk it in flip-flops! I did, when I felt my feet getting too hot. You are also going to want something light to walk in in the day and a warm jacket and long trousers for the cold evenings.
I would recommend bring with you some snacks, as there aren't many eating places or shops along the way. Also make sure you bring suncream, a great camera to take some awesome photos and some plasters in case you get any blisters. If you are reading this guide, you are probably an experienced backpacker and know the usual of what you like to take with you. Bring a charger pack with you also, as there won't be a place to charge your electronics. (Although Nay Lynn at Part-Tu, will happily charge them in his home for you)
As for a map, I would say this route isn't impossible to do without a map, but there is a high risk of getting lost and the Burmese seem to nod at anything you ask them. Often when you ask for directions, they may point you in the wrong direction (I know from experience), although most of the time they are very helpful. I would recommend a good GPS on your phone. I used maps.me, which is a free app and although sometimes doesn't quite have a clue where you are, it works pretty well and will get you where you need to be. There will also be other trekkers following their guides. If you want, you can tag along with a group or follow behind.
The route, distance and days
The trek can be done in either two or three days. If you only have a couple of days to spare, you can get a motorbike taxi from Kalaw for 4000Ks to take you to Lamine (pronounced La-man). But they will only take you after 8am. If you are as nuts as me, which I hope you aren't, unless you want incredibly painful limbs, you can start hiking at 4amish and complete the three day trek in two days. From experience... I would personally not recommend Doing this.
Most people begin the trek from Kalaw or Lamine and finish at Inle Lake. This is because it is the easiest route and there is more downhill than uphill. It is possible to start from Inle Lake, but be prepared for more incline!
DAY 1 - From Kalaw, you can trek to Lamine. This is around 9 miles and takes approximately 5-6 hours, depending on your levels of fitness.
DAY 2 - From Lamine the route will take you through Khon Hla (The lunch stop) and to Part- Tu. This is about 9 miles will take you about 6-7 hours, including a lunch stop. Again, this is an average and it will depend on your level of fitness. Along this route, if you are using maps.me... It will try and take you on a path that doesn't exist. This is near the tramline marked on the map. You will need to walk along the tramline and then take the first pathway on the left. You can also follow other trekkers here as well.
DAY 3 - The final day will finish at Inle Lake (Tone-e ferry port), where you will reach at lunchtime. It is about 9 miles again, and on average takes 5-6 hours. Once at Tone-e, head to the restaurant where all the other trekkers will be sat eating, and try and boat share with another group to take you to Nyaung-U (The cheaper part of Inle Lake). If you can share a ride, it will cost you 2000KS, otherwise you need to pay 16,000KS for the whole boat. To find the restaurant, head down the long straight road, look for a sign saying 'boat hire', turn right and the restaurant is on the left.
Where to stay
Along the way there are limited guesthouses, and in the non-peak season, you will not be allowed to stay at the guesthouse without a guide due to the presence of police (so we have been told by guides along the way). The accommodation is simple, but a really amazing experience. You will stay in a jungle shack (Part-Tu) or a little family guesthouse. There will be little electricity and a bucket shower. The cost is 10,000 KS per person and includes dinner and breakfast.
You can stay at Lamine village however because we did the three day trek in two days, we didn't stay here and I unfortunately can't tell you much about it! In Part-Tu, the guy who owns the guesthouse is called Nay Lynn, he is incredibly friendly, welcoming and speaks really good English! He will be very interested in talking with you if you are trekking without a guide. Him and his family are all very lovely and he will make sure you are comfortable. The food his wife cooks is plentiful and amazing!