Inle Lake is one of the 4 main tourist cities of Myanmar: Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, and Inle Lake.
Many travelers (mostly the vacation type) will travel to those cities and call it a trip. If I could add one thing to that itinerary I would add the trek to Inle Lake from Kalaw. The hike is incredible on multiple levels and only adds 2-3 days to your itinerary, but give you a glimpse at a side of Myanmar that the traditional vacationists will not do.
How to get to Kalaw? Buses and taxis go there. Buses are normally 12-20 dollars depending on the quality and salesperson. They are not as nice as the high class overnight buses, however. I typically take the most budget option and I found myself careening through a monsoon rain storm in a leaky van with 12 other people. When we arrived at 2 AM met Robin, our Sikh friend and trek organizer (to be continued…).
What is in Kalaw? Kalaw is a Burmese hill station. Similar to the hill stations of India, Kalaw has colonialist histories. The British often created these hill stations as logistical center points of the resource extraction economy. This history can most easily be recognized by the prevalence of churches.
Kalaw has an incredible and expansive market, which is a result of it high level of product and consolidation. The city is crawling with trucks and absurdly loud old-school british-style diesal-chugging tractors.
How to organize? I highly recommend Golden Lily Tours. As mentioned above, Robin runs a tour company as well as a hostel/guesthouse. The tours are much better than the home-stay, which has some sanitation struggles, although had a great vibe; signs of a noble history. Robin, who is around 60 years old, still guides the 3 day hikes, which are not for the faint of heart. Our guide, Simon was beyond exceptional in is guidance, sense of humor, patience, motivation, and knowledge.
What is the hike like? The three trek travels through jungles, rice fields, villages, through rivers, over the highlands, along the railroad tracks, through corn fields, and forests. We ate lunch in villages, with construction workers in a monastery, on a busy highway roadside stall, and in a village host’s basement. The food was always too much and delicious. The home-stays are typical of Myanmar, blankets and mats, which are not luxury, but very welcomed.
The 3 days are not easy. The hike at times can be strenuous and typically is about 20 KM per day, but mostly everyone will be alright (probably a 5/10 difficulty). The included 2 ride on the long tail boat through Inle Lake is awesome at the end, although naps occur.
Best part? Riding the boat back with newfound friends and celebrating with some new friends