Trekking in Myanmar: Kalaw to Inle Lake (without a guide)

Inle Lake is one of the places that are highly recommended to be visited in Myanmar. And what better way to reach this beautiful lake if not by getting there on one’s own feet?
There is a nice and easy trekking route to Inle Lake starting from Kalaw, the latter being around 2 hours away by bus from Mandalay.

The reward of the trek is among other things what can be seen on the route and the experience of meeting and staying overnight with the locals. There are some nice views and vegetation to be seen. Personally I have enjoyed the contrast between the wild vegetation and the well organised rice fields and scenes of antiquated rural life.
We did this trek in April 2016. Yes, that’s correct: the hottest month of the year in Burma, with temperatures soaring over 40 degrees Celsius.
The route from Kalaw to Inle lake is relatively easy to trek, most of it is laid on dust roads, the elevation is easy with single climbs never higher than 500 meters and a maximum altitude point of 1500 meters. The overall distance to trek is of around 58 km and most people break it down in 3 days (2 nights stop overs).

The route was not so busy, but again that could be due to the extreme heat of April and not many insane people like us going on such a challenge. The few people we met seemed to all have undertaken the trek together with a guide. Also by doing research before starting, we seem to have found only blogs of people sharing their experiences of trekking with a guide.

A guide for the three days trek is relativey inexpensive (around $50) and gives the advantage of not having to worry about losing the right track, dealing with locals for food and accomodation, and all costs are inclusive. It sounds good, but it was a bit too snug and unexciting for our taste. That’s why we took on the idea of doing it on our own, trekking without a guide.

Some of the rural life along the way from Kalaw to Inle Lake
Some of the rural life along the way from Kalaw to Inle Lake

While trekking in Europe and other National parks around the world is generally safe thanks to well marked paths, this trek in Myanmar is not marked at all. So a good sense of direction and some navigation skills are a must… or make sure you have a good GPS and you know how to use it.

We have used the recorded GPS route which is kindly provided by Gonzalo Moles on Wikiloc (an opensource trail sharing platform). The route which can be found here http://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=1361929 can be used with the Wikiloc app (Android and iPhone) or it can be dowloaded as a GPX file and loaded into any app that reads such a format. I’ve used GPX Viewer for Android, this is quite basic and does not provide a good Offline support.

While the route shared by Gonzalo is mainly on white dust roads, there are certain points that it goes off-track taking advantage of shortcuts. This is where a good GPS device can be very useful as there are points where there are meanders of paths, and if like us you get on the wrong one, then it’s a real adventure to get out from thick woodland.

Around every 5 km there are small shops or villages, so generally it’s not a problem to find where to buy bottled water and some basic food.

Unfortunately I did not manage to catch the names of the two villages where we stayed over night. However the options seem limited to what can be found on the route. The first village where locals were able to host us was about 12km from Kalaw. We stayed in a bamboo hut, paid 6000 Burmese Kyats ($5) per person and that included a nice shower (pouring water from buckets filled from a well), a hearty dinner and a rich breakfast. I was surprised by the fact that there was no real big issue with mosquitos. A sleeping bag is highly advisable. As there is no electricity in most of the villages, if you are using up battery for the GPS, a Powerbank can be very useful.

Sun is setting on the the Buddhist monastery. That is the temple were the monks host their guests
Sun is setting on the the Buddhist monastery. That is the temple were the monks host their guests

The second day, the trekked around 28 km in some beautiful landscapes and we stayed overnight at a Buddhist monastery. This is at around 40 kilometers from Kalaw. It tooks us some time to find the senior monks to whom we have kindly asked ospitality. They opened the door of their temple and placed a few blankets as means of mattress on their wooden floors. Their ospitality was warm and genuine, with plenty of food and an amazing breakfast after getting waked up by the rhythmic sound of little monks feet on the wooden floor running out the temple.

The third day, after mainly trekking downhill we arrived at the village of Indein, around 5 km southwest from Inle Lake. From here we took a small boat by the water channel in Indein to Nyaungshwe ($17 for hiring the entire boat). The boat trip is fascinating, going by small channels, small dams, then into the lake passing little bamboo huts elevated over the water, the reeds and floating plants.

The boat ride from Indein on Inle Lake
Inle Lake: reeds, floating plants, bamboo huts
  • Thank you for this post. I have been searching high and low and can not believe that more people have not opted to do this walk without a guide. I totally understand that it’s cheap enough but I hate hiking in a group and want to explore a bit, even if on a well beaten path. My main concern was water, even though I have a filter, a spring is needed. Anyway, I appreciate your sense of adventure and for sharing it with others. I will head out later this week and excited to see where the trail takes me. Cheers

    • Glad to hear that you found it useful. Don’t worry too much about the water. There are villages every 5-10km where you will be able to find little stands selling bottled water. Worst case you can always ask some locals for some water and then use iodine pills.
      Good luck

  • Thanks for the great content. We’re planning to do the very same thing mid April 2017 and will definitely print this out to have it as a guide, thanks a lot!

  • love your blog have been searching for info for ages we are planning this trip on our mountain bikes can you see any problem? bw and thankyou steve

    • I see no problems whatsoever in doing this with mountain bikes, the path most of the times will follow white dusty roads which are seldomly used by cars, jeeps and motos. From time to time your guide (or if you follow the GPS directions) you might get to follow a small shortcut, but these should be fine with the bikes, and if not, then you can just keep going on the main road.

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *