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 an excellent 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 that can be seen on the route and the experience of meeting and staying overnight with the locals. There are some cracking views and interesting vegetation to be seen. Personally, I have enjoyed the contrast between the wild vegetation and the well-organised rice fields and scenes of old 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 stopovers).

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 relatively inexpensive (around $50) and gives the advantage of not having to worry about losing the right track, dealing with locals for food and accommodation, and all costs are included. 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.

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 way which can be found here can be used with the Wikiloc app (Android and iPhone), or it can be downloaded 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 excellent 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 handy 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 overnight. 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 plentiful 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.

The second day, the trekked around 28 km in some beautiful landscapes, and we stayed overnight at a Buddhist monastery. This is at about 40 kilometres from Kalaw. It took us some time to find the senior monks to whom we have kindly asked hospitality. They opened the door of their temple and placed a few blankets as means of a mattress on their wooden floors. Their reception was warm and genuine, with plenty of food and a fantastic 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 canals, small dams, then into the lake passing little bamboo huts elevated over the water, the reeds and floating plants.

7 thoughts on “Trekking in Myanmar: Kalaw to Inle Lake (without a guide)

  • 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.

  • Does anyone speak a little English along the route? I’ll not be able to bring a sleeping bag, I will only have a mosquito net, do you think that’s ok? Thanks

    • No English… I managed to understand and get along well just with hand gestures and some other way or another. Not sure about the sleeping bag, it probably depends on the season. But I definitely needed it during summer as it was pretty cool up the mountains.

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