Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake
This was one of the recommended short hikes to take on every other guide book and it was indeed something special! I was lucky to have met two fellas, Mike & Alex after I got off the bus at 3am in the dead town with no plans whatsoever. They had made a booking with some travel friends for this hike with ‘Sam’s Trekking Guide’ and I tagged along the next morning, keeping my fingers crossed there was a slot for me somewhere. And to thank my lucky stars there was !
Right before the trek my trusty haversack’s strap broke, so I ran 3 blocks to purchase a $6 backpack — which didn’t even last me the entire 2D1N trek. It basically fell apart the moment I hopped on the minibus to the start point. Talk about #fail
The 2D1N trek wasn’t very tough, I’d say it gets slippery but my nike trainers weren’t exactly trekking material so let’s just say I wasn’t prepared for this since i jumped right into the idea of it upon reaching Kalaw. It was a very gradual ascent and descent, about 36km in total and a beautiful route through corn fields, plantations, rural lands, humble villages and pastures. Because it was an easy walk, the group took the time to mingle and talk. I didn’t know it at the time but this bunch of amazing fellas eventually became my travel buddies for the following week!
Our guide, San May was a cute bubbly 22 year old Burmese girl that had a lot to share about the culture and the country. She’s slightly less ladylike as compared to a regular Burmese girl and I found her ambition and energy so charismatic! She took such good care of us and made silly little comments – really, we couldn’t have asked for a better guide.
The pastures, they were rather unreal; it almost looked like a setting from the Teletubbies. Creepy children’s TV show, but that was the first thing that I was reminded of, and I looked up at the sun in hopes of seeing a baby’s face smiling at me but to no avail.
After trekking a couple of hours, we arrive at lunch town. It’s a small village (not really called lunch town) and there wasn’t so much going on but being invited into a local bamboo home was such a nice and cosy feeling. The owner of the house cooked up some delicious fried noodles, soup and tomato salad in his minimal kitchen.
Quick siesta while everybody plunged into a deep slumber with a full belly. Waking up from my nap, Rami is outside the house giving toys to the village children. This big-hearted man (who reminded me of Nigel Thornberry) brought many gifts for the children he was going to meet! Such love.
And the hike continues!
The day went by real quick and it was almost sunset by the time we got to dinner town (another village, not really named dinner town). We met the family of the home that we were going to stay in and sat around the cozy living room. The walls were made from weaved bamboo and roof was made from straws. They prepared mattresses and blankets laid out on the floor for us and it all looked so cosy, like a slumber party in the countryside!
It was a really nice village with very friendly locals who had the most adorable children. Now, the difference between the kids here versus the kids in Indian villages is that nobody is bugging you for money or “school pen”. Let’s hope the continuous tourism doesn’t spoil that in the near future! I rarely go on tours but this one was truly as authentic as it got, and also, if we didn’t have a guide we’d be lost in the middle of vast lands since there’s no proper maps anywhere!
Dinner was a spread! With pumpkin, kailan, beans, chicken, potatoes rice and soup. It’s so nice to taste freshly cooked food that’s prepared from vegetables that the locals have grown in their own land and made with love.After dinner we gear up with headlamps and walked out in the dark to buy some beer. At the shop we see some other groups of trekkers having their dinner in a brightly litted setting, and that’s when I realised that our candlelit dinner in a bamboo hut was a cosier and more authentic experience!
San Mya brought us some rice wine, and it tasted pretty much like bad sake but some people really enjoyed the taste it. After dinner she took us to visit some other local family where we were offered more food after being completely stuffed at dinner. In Burmese culture, during full moon days, locals would all return home to their hometowns and pay respects to their elderly. I think we were there at a special festival period (what luck!). So in this local family’s home, we watched the grandmother of the family serve up some “hamper basket” filled with fruits and snacks, thereafter she put her hands to her chest and recited a chant, while the younger members of the family did the same with their palms placed together and prayed in silence. Almost like our Chinese New Year tradition, they bring gifts and sit around eating snacks, smoking, drinking and relaxing. There were many snacks served to everybody and as guests we were offered with a never-ending variety of snacks, and even local cigarettes. They served us some fried tempura (stuffed with vegetables or white pumpkin), mixed nuts stirred with peanut oils and salt, tea leaf salad (le phet thoke) and peanut candy. Everybody was STUFFED by the time we had to go to bed!
That night we slept on thick carpet like blankets laid out on woven bamboo flooring and I was so exhausted that I slept like a baby (or was it the rice wine?) . I awoke the next morning suffocating from the smoke coming from the kitchen. Our cook was preparing breakfast and due to the lack of ventilation, the whole house was covered in thick gray smoke!
Breakfast was pancakes with banana papaya and honey. San Mya also did the honours of showing us how traditional Thanaka is made and applied it on our faces. Thanaka is that yellow thing you see on many burmese faces and it’s basically made from ground bark and used for cosmetic purposes, like sunblock/something to keep our skin baby smooth ! And indeed… not only was my face as smooth as a baby’s arse, it also kept me from feeling all sticky from the humidity!
I felt really exhausted on the second day of the hike. We covered 18km the first day and would cover the same distance on the second day. Viewpoints of Inle Lake could be seen in between us and the green terrain. By now there were multiple safety pins holding together the backpack that has ripped completely from the top. Sabina says she can practically look into my bag through all the holes !
It wasn’t long before we reached the “border” of Inle Lake, and here we say goodbye to our little charismatic guide with a husky voice and took a boat towards the town at the other end of the river otherwise known as Nyaungshwe. The boat ride had a real cinematic feel. They gave us these little wooden chairs each laid out nicely and we manoeuvred through narrow marshes and river bends, watching as the big bright sun set and waved to excited locals who lit up when they passed us.
The boat ride was indeed a long one. I underestimated this lake thinking it was “just a lake”, but the massiveness of it is beyond what anyone will imagine when they see the words “Inle Lake”. As the boat engine continued to roar loudly, we passed by bamboo stick fences and houses built on stilts. Swooshing by other boats, I couldn’t help but feel completely liberated as I felt the warmth of the sun warm up my unevenly tanned skin while the wind blew my hair into a semi-permanent state of shock. By the time the sun rose again, I’d be exploring the magnificence of Inle Lake with my newly found friends.