As Myanmar’s tourist landscape continues to grow, one already well-established activity is jungle trekking from the town of Kalaw to Inle Lake. Multiple tour operators offer 2- to 3-day trekking, biking, or combo packages that get you from the mountain town of Kalaw to the jetties of Inle Lake. While there are more strenuous and visually breathtaking hikes around the world, it is definitely one of the best values you’ll find anywhere on the planet.
We went through Ever Smile for the 3-day trekking-only option, which got us a guided trek, 7 meals, 2 nights’ accommodations, and a boat ride on an authentic Inle Lake longboat. Not to mention a killer international hiking crew from all parts of the globe. At a mere 40,000 kyat (just over $30 USD), this is a deal you cannot beat, whether you’re in Myanmar, Southeast Asia, or really anywhere else in the world.
The route itself provides a holistic look into Burmese life, landscape, and culture. Depending on the day, you could be trekking through lush jungles, or hiking on dirt roads and active railroad tracks. Alternatively, other days are almost solely on farmland, providing views into Burmese agriculture life, and a cornucopia of colorful pepper, rice, cabbage, and flower fields. Regardless of how long you take to get there, the final boat ride through Inle Lake provides both views of the surrounding mountains, and the local fishing boats that are a core part of the Inle-region economy.
If the views aren’t enough to excite you, the food that awaits you throughout the trip will take this trip from “great value” to “best bang-for-the-buck I’ve ever gotten while traveling!” status. Every meal is multi-course, starting with tea. Expect a main dish, with more accompanying sides, salads, and garnishes than you can count, and dessert when appropriate.
While the guides play an instrumental role in preparing this, the host families along the way play a vital role in the sustainability of these tours. From the meals to the lodging, their preparation ensures a more-than-comfortable trip for the trekker, while the extra revenue these families gain from hosting is another tangible sign of the positive economic impact tourism is having on Myanmar.
It’s hard to imagine that just a few years ago, tourism wasn’t a part of this country’s DNA, but as the political climate has improved and the borders have been opened, now is a rare opportunity to connect with this culture while tourism is still on the lighter side and the experience is very authentic. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a friendlier group of people than those in Myanmar; Connect with the locals where you can on this trek. Buy an authentic, hand-made Burmese headscarf and learn how to wear it like the Burmese people do. Be respectful of your accommodations and hosts, and they will do more than that in return to make sure you are comfortable.
For more information on trekking packages available from Kalaw to Inle Lake, check out Ever Smile’s official website. Naung Naung is another reputable operator, and if one company is not running the trek you want on a particular day, chances are, the other one is. Happy trails!