Kalaw, Myanmar

The small mountain village of Kalaw is a jumping off point for the various hikes either to Inle Lake or simply around the beautiful surrounding countryside. Originally established as a hill-station for the English, during their colonization of the country you will find the climate to be a refreshing escape from the blazing humid heat of the lower-lying plains should you visit during the dry season.

Although relatively small as a village, the surrounding hillsides and quaint feeling of the town lend a pleasant laid-back vibe.

Easily accessible by bus from either Bagan, Yangon or Inle Lake, most visitors come here for the trekking. If you have an evening free during your visit here be sure to take the “stairway to heaven” located on the north of town up to Tein Taung or “cloud hill”. The sunset here is a stunning introduction to the enchanted countryside you will be seeing throughout your trek.

Upon our arrival in town we had been told some disconcerting reports concerning the quality of various treks. We were informed about different tours involving long stretches on roads, overcrowding (fifty to sixty people) at the monasteries for sleep as well as majorly over-touristed stops along the way.

Fortunately, we found a tour (and tour guide) that was none of these things. Golden Lily (both a guesthouse and a tour operating center) provided a truly unique and enthralling experience. They seemed to anticipate some of worries about the hike before we had even voiced them so it seems likely that there have been some complaints previously and that, at least, a few of the companies in this area are trying to remedy this reputation.

The guesthouse itself costs upwards of $7 a night for a “cozy” (read: extremely intimate) bed with walls surrounding it. There are also $17 rooms on the upper levels with verandas overlooking the town market and quite a bit more room than the lower offerings.

In terms of the tour itself we’ve outlined below the day-by-day itinerary for the Kalaw to Inle Lake Trek:

Day 1: Today takes you up into the mountains out of Kalaw, you’ll pass through verdant forests and beautiful arrayed colors of the farms and gardens through which you pass. You’ll have lunch in  monastery and you’ll rest that night in a Po-a village.

Day 2: This day, having climbed the mountains on the previous day, you’ll pass along ridges and and through high hill forests mostly, once more, through local remote villages. You’ll stay again tonight in another monastery.

Day 3: This day finds you working your way down once more out of the hills and onto the southern tip of Inle Lake. From here you’ll take a local longtail boat across the lake and into Nyangshwe, the primary backpacker/tourist hub of the area.

Both the tour itself and our guide (named Moon Sun) were an incredible find. This is one of the more highly recommended parts of Myanmar for all aspects from the scenery to the food (all cooked by hand each night by Moon Sun) to the peek into a remote world, as of yet unseen by many tourists.