Kalaw to Inle Lake Trek: Blisters, Leeches and Laughter

The bus ride from Bagan to Kalaw was motivation enough to walk to my next destination (8 hours in a minibus that I wish to forget). I came to Kalaw only because it is the start point for the treks to Inle lake, otherwise, it is a fairly non-descriptive town. The trek featured pretty high on my Myanmar bucket list and wanting to maximise on the experience I opted for the 3 days, 2 nights option over the shorter 2days, 1 night. The rain that poured down as we arrived into Kalaw made me question my choices, but some things are simply uncontrollable, so I would just have to hope for the best – after all you are more likely to regret a missed opportunity than one ventured and failed, right?

I chose to do the trek with a company called Eversmile, which my friend had used recently and recommended, and it seemed most of the people from the hostel in Bagan had made the same choice so there were plenty of familiar faces as we waited to start at 8am the next morning. There were a lot of trekkers that day so the guides split us into smaller teams and somehow we ended up with 12 girls in our group, whom our guide Phyo, referred to as his ‘princesses’ for the next three days.

Things started positively on day one as we headed up the mountain in the dry, sunny weather past some incredible mountain vistas. Arriving at lunch early we felt positive about what was to come and tucked into delicious chapati’s and vegetable curry. We had been given the choice to walk either on the mountain road or through the jungle that morning and all opted to stick to the road to avoid the mud as far as we could. We later found out that the jungle also had a lot of green leeches that get inside your clothes by jumping from the trees and were thankful for our collective decision.

The afternoon brought rain which I think we all new was inevitable at some stage, and we walked in colourful ponchos with wet shoes feeling a little more somber but determined nonetheless. When we reached the railway, Phyo told us we would walk along the tracks for one hour, but to be careful as there were a lot of leeches (we hadn’t escaped them entirely), so we all moved so fast that we made it in just over 30 minutes with four leeches joining the team en-route (I’m still thankful that they missed me this time). Shoes checked and tea drank we moved on to our homestay for the night, a beautiful family home with amazing views, buffalo and pigs in the yard and a cute little boy strapped to his grandma’s back! My main motivation for joining the trek was to see the villages and this was exactly the type of experience I had hoped for.

Day two was set to be the most challenging, we left at 7:30am and walked for almost six hours before lunch and another three after. It was exhausting but the weather was kind to us and we passed through so many interesting villages seeing chilli’s drying, bamboo basket weaving, traditional bag weaving and more. The locals were friendly, smiling and returning our greetings of ‘Mingalabar’ as we passed. Each time we stopped for a rest Phyo got us tea and snacks to keep us moving and our meals in between were always delicious. At one stopping point I looked down to see a sneaky leech climbing through one of my shoe lace holes but fortunately got to it before it got to me – there are plenty of things to be aware of in the countryside, you always have to be on guard! After a long day we reached our second homestay, very similar to the first and just about 30 minutes before the rain set in. The conditions were basic with bucket showers, squat toilets and mats on the floor for sleeping, but we had all we needed and were enjoying it greatly!

Day two however had been hard on my feet as blisters started by the rain on day one had opened up and I was concerned about how I would manage the last day with raw heels. As we set out on the final day bright and early I found myself struggling, my shoes rubbing and my patience wearing thin. I stopped to try to bandage them up better and realised that the covers I had put had already rubbed away. Unsure that I could do another five hours I looked to Phyo for advice and he suggested I try to finish in my flip flops…so all that training on previous unplanned expeditions in flip flops finally came to use. I was so incredibly grateful to the other trekkers who helped to clean and cover my sores, and deliriously happy to find I felt no pain at all with the flip flops. So I was able to get to the end of the trek without further problems, leeches or injuries and much more comfortable!

Our three days took us through amazing places, mountains, villages, past buffalo ploughing fields, farmworkers growing rice and chillis, cows, pigs, chickens, interesting bugs, so much life and intrigue that I would never have seen if I had not been prepared to walk. I am so grateful to have had such a fantastic insight into rural Myanmar. The adventure ended with a boat trip across Inle Lake to the small town where I would spend the next couple of days. If you’re going to Myanmar, I highly recommend a trek as part of your trip – such an awesome way to see the country!



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