Mingalaba! Solo Hiking in Myanmar is not possible everywhere, but the popular stretch between Kalaw and Inle Lake is one of the few possible places to do it, and it was for sure the place that I liked the most during my time backpacking in Myanmar!
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The route to go hiking Kalaw to Inle Lake is well exploited by organised tours, luckily the crowds are not huge just yet.
The good news if you’re not confident in hiking solo is that these tours are actually pretty cheap, going for around US $20 for the overnight hike and about US $25 the 2-night hike, this includes accommodation, meals and transport of your rucksack. Pretty cheap indeed. No excuse not to go hiking Kalaw to Inle Lake! 🙂
MY HIKING ESSENTIALS
But this post is about hiking solo in Myanmar! as it’s not about saving money but having an adventure and also avoid the tedious slow walks you experience with an organised tour.
Hiking solo between Kalaw and Inle lake is not only espectacular but also super safe.
I did my hike in 2 days, it’s almost 50 Km long, you could certainly extend it another day if you don’t push too hard.
Overall the hike is relatively flat, with just a few climbs that are not strenuous. Let’s go into detail on my itinerary.
Arriving to Kalaw
I arrived to Kalaw on a night bus from Hsipaw, where I was also hiking.
The bus arrives at the non-friendly time of 5am… I didn’t have anything booked and just off the bus a local taxi driver told me to walk 2 minutes to Golden Lily Guesthouse as he told me that was going to be the cheapest place.
I took his advise and went there, it was actually cheap and the best thing was that they had plenty of very decent rooms free so I could go straight to bed, mainly to warm up as it was freezing cold.
Tip: make sure to have proper layers when going to Kalaw, I was shivering when I got to the hostel as I had all warm layers somewhere in my rucksack.
After sleeping a bit more and having breakfast I started walking around town.
I didn’t find much charm in the town of Kalaw to be honest, they do have a few temples as any town in Myanmar but not much more, so instead I decided to “scout” the start of the route for the following day.
I walked towards the 60 Buddha Temple* which was a bit out of town and I saw it as the “starting point” of the hike
*I’ll be using the names of places and villages that can be found on maps.me if you use a different app or even paper maps, the names may differ as I experienced that.
As a reference, I used maps.me and searched a walking route to In Dein which is a village next to Inle Lake, from this village you take a boat towards Nyaung Shwe which is the touristy area. More on this below, so keep reading 🙂
Once I got to the temple and enjoyed the views I went back to town looking to start preparing for the next day provisions as I was planning to camp somewhere in the route.
You will notice that Kalaw is full of trekking agencies, all selling their (cheap) tours. And the hostels also make money out of selling these.
So, be prepared for a bit of scaremongering from the locals if you communicate your plans of hiking solo.
They will tell you that it will be super expensive compared to the tours etc…
Do not believe a thing. They only want to sell their trekking services. I ended up paying less than the tours. Keep reading for more on why I mention this!
Starting my solo hike Kalaw to Inle Lake
Hiking Kalaw to Inle Lake Day 1: Kalaw – Part Tu
I’m normally an early riser, and even more when it comes to a hiking day! I had to wait a bit for breakfast to be served at my hostel but by 7:30am I was already on the road.
Tip: get a head-start over all the tours by leaving early, that way you can have the paths for yourself. I only started seeing groups in the afternoon as I stopped for lunch and stayed quite a while reading and chilling while the worst of the noon sun was on.
It was a cold morning (8 degrees Celsius) and I started by re-tracing my steps of the previous day towards the 60 Buddha temple.
From that point check the road that maps.me indicates and very soon you will start seeing route marks.
Happily someone bothered to mark the route with pink dots and that makes everything a lot easier, and you also save your most-valued phone battery as you don’t need to constantly check your GPS.
However, I found the route of the pink dots normally sticking to main roads while you constantly find alternative smaller paths.
I was always taking the small paths (more fun!) and eventually I’d find the pink dots again somewhere later. So, don’t be afraid to improvise a bit your route with the help of maps.me
The initial part of the hike is already with gorgeous views, the downside is that you go on a transited dirt road which has the occasional car passing by and leaving a cloud of dust.
After just over 2 hours you will arrive to Lemind (on other maps called Le Mine, La Mine, etc. Again, I’m using the maps.me names) and at a crossroad with a paved way you will find a good spot for the first break of the morning.
I had some tea there (which is free) so make sure to at least buy something to the lovely old lady working there. She does not speak any English but she was very sweet.
I also met a friendly local there that invited me to try the ever-present Betel Nut which is a staple-addiction in Myanmar.
There are no signs anywhere on where to go. In the absence of pink dots, when following the small paths I found helpful to just guide myself with the temples that normally arise in the horizon.
Maps.me comes handy on this as well as you only need to walk knowing that you will “find a temple on your right and after a cross road another temple on the left” (or something similar)
After about an hour from Lemind you arrive to Poe Kee Village, here you will have some really cool insights into the living of the locals, everyone was super friendly and pointed me in the right direction after I took the wrong path as it’s a bit of a small labyrinth if you’re not stuck to your GPS as it was my case.
You will constantly have changing landscapes, from some arid lands to plantations. In all cases, I found them stunning!
After about 5 and a half hours (25Km + stops) I arrived to Yekaung To which I knew was a possible lunch stop.
The places that serve food normally cater for the groups so they don’t have a menu, and in a couple of places they wanted to rip me off, so I kept asking.
At the third place I arrived, there was a large group of French people from a tour having lunch, I asked the owner of the place for lunch and they accommodated me with a great and abundant meal for just 2000 MMK (about US $1.3).
I stayed there for a good while to wait for the worst of the sun heat to pass.
I still had about 5-8 Km more for the day as I knew that the tours normally spent the night either at Part Tu or Teetain, so I was planning to find a camping spot somewhere in between.
When I arrived to Part Tu I stopped at the first “shop” I found to top-up my water bottles.
While resting a bit, a guy called Nay (maps.me shows his hostel under Nay Lynn) offered me to spend the night with a friend of his as his hostel was full.
By this point I had 31 Km on my legs and the offer of dinner-bed-breakfast plus a bucket shower for only US $6 was too tempting to refuse, originally at my hostel in Kalaw the woman there told me they were going to charge me US$20 for accommodation only(!!).
The place I stayed was not a hostel, but just a family home so it was pretty cool to spent the night with them even that they didn’t speak any English.
Sign language always wins in these situations!
The bottom line is, don’t worry if you’re not planning to camp, you don’t need to book anything in advance, I got the room offered without even looking for it.
Both, dinner and breakfast were tasty and generous, everything you need after and before a good hike!
Time on day 1 hiking Kalaw to Inle Lake: 8 hours, including stops.
MY CAMPING ESSENTIALS
Day 2. Part Tu – In Dein
On the following morning I was also hiking by 7:30am.
I found this time was perfect on the previous day to avoid all the tours. Plus, you also start on cold temperatures to avoid the heat that will come later.
After getting some indications by the friendly owner of the house I started walking towards In Dein.
Some of the nicest landscapes on the trek were in the first hour after leaving Part Tu.
What a fantastic way to fully wake up!
I left the town of Teetain to my left with some cool rocky patches of terrain and then had to climb a little bit to get to the road that takes you to the toll both (marked on maps.me). Here you pay a 15000 MMK fee to access the Lake area.
Contrary to my days backpacking in Bagan where I got the ticket requested several times, I didn’t have anyone asking for this ticket on my days at Inle Lake, so, if you find a path to avoid the toll I’ll say to go for it! but I didn’t find it.
You will have some pretty cool views up there!
From this point the walk got a bit boring as it’s through a wide dirt road until you reach the village of Nan Yoke.
This is a good stopover spot for a morning tea and snack. Shortly afterwards you will be hiking on a small path again!
The walk from here will pretty much be going through cultivated lands and no villages around until you finally arrive to In Dein so make sure to have plenty of water with you and another snack.
The second day was much shorter than the previous one, with 18Km in total.
I arrived to In Dein at around 12:00 and headed towards the boat’s area.
Here I got one guy trying to rip me off again with the boat fee but at the end I found another guy that offered me the trip for just 5000 MMK (US $3.3) and included a stop at the Jumping Cat Monastery as I was joining a boat with a couple that were doing a tour around the lake.
Hiking time on day 2: 4 1/2 hours, including stops.
Around Nyaung Shwe
Once I arrived to Nyaung Shwe I valued even more the solo walk around these lands as this town is quite touristy (possibly the most touristy area in Myanmar together with Bagan), but that means that you will also find plenty of accommodation and places to eat.
Nyaung Shwe has nothing special itself, although I liked the market which is quite big and chaotic as most markets in SE Asia.
There are plenty of tours to do around the lake and surroundings, you will have lots of info for this in any hostel.
For me, this solo hike was the best thing to do in Myanmar as I really got in touch with the country, absorbed its landscapes, colours, food and its friendly people.
At all times I felt super safe and there’s nothing to worry on this part of the country regarding their internal conflicts.
If you’re deciding of hiking solo or joining an organised tour feel free to contact me and I’ll happily expand more on my experience about solo hiking Kalaw to Inle Lake!
Check out the rest of my backpacking adventures in Myanmar for more ideas on your next trip!