Wording By Brian McLaughlin
Inle Lake is one of the best places to trek in Myanmar because it provides you with unbroken mountain views, a crystal-clear margarita-cool lake to dip in, and local people who won’t ask if they can friend you on Facebook! You’ll enter a world that progress has left behind, and find the part of Southeast Asia that existed only in your imagination.
Getting off the beaten track around Inle Lake, you’ll have the opportunity to experience authentic village life, leave the usual tourists traps behind, and enter the hearts and homes of the local people. While the towns and villages are fast filling up with tourists, few venture beyond the edge of town into the nearby villages whose ways have remained unchanged for a century or more.
Places to stay
The village of Nyaungshwe is the gateway to Inle Lake. It has every amenity a tourist needs— a selection of hotels to fit every budget, restaurants that serve comfort foods, even internet cafes. It’s also easy to escape if you find all this too comforting!
Trekking around Inle Lake and beyond…
The lake itself is like looking in a mirror. Its glassy water reflects everything around and on it. The horizon is dominated by mountains, pagodas, bamboo houses on stilts, and the rising and setting sun. It’s a great place to relax and explore, but you’re not the first tourist to visit there. If you want to experience authentic traditional culture, you’re going to need to walk a little farther uphill.
Trekking around Inle Lake, Myanmar
By a little further uphill I mean about 6-7 hours. But don’t worry, the slope is gentle. The only things that stand in your way are panoramic views and open doors offering you cups of fresh green tea. Along the trail, you’ll pass several small villages that belonging to the Pa-o, Shan, and Intha peoples, just 3 of the 135 ethnic groups recognized in Myanmar. When you’re looking down 1500 meters at the lake below, you’ll be glad you took the walk.
The hiking trails meander slowly over one ridge to the next. The main enemy is heat, so bring plenty of water. Overnight trekkers can reprovision at Loi Kaw village. There is a general store with limited basic supplies, mostly canned drinks and bottled water all served at the current room temperature. They also have a selection of longyis for sale, the traditional Myanmar unisex skirt, but they are the same prepackaged ones you can buy in town.
When you share meals with the local families, you’ll eat the same meal they do. You’ll notice that while the ingredients may be few, the taste is plentiful. They know how to cook. They combine the freshest produce, with a few local spices that compliment, rather than overwhelm the dish.
The main entrée is a few farm-fresh vegetables cooked in a mild curry sauce, served over rice. On the side, you’ll be served a leafy soup, usually boiled mustard greens. It tastes much better than it sounds. If the food is not spicy enough you can turn up the heat with some chili powder. You probably won’t be served meat except for a few small fish plucked from Inle Lake below, but you won’t miss it. Don’t worry; you’ll have plenty to eat. You won’t be hungry again in 15-minutes.
The fastest way to get to Inle Lake is by airplane. The nearest airport is in Heho. Flights from Yangon start around $87 US dollars and take a little over an hour. Taxi rides from Heho to Nyaungshwe costs around $25 US dollars for the one hour trip, but it’s possible share costs with other travelers at the airport.
Arranging Your Trek:
There are many travel agencies in town offering guide services. They offer a variety of trips trekking trips that fit any time frame both on foot and on horseback. They also offer boat tours of Inle Lake. All trips are private, and can be customized to your liking.
What to Bring on a Trek:
Pack as light as possible. A small backpack is all you need. Your food and bedding material will be provided, but carry your own water, at least 1 liter per person. Although hot tea will be provided along the way, the local drinking water is not potable. Bring a few basic toiletries. You won’t need much since full bathing facilities are not available. Be sure to bring tissue paper. Even though the squat toilets are remarkably clean, the bamboo strips to wipe with don’t look so comforting.
You don’t need hiking books for the trek. Tennis shoes or sports sandals will work fine. Most of the local people, including guides wear flip flops, but they probably won’t provide enough support for most trekkers. T-shirts are fine during the day. If traveling winter or spring bring a light sweater or jacket. It can get cool at night. Convertible pants are perfect for this trek. You can get by with one pair and wear pants at night, and shorts during the day.
BACKPACKER TIP: Try wearing the traditional longyi on the trek. They are practical because they keep you cool during the day. They also make bathing easier. They convert into a portable shower curtain while using the public springs. Wearing one will also win you extra love and respect from the local people. They are unisex and make great souvenirs.