I escaped the oppressive Bagan heat and arrived in Kalaw with some new backpacking friends after another long bus ride. After exploring the cute mountain town, we walked over to Ever Smile where we managed to get a group of 5 hikers together for a 3-day backpacking trip to Inle Lake. Three of us were from the USA (two recent college grads plus myself) and there was Spanish couple on their honeymoon.
We hiked out of Kalaw, through rice fields and other cultivated plots of land, and wound through some remaining forest. Our guide, Ta Ta and his friend Onzo easily went with whatever pace we set, and accommodated any need to stop and take pictures. They answered our questions about the local area and Myanmar in general.
After 15 miles of hiking, we arrived at our lodging for the night. Both nights, we stayed in local villages, in a room in a family’s home with thin mattresses on the floor; more than comfortable after a day of hiking. The homemade family dinners were amazing, and the peanuty-tomato salad, fermented tea leaf salad, stewed pumpkin, and various other dishes were demolished with Myanmar Beer.
On the third day of the trek, we walked up to the dock at the southern end of Inle Lake, and caught our boat that would motor us an hour to the other side, where most of us were staying in Nyaung Shwe, a small town containing most of the hostels and tourist amenities. Our boat ride began cloudy, and turned rainy, and soon we all had our ponchos on, admiring the lake-view through our short-range visibility. The photo on the right, below, is our tea break earlier in the day while it poured outside!
Our crew of 5 had bonded so much, that we met up in Nyaung Shwe to go out to eat at a classic Burmese Tea House (photo below, left, where we exchanged limited English, and lots of pantomiming to order Shan Noodles, a delicious dish typical of the area) and go out to the one pub (below, right) in town afterward!
For two days at Inle Lake, it rained, but I hopped on the back of a friend’s motorbike and visited Tofu Palace, which took us on a village tour where we saw locals bent over vats of hot oil, cooking snacks I had seen in the market. They worked with their chickpea and rice doughs and hot oil with such ease, and I was impressed given my own aversion to bubbling cauldrons of hot oil.
I extended my stay at Inle Lake by a day to, finally, have a sunny day to boat on the lake after days of rainy exploration. We boated out to see the sunrise, and fishermen already out on their boats, famously paddling with one foot extended as they reeled in their nets.
We saw hundreds of pagodas at the southern end of Inle Lake, overrun by dogs (and PUPPIES!), and boated through the floating gardens that were beautiful mats of some hybrid between aquaponics and hydroponics.
I would highly recommending the 3-day trek with Ever Smile, and especially with the daughter of the owner Aki (website here soon, but can be reached via WhatsApp at +95 9 775 980403), who is creating her own trekking company and has the savviness to harness social media and make her own website! I stayed, again, at Ostello Bello at Nyuang Shwe, and was happy to have the familiarity of the hostel and to see some friends again that I had met in Bagan.
After the day-long boat tour, I hopped on a VIP overnight bus with JJ Express (so plush, and such a nice company!) to Mandalay, and the final leg of my time in Myanmar.