I walked from Kalaw to Inle Lake from February 3-4, 2017. Solo and independently, ie. without a guide. You will however need a GPS, as this is not a standard marked hiking trail, rather a trail following foot-paths through pastures.
Kalaw-Inle Lake is the top walk in Myanmar and also the best of the ones I walked. Several trails are available for download on wikiloc, and to be on the safe side I downloaded several as I could not find any specific information about where to sleep, apart from info saying that a guide would be needed to communicate with villagers… Not true, in fact.
I finally ended up following this trail as a wikiloc commenter stated that he had walked it recently without problems. Being 51 km, and seeing that the land shape was only moderately hilly, I decided I would walk it in two days. Finally, I ended up walking 35 km the first day and 17 km the second day:
The trail is very beautiful, a superb cultural walk where fields, cattle and unspoilt villages are passed along the entire trail. The initial 5 km out of Kalaw is on gravel road, then enters into pine forest until you exit the forest and walk along a ridge with superb views passing chili-plucking women, and men guarding their cattle. After 17 km the descent to the road starts (some pass the night in the nearby village at this point), all the time passing villagers working in the fields. The road is reached at 20 km and I considered resting here, but it turned out only a handful of villages in the region are authorized to accommodate foreigners, and this was not one of them. As I was carrying a sleeping bag I was not really in any trouble. With temperatures not below 10 degrees at night I could easily sleep outside if I had to.
I continued to walk on, closely watching my GPS, criss-crossing in between rice fields and crops with many locals saying ”only one”, clearly not used to seeing someone walk entirely alone and without a guide. At around 5 pm I spotted a group of tourists with their guide at the other side of a rice field and I knew I must be close to a tourist-approved village, as the sun sets at 6 pm. Rightly so, and at 6 pm I entered what was a major stop-over village on the Kalaw-Inle Trek. I then found out, that all the guided tours do the Kalaw-Inle as a tree-day hike, choosing various villages for staying overnight the first night, but most staying at this village on night two, unless continuing 2 km to a large monastery.
As I entered the village I immediately knew that I had entered the tourist trail, as a group of 10 walkers yelled ”welcome, you made it” from a table where they were having beers. I walked further into the village, approached some villagers, made the sign for sleeping and was immediately pointed to the house right next to me. Mats on the floor upstairs, bucket shower, toilet, dinner with beer and breakfast: All 7000 Kyats. Incredibly friendly hosts, clearly used to having walkers stay overnight. Almost no English was spoken apart from ”son” ”grandson” ”daughter-in-law”. Family is important here.
The next day I was clearly on the tourist trail, meeting about 100 other walkers on the way down to Inle Lake. The trail I downloaded, stopped in a village with no road access close to the lake, where all the guided tourists take a boat to Nyaungschwe. I am sure I could have negotiated a boat as well, but I chose to walk back 2 km to the main road an negotiate a motor-bike to Nyaungschwe. So close (17 km) to Nyaungschwe and yet the villages on the Western shore of Inle lake are virtually untouched and the motorcycle driver and his mother clearly had not dealt with tourists before as they had no idea what to charge for the motorbike ride to Nyaungschwe.