Kalaw-Inle Lake trek, independently, no guide

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.

Kalaw-Inle Lake: On the trail
Kalaw-Inle Lake: On the trail

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.

Kalaw-Inle Lake: On the trail
Kalaw-Inle Lake: On the trail

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.

Kalaw-Inle Lake: On the trail
Kalaw-Inle Lake: On the trail

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.

Homestay: Kalaw-Inle Lake
Homestay: Kalaw-Inle Lake. Sleeping on the floor

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.

Kalaw-Inle Lake
Kalaw-Inle Lake: On the trail

6 thoughts on “Kalaw-Inle Lake trek, independently, no guide”

  1. Hello,
    Very nice blog! I’m going to Kalaw tomorrow and I was thinking of doing this trek by myself also. Do you think it’s ok to do it with my full backpack with me? (Around 12kg)
    Otherwise where have you left your backpack? In Kalaw?
    Thank you

  2. That would be my question too: how did you manage to transfer your backpack? And what time did you start your trekking on the first day? Thanks a lot!

    1. Started around 9 am the first day. carried my pack. No more than 10-12 kg. It really is not a difficult hike

  3. Hello! My family and I are living in Mandalay and are thinking of visiting Kalaw and doing the trek on our next holiday. I am interested in doing it independent of a guide because of the amount of tourists it sounds like there are. Your trek seemed reasonable- other than we would likely break it up into the 3 days because we will have two kids with us. I wanted to ask you if, in your experience, you think we would be okay to do it independent with kids. It doesn’t sound like it is possible to get too lost as I’ve read that the routes are pretty well trodden and with some offline maps. What do you think about doing it independent with 2 kids?

  4. Hi thank you for the information! If I am traveling alone, do you think I could make the full trek in one day? If I can’t walk the full length, would I be okay taking a bicycle?

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