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A Newbie Hiker's Introduction to Myanmar

This three-day, two-night trek is an authentic, no-frills introduction to one of the friendliest countries in the world.

Armed with spotty mobile data and two hours of sleep at an overpriced motel, I trudged up the slope and finally found it—Eversmile Trekking Services.

I was in Kalaw, Myanmar. On a friend’s recommendation, I decided to go on a three-day, two-night trek that would start in the small town of Kalaw and finish in Inle Lake, a freshwater lake flanked by floating villages, famous for attracting throngs of tourists. 

Eversmile isn’t the only company that offers this trek. Other small, local-run businesses like A1 Trekking and Sam’s Family Trekking all run a similar route. For just 30-40 USD—these are end-2017 rates—you get a three-day, two-night trek complete with a guide, accommodation, and three meals a day.

This stretch between Kalaw and Inle Lake is popular enough that it’s pretty much a standard activity for anyone visiting Myanmar. If you’re travelling there at all, chances are you’d give it a go, even if you are a newbie trekker like I was. 

The trek begins in Kalaw, a sleepy mountain town. You traverse through rice paddies, chilli fields, and rural villages. When you go past local schools, kids so small they barely reach your hip rush out to greet the excited tourists. Some of their faces are painted with thanaka, a paste made from ground bark meant to protect the skin from sunlight. 

If you’re lucky, you might get to visit a local wedding, as we did, and they would offer cigars, peanuts, and a glimpse into their culture.

This is a very beginner-friendly trek. Some parts are rockier and steeper, but the incline is very gentle and kind on the whole. (Take it from someone who, to be honest, doesn’t trek that much.) Aside from a detour where we powered through a muddy, post-thunderstorm forest, in which I almost slipped and fell into the lake at least a dozen times, the route is great for newbies who want to experience what rural Myanmar is like.

If my guide could finish the whole thing with just flip flops on, then anyone with a decent pair of sneakers can do it too, even if they might have weaker knees.

At night, we stayed in locals’ homes. There is no electricity out in the countryside. Every evening, after the sun has set and everything is pitch black, our hosts cooked for us vegetarian feasts. We would tuck in, bathed in the warm yellow of the candlelight. Once, we were treated to french fries, and my fellow trekkers—who happened to be French—graciously accepted the reward. 

The last stretch of the route is a godsend. After almost three full days of walking, backpacks on and guns out, the final lap is a boat ride along Inle Lake. 

You get the privilege of watching local fishermen scattered about the lake, practising their craft. They perch on the tip of their tiny boats with just a single foot, rowing and fishing at the same time. 

The trek isn’t anything groundbreaking, and you won’t feel like you’ve just conquered Mount Everest, but it introduces Myanmar in the best way possible. 

Away from the hecticness of Yangon and the masses of tourists in Mandalay, this humble trail between Kalaw and Inle Lake is perhaps the most genuine, sincere way that the curious traveller can experience what Myanmar has to offer.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Yin Lin Tan

I'm a writer based in Singapore, but interested in everything to do with Asia. I really love travelling and often like to do it alone and without checked-in baggage. I publish a twice-weekly newsletter at http://13...