"After sunset we arrived at our homestay, a very simple home with paper-thin walls that you could see right through, and mattresses only a centimetre thick."
Since we visited Myanmar (Burma) in 2013, the destination has exploded into one of the ‘must visit’ countries of Southeast Asia, if not the world. But when we went there, it was still relatively undiscovered, and the amount of information in guidebooks and on travel blogs was few and far between. However, they all mentioned on ‘must do’: the 3-day, 50km trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake.
It was decided that we would tackle this trek. Fast-forward a few weeks, and during our first week in Myanmar we had fallen in love with this chaotic but charming country and its beautiful people. The morning after arriving in Kalaw on a dodgy overnight bus, we set off into the forest. Our guide was Ilias – a Burmese-Pakistani ex-painter who could speak six languages and was trekking in worn-out sneakers and with a broken school bag.
The forest was luxuriant to walk through as we escaped the heat of the sun, and we passed by peaceful reservoirs, tea plantations, and grazing buffalo. After a lip-smackingly-good Nepalese curry for lunch, we came across a green lizard that Ilias swore was a guinea pig – something was lost in translation there! We met inquisitive child monks heading home from school, families drying chilli peppers and corn cobs in their front yards, and gaggles of women and children in traditional dress heading to the local market. Walking along train tracks towards an oncoming train was something I’d never imagined doing, though the train was only moving at a snail’s pace.
After sunset we arrived at our homestay, a very simple home with paper-thin walls that you could see right through and mattresses only a centimetre thick. Our hosts were incredibly gracious people though, making sure we had chilled beer and enough blankets.
On the second day we walked through miles of rice paddies, massive fields of cabbage, mustard, chilli peppers, potatoes, and more. The local people always had a smile and a wave for us even though they were hard at work, and the kids liked to run along beside us. We had brought some bubble-blowing liquid with us and smiled as the kids squealed with joy and chased the bubbles.
Balancing along the edges of rice paddies and trying not to fall into the water-filled terraces, we continued on through the fertile landscape. At one stage we were stuck behind an ox-driven cart on a narrow section of road, so Ilias stopped to flirt with some girls working in the rice fields. We couldn’t understand the language but we got the gist with the girls breaking out in giggles and smiles!
Next night’s accommodation was in a much nicer home – this one had concrete walls and slightly thicker mattresses. Luxury! After getting a shock while heading to the outside bathroom and startling the oxen who had been brought inside for the night, it was lovely to see the stars over the dark countryside.
Day three was the final stretch to Inle Lake, and it was the hottest day of all. Our legs felt like jelly as we walked along roads made from chunks of rock and scrambling down narrow sandy tracks. Nevertheless, the changing landscape as we drew closer to the lake kept us occupied, and finally the perfect blue of Inle Lake came into sight!
The final part of the journey was a longboat trip across the length of the lake to the town of Nyaungshwe, and it was a joy to feel the wind in our hair and the spray in our faces. The trek was hard, but it was an amazing experience to get away from the towns and roads – we hardly saw a motorised vehicle in three days! Myanmar certainly left a stamp on our hearts and we will be back some day, for sure.
Petra is one half of The Global Couple travel blog - the other half is her husband Shaun. She's a New Zealander who loves photography and the outdoors, as well as wandering around cities and trying street food. The Global Couple focuses on budget adventure travel and gives lots of handy tips and insider information about numerous destinations, especially New Zealand.